Reports of the SNP’s demise are premature
Reaction to my last column in Holyrood before recess, in which I critiqued the position of the SNP government, provoked something of a storm and proved my point that when people need to listen they often have cloth ears.
I spent years, pre-the 2007 election, offering similar criticism of Scottish Labour only to be told I had it wrong when I didn’t. And now, when there is still time for the SNP to get back on the front foot, calling out its failings is regarded as heresy.
The difference between me and many of those that howl the loudest in the echo-chamber that is Twitter is that I am not aligned to any party or cocooned by a blind belief that can ignore reality. In truth, all I care about is credible governance.
And right now, I think the SNP has done a fine job in establishing that it can run Scotland’s public services well, certainly to a higher degree than the way they are being run down south. And while many cry foul at that comparison, on the basis that a party that wants independence shouldn’t measure itself against the country from which it wishes to separate, I say that’s wrong.
Scotland shares a common bond with the rest of the UK. It’s why the question of independence pulls at the heartstrings. We share a value set and a tax base, so making comparisons on how money is spent and highlighting where one outperforms the other are credible. In my book.
On education, health and justice, we continue to match or outstrip our near neighbour and despite criticism, Scotland can be proud of its record. And while statistics can be upheld that prove that to be the case, the point that I made is that the party in government appears to have lost its ability to communicate the good news and simply gets swamped by the bad.
On education, I hear people parroting bits of detailed reports as indisputable evidence that Scotland’s education is risible. While that is plainly not true, it is also complicated.
And for that reason, it remains a puzzle to me why a normally astute politician like Nicola Sturgeon thought it was a good idea to be judged on something as monolithic as education. Not only did this give succour to those that say it is failing, but also ignored the time sensitivities necessary to enact change. Had she learnt nothing from Tony Blair’s ‘education, education, education’ volte face?
Blair’s transformative attempts resulted in screaming headlines about Labour’s decade of failure, accompanied by shrill reports of plummeting scores on international scales. It is this that Labour conveniently forgets and which is becoming all too familiar for the SNP.
Indeed, rather than firefighting in her responses to the results of a nuanced literacy survey, Sturgeon might have been better advised to have focused on a heart-breaking statistic within that much-quoted report that gets to the nub of the problem – inequality.
With more than a quarter of children at the bottom of the socio-economic scale not having anyone at home that can read to them, and with children in less well-off families more than a year behind their more prosperous peers, even before they start school, inequality and educational attainment are intertwined. It’s not an education policy that is required – it’s an economic one.
That’s why Sturgeon was perhaps misguided to stake her reputation on it and why moving her respected finance secretary into it may have been folly.
However, with her new programme for government she has not shied away from that theme but importantly, has given equal billing to the need to grow the economy. The SNP should be given credit over the last decade for putting the issue of inequality at the core of government, but they have also had to recognise the difficulties in tackling such generationally ingrained problems.
Testament to the FM’s efforts is the very mention of a ‘citizen’s income’ in her announcement last week – up until recently a fringe interest now ingrained within the political agenda.
The FM has confounded her critics with this schedule of work and reports of the SNP’s demise are, in my view, premature. With no ballot until 2021 there is no imminent danger, no current credible alternative and a real opportunity to rebuild a case, particularly around Brexit.
I also don’t think the current favourite, Ruth Davidson, could form the next government. Not least because of the parliamentary arithmetic, but also who would risk going into coalition with the Conservatives?
But then there is also Ruth. And while she may prove to be one of the most popular politicians, it’s not a level playing field. She is marked on her ability to speak, not on her ability to govern. She is good entertainment, but has no record on policy. And in a modern-day Scotland where the zeitgeist is firmly fixed on equality, she shows no real respect for gender balance, in particular, appearing to challenge the very notion of it and the hard-fought-for changes in social mores.
Witness her pinned tweet of the actress Gillian Anderson posing with her legs outstretched on a bed wearing stockings, stilettos and a slip. If Jeremy Corbyn had posted a girly pic like that, there would have been outrage – although I suspect the very thought wouldn’t ever enter his head.
There is a laddishness about Davidson that seems to be acceptable because she is a woman. I don’t countenance it. It’s wrong and there should be no exception made based on her sex or sexual orientation. It’s taken a long time for society to move on from accepting that rugby club boorishness was harmless bants among lads in a locker room.
Davidson, as a woman, should at the very least recognise the battles women have had to gain equality. If she is serious about being first minister, then she needs to be serious about how a woman gets there. Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon shouldn’t feel too entrenched to call it out.