After 12 years of failure, SNP faces a reckoning for its abysmal record
IN the police comedy The Naked Gun, hapless Lieutenant Frank Drebin tells a crowd of onlookers to ‘move on’ because there’s ‘nothing to see here’.
Behind him, a building is engulfed in flames, with desperate occupants fleeing for their lives – one is seen leaping from the blazing first floor onto the street below.
It now lives on as an internet meme, deployed whenever there are unconvincing attempts by officialdom to play down details of a brewing scandal.
Last week Nicola Sturgeon took on the role of Drebin, as key strands of her policy agenda went up in smoke, while she tried to reassure us there was no cause for concern.
Nothing to see here – except the collapse of any vestigial hope that her failing government could end its state of chronic denial long enough to acknowledge the crisis in state education.
Then there was the resignation of the chairman of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), who stood down after just two years in post, while aiming a broadside at the SNP for making her job impossible.
It’s been a disastrous election campaign for the Nationalists, yet curiously Miss Sturgeon told a Sunday newspaper she wanted to stay in the job for another five years.
There are too many variables to enable her to make this assertion with any confidence, not least the growing possibility that her party is facing a nasty surprise when the votes are counted later this week.
If the SNP were to be judged solely on its performance running the Scottish Government since 2007, the outcome of this election, on any objective basis, would be a foregone conclusion – a crushing defeat.
The last month has shown in microcosm the dismal track record of the Nationalists since they won power: one damning verdict has followed another, while Miss Sturgeon toured the TV studios.
On the national stage, posturing over Brexit and making untenable claims about the supposed socialist nirvana that would result from independence, she has largely succeeded in dodging forensic inquisition.
Tommy Sheppard, SNP candidate for Edinburgh East, on the BBC’s Any Questions, was allowed to lambast the deficiencies of the English education system, and brush aside host Chris Mason’s mention of ‘barbed criticism’ of the SNP’s reforms.
No-one challenged Mr Sheppard on statistics last week which showed that after nearly a decade of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), Scotland has plunged down the global rankings on maths and science, and merely made up lost ground on reading.
Yet Kirsty Blackman, the Nationalist candidate for Aberdeen North, and depute leader of the SNP group in the Commons, claimed in a BBC interview that the PISA results for maths and science were ‘stable’.
Education Secretary John Swinney insisted we were still ‘on the right track’ – despite the Programme for International Student Assessment finding that pupils in Scotland lag behind those in Latvia, Slovenia and Estonia in maths, and are outperformed by their peers in England.
We are indeed on the right track, but only if the final destination is long-term educational decline.
But last week the SNP was determined to brazen out the publication of these devastating figures using levels of spin that bordered on ‘mendacity’ – that was the assessment of educationalist Keir Bloomer.
A Scottish Government spokesman conceded (graciously) that he was entitled to his view – but bear in mind that Mr Bloomer was one of the key architects of the CfE (he believes it was a good idea which has been poorly implemented).
He might well know what he’s talking about, namely that the CfE has turned into a slow-motion catastrophe for a generation of schoolchildren.
And yet even the Government’s most vocal critics would be prepared to forgive at least some of its shameful spin if Mr Swinney would announce that, at last, his officials are going back to the drawing-board.
The SNP has been shielded from the worst repercussions of its ham-fisted curricular overhaul by its strategic withdrawal from international studies, with the exception of PISA, making comparisons with other countries difficult.
Those other nations include England, and its superior PISA ranking must have led to moments of acute private agony for Miss Sturgeon and her Cabinet, given that one of their most-repeated lines of defence is that ‘it may not be perfect, but England is worse’.
The timing of PISA, during an election, was also uncomfortable for Miss Sturgeon – who you might dimly recall once said she was ready to put her ‘neck on the line on the education of our young people’.
Radical measures were promised, or at least mooted, in the pursuit of the ultimate goal of closing the attainment gap between the best and worst schools.
And yet the PISA study showed no statistical improvement was made between 2015 and 2018, despite investment of £500million.
Miss Sturgeon’s bid to minimise these figures was an abdication of responsibility on a breath-taking scale – though it didn’t put a stop to her exhaustive round of media appearances.
Ironically, she took part in a spoof TV interview with a fictional police chief aired last Wednesday, just as the real-life boss of the beleaguered watchdog for the single force was putting the finishing touches to her bombshell resignation letter, released the following morning.
Six years on from the launch of Police Scotland, Professor Deacon – the third SPA chairman to quit since 2013 – made it painfully clear that the ‘odds were stacked against her’ by government interference, hampering her efforts to hold the Chief Constable to account.
In the headlong rush to amalgamate the eight territorial police forces, the ‘civilian oversight’ body that was meant to monitor the unified service was – Professor Deacon said – built on ‘shaky foundations’.
Much the same could be said of any number of Nationalist policies, not least the chaotic stewardship of the NHS.
But there was nothing in the responses from Miss Sturgeon or her Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf to indicate acceptance of the fundamental problems the former SPA chairman had outlined.
Miss Sturgeon said it ‘does a disservice to the officers around the country working so hard to keep us safe’ to imply there is a police crisis – as if the continuation of day-to-day operational policing was in itself a triumph of her administration.
As for the widespread disappearance of beat patrols, plummeting front-line morale, savage budget cuts and years of hierarchical turmoil – well, nothing to see here.
The failures of the SNP Government are compounded by its stubborn refusal to concede they even exist: it lacks the basic humility to admit that it might have got it wrong, and without it there is no possibility of correcting its mistakes.
Its core support wants independence badly enough that it will always overlook the reverse Midas touch that has characterised the Nationalists’ time in office.
But for everyone else unconvinced by the SNP’s pathological denial, this week could represent a turning-point for the party’s fortunes – the moment when it runs out of places to hide, and finally has to answer for its abysmal record.
*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on December 10, 2019.