Nothing highlights the poverty of the SNP case more than its failure to help the poorest Scots
THE shamed former Finance Secretary Derek Mackay used to talk about the SNP’s commitment to something he called ‘progressivity’.
At the time, his government was planning tax hikes, and Mr Mackay insisted his party was in a ‘race to the top on public service, infrastructure and quality of life’.
That was five years ago, but we’ve had nearly 15 years of SNP rule and for all the talk of progressivity, it’s clear that the race to the top has been lost, if it was ever really started.
Toxic nationalism has crushed opportunity at every turn and failed to make good on the ambitious promises from Mr Mackay and his erstwhile bosses.
The SNP Government’s own figures show poverty rates and income inequality continue to rise, and 20 per cent of people in Scotland live in ‘relative poverty after housing costs’.
Meanwhile, other official figures last year revealed that one in four primary school pupils had failed to reach expected standards in reading and numeracy.
The number of children achieving basic benchmarks has fallen sharply while the attainment gap has widened to record levels — and Covid can’t be blamed for all of these problems.
Prior to last year’s Scottish election, public spending watchdog Audit Scotland said the gap ‘remained wide’, seven years after Miss Sturgeon was appointed First Minister.
A curricular overhaul led to subject rationing which has deprived children of the opportunities for study that previous generations enjoyed.
The quangos tasked with sorting out this mess are set to be axed, or reformed, and in any event have no idea of how to go about it.
And the proportion of pupils from state schools and colleges going to university in Scotland remains the lowest in the UK, despite years of efforts to widen the social mix on campuses.
People from the most deprived areas of the country now spend 24 fewer years in good health than the better-off, while healthy life expectancy has fallen for the past four years for women and the past three for men.
The net effect of banging on about nationalism and trying to engineer constitutional crises every five minutes is that the poorest, and those most in need of the progressivity the SNP once presented as its unique selling-point, have been left behind.
In the midst of a massive squeeze on household finances, Miss Sturgeon last week kick-started her latest bid for a second referendum in a bizarre session on the day that it emerged that average energy bills were set to soar by nearly £700.
She was questioned at Holyrood by Tory MSP Murdo Fraser about claims by Ian Blackford that the state pension would continue to be paid to Scots by the UK Government in the event of independence.
Worryingly, that bogus assertion, repeatedly made, was backed up by Mr Mackay’s successor, Kate Forbes, who hailed Mr Blackford, the SNP’s Commons leader, as an ‘expert’ on pensions.
Last week the Scottish Government failed to respond to several enquiries about whether Miss Forbes stood by her support of her colleague’s claims, but that was unsurprising.
It was perhaps the most egregious spin since the days of the 2014 referendum campaign, though admittedly at times it feels as if it never ended.
Mind you, back then the SNP did at least concede Scotland would have to look after its own pensions, and naturally would make a better job of it than the UK Government has.
You can assess the credibility of that proposition by taking a quick look at the botched bespoke welfare system the SNP is attempting to create — it’s been such a success that the Department for Work and Pensions has retained control of some benefits.
Last week Miss Sturgeon regurgitated Mr Blackford’s distortions — and remember he had only just accused the Prime Minister of lying to parliament over Partygate.
‘The Tories are really, really nervous about this argument,’ she said, adding: ‘You can feel the discomfort coming from them because they know that, when the people of Scotland get the chance to escape Westminster Governments… they are going to say yes to independence.’
But there was also a degree of discomfort, or certainly reticence, among her own side, not least in Miss Forbes’s apparent refusal to contribute to the discussion.
The SNP’s ‘sustainable growth commission’ was masterminded by former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson, who is still regarded as the economic brains of the separatist movement.
It called for a ‘clear-sighted and honest exposition of how to make this transition [to independence] orderly’, which he said was the ‘very least that should be expected by those we seek to convince’.
Alas, Mr Wilson was too busy to comment last week as the pensions row rumbled on, but he has been a leading proponent of a relatively new idea in SNP politics — that being honest with people about the pain independence would cause might not be such a bad idea.
Much like Mr Mackay’s vision of a ‘race to the top’, it hasn’t really caught on, and the new tactic (although it does feel pretty familiar) owes more to Donald Trump’s insistence on clinging to untenable positions than the ‘clear-sighted’ approach seemingly favoured by Mr Wilson.
SNP hierarchs are fully aware that their proposed referendum stunt won’t work as there will be no legal backing for it.
So why not have a pseudo-debate anyway, goading the Unionists as Miss Sturgeon did last week — it’s the closest they can get to a re-run of the 2014 poll.
SNP MSP James Dornan tweeted that ‘Perfidious Albion’ would be to blame if the government of the rest of the UK refused to bankroll Scottish pensions after independence — so this confected row might be just another chance to paint the Tories as oppressors.
Trying to dupe the elderly, or those who are looking forward to retirement, is a means to an end.
But it’s a strategy not without risks — it’s painfully obvious that there aren’t credible policies in the SNP’s armoury, and there haven’t been for many years.
Whatever the truth — not a commodity in plentiful supply among the separatists in the last week, or even over the past 15 years — it’s undeniable that we’re now seeing an escalation of already North Korean levels of spin and fabrication.
As a response to the host of inequalities and social problems that bedevil Scotland — from educational failure to spiralling drug deaths — the incoherent ramblings from the top of the SNP are not only inadequate but also deeply offensive, and indeed grotesque.
The tragedy is that while the party has revealed itself as incapable of winning the argument by telling the truth, precious time is being wasted — and the grand promises of a more ‘progressive’ Scotland are lost in a blizzard of distortion and downright deceit.
- This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on February 8, 2022.
- *Follow me on Twitter: @GrahamGGrant