SNP’s monstrous policies are like a horror film zombie that refuses to die
YOU have to salute the SNP’s green credentials, at least when it comes to policy recycling — not even the very worst policies are ever binned.
There may be the odd U-turn, snuck out on a busy day or late in the evening, suggesting that ministers have finally dropped a flawed proposal.
But under the SNP no bad idea is ever truly allowed to die — they might be temporarily shelved, but hang around long enough and they’ll turn up again on the policy carousel.
Partly that’s down to the fact there aren’t many ideas around in the first place, so there’s a determination to cling on to them.
Yet there’s also an arrogant assumption of infallibility — take a look at First Minister’s Questions or Nicola Sturgeon’s doom-laden Covid briefings.
Any journalist with the temerity to question the action her government is, or isn’t, taking is subjected to a good deal of eye-rolling — their trifling criticism dismissed as pure mischief.
So it’s little wonder that when it comes to law-making the same principles apply: plough ahead regardless of constructive feedback, while demonising your critics.
Consider Named Person, the ultimate snoopers’ charter, which would have assigned a state-appointed guardian to every child in Scotland, from the womb.
Their growth would be closely monitored, and their progress measured against yardsticks that would gauge their personal development, from physical to spiritual wellbeing.
Judges at the Supreme Court finally drove a stake through the heart of this Orwellian project back in 2016, after ruling that its information-sharing protocols were unlawful.
In fact, there had been years of criticism which ministers ignored, though one SNP MSP, John Mason, suggested that some of those who objected may be child molesters.
And SNP minister Humza Yousaf, now Health Secretary, went further, alleging that opponents of Named Person were putting children’s lives at risk.
In reality, there was widespread protest among police, lawyers and childcare professionals — well, what do they know about kids anyway?
MSPs had approved Named Person back in 2014 but it wasn’t until 2019 that it was dropped, or so we were told — and now it’s made a dramatic comeback.
Like the monster in a horror movie, it has staggered back to life, a zombie policy that refuses to die, in the form of a Scottish Government consultation (quietly posted online during the Cop26 climate summit).
This time around, it’s perfectly innocuous, there’s no need to worry, nothing to see here — but then you might recall that’s roughly what we were told about the original incarnation of this sinister initiative.
The consultation documents state that information-sharing that ‘may be viewed as interfering with the right to private family life can only be lawful if it is done in a way that is proportionate to the achievement of a legitimate aim’ — including the ‘protection of health or morals’.
Isn’t it ever so slightly alarming that ‘interfering’ with family life is broached at all, and that the loopholes for doing so are vaguely defined — and do we want the state dictating to us about our kids’ morality?
Talking of a pig-headed refusal to acknowledge that bad ideas should be sent to the scrap heap, what about minimum pricing on alcohol, another manifestation of the nanny state?
A progress report emerged at the weekend when a landmark study found ‘no strong evidence that minimum unit pricing had reduced alcohol consumption or harm’.
The latest figures show that deaths from alcohol rose by 17 per cent last year, the highest level in more than a decade, despite the SNP’s claim that minimum pricing would ‘begin saving lives within months’.
For most rational observers, this might be enough to suggest that it isn’t working — maybe it was worth a try, but either way it’s a failure.
True to form, the Greens, now part of a power-sharing pact with the SNP, have called for a ‘reassessment’ of the current 50p minimum unit pricing, something that’s also backed by Labour and the Lib Dems.
Alcohol campaign groups are calling for the price to rise to 65p, which would mean an average bottle of red wine would have to cost at least £6.50, and a bottle of whisky would cost at least £18.20.
So the response to evidence of failure is to carry on — the car is heading for the cliff, but the driver is about to apply the accelerator rather than the brakes.
Then there are the bad ideas that haven’t quite got out of the starting-blocks because the reception to them was so incredibly negative that they didn’t last long beyond the drawing-board stage.
At the start of the pandemic, ministers planned to stage trials without juries as courts were closed and case backlogs — already severe — were building up rapidly.
The requirement for social distancing meant getting juries together would be difficult and risky, so the proposal was not to have juries, and rely on judges instead.
There was a huge backlash and remote juries were convened instead in cinemas, which at that time could do with the business, and courts were able to keep functioning, albeit on a dramatically reduced scale.
Now there’s a call for juryless rape trials, so that alleged victims of sexual offences don’t have to wait so long for justice, backed by key legal figures including the Lord Advocate.
Yet you won’t find many lawyers who are keen on the notion; in fact many of them feel it’s an abomination — one QC said it would lead to an ‘authoritarian nightmare’.
Some powerful lobby groups believe juries are partially responsible for low conviction rates for sexual crime.
Quite what makes them think that judges sitting without jurors would be more likely to convict isn’t clear, but nonetheless ministers are actively considering it.
It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the seriousness of what’s proposed — the removal of the right to trial by jury for an extremely serious crime, one that will always result in a jail sentence.
A cornerstone of our legal system is under attack — and there’s not much sign that opposition politicians have woken up to the threat (not for the first time — it took them long enough to figure out Named Person was a disaster in the making).
The tactic is familiar: wait until the initial row has died down and then resurrect the same idea in a slightly different guise.
The question is why? And the answer is simple: when you’re driven, as the SNP is, by an ideological fixation — independence — that mindset will dictate your approach to all areas of governance.
The result is a zombie government holding on for dear life to a raft of misbegotten policies in the face of overwhelming evidence that they don’t, or won’t, work.
But the rest of us will pay a heavy price for the hubris of a government with a messianic — and entirely delusional — belief that it’s never wrong.
- This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on November 16, 2021.
- *Follow me on Twitter: @GrahamGGrant