SNP’s vision for a brave new Scotland … derelict libraries, shuttered museums and austerity max

DELUSIONS of grandeur don’t come any greater than the SNP leader of Scotland’s biggest council calling herself boss of a ‘city government’.

Susan Aitken may be in the business of empire-building — but take a look at what her administration has done to Glasgow, if you can stomach it.

Destitution, litter, fly-tipping, drug deaths, pothole-strewn roads, shuttered shops — and a city centre locked in a seemingly unstoppable downward spiral…

Covid has contributed to these dire straits, but it accelerated a process already well under way — and there’s worse to come with a fresh round of swingeing cuts.

The city famously hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2014, but now it’s emerged that 40 sports venues or pitches, five libraries, and 11 community centres or halls will stay shut following lockdown.

Three museums are also listed as not due for re-opening, including the city’s historic Scotland Street School, though it will ultimately be turned into a nursery under plans approved as the second lockdown hit.

The potential permanent closures of these facilities were revealed by Glasgow Life, the charitable trust ultimately controlled by the SNP-run Glasgow City Council.

In a previous incarnation as Culture and Sport Glasgow, one of its best-known wheezes was inviting visitors to the Gallery of Modern Art to deface a Bible — a stunt condemned by the Pope as ‘disgusting’.

Coronavirus is blamed for a slump in income, but it’s far likelier that these venues were on the critical list anyway and the pandemic provided a good excuse to offload them, or keep them closed.

Closing libraries is a particularly egregious move — if anything we need more of them in a city where health chiefs are prepared to invest in free heroin for the worst addicts but not, it seems, in boosting literacy.

And libraries also have a big role to play as job-seekers use computers for filling in applications or benefits forms — hardly a trivial concern, with unemployment set to soar.

Let’s not kid ourselves either that this is a problem confined to Glasgow, or that Covid is solely responsible — many of our town and city centres were in a state of terminal decline well before the virus.

It hasn’t stopped the SNP pledging any number of giveaways from free bicycles to a minimum income guarantee in a manifesto that’s about as credible as its 2014 White Paper on independence.

The SNP’s default mode is denial — and so it proved recently when ministers claimed there were only 11 rough sleepers in Scotland.

Given that you might well see more homeless people in a 200-yard stretch outside Glasgow Central Station on any day of the week, this was clearly pernicious nonsense, as sick as it was brass-necked.

But all of this is merely a foretaste of what’s to come, with Glasgow a microcosm of the turbo-charged austerity on the horizon if the SNP gets its way.

New data from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) shows that in 2020–21 the gap between public spending and tax revenues rose to between 22 and 25 per cent of Scotland’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Double act: Nicola Sturgeon and Susan Aitken of the Glasgow City Government

That’s eight times more than the acceptable limit set by the EU for member states, which is three per cent per cent of GDP — though the bloc has suspended its fiscal rules during the pandemic.

In cash terms, this represents a deficit of more than £40billion — a record peacetime record-high — in part due to high public spending due to coronavirus, and a fall in revenues accrued by North Sea oil.

Quite how this put us in pole position for the brave new socialist nation promised by the SNP is anyone’s guess.

The blueprint for that fairy-tale realm was set out by a former Nationalist MSP, Andrew Wilson, in a report by the party’s ‘Sustainable Growth Commission’, back in 2018.

Not that sustainable, as it turns out, as the First Minister has said it’s out of date, which poses a bit of a problem for a party inviting us to vote for the end of the UK.

Mr Wilson hasn’t had much to say about his side-lining; earlier this month he wrote on his PR company’s blog: ‘Change is inevitable, human beings aren’t comfortable with it, but now we must embrace it and look forward not back.’

He was talking, we assume, about the aftermath of Covid, but he is an independence supporter — in fact he’s one of the movement’s key strategists, so what precisely are we meant to be looking forward to?

In a rare display of candour, Nicola Sturgeon admitted at the weekend that no work had been done by the party on how incomes could be affected by independence — well, why bother with such footling anxieties?

This goes far beyond an oversight, or even a cavalier disregard for your family’s finances — it’s a moral outrage, one that should demolish any vestigial credibility these charlatans may once have had.

The SNP railed against ‘Tory austerity’, and yet it’s intent on plunging us into an economic nightmare, possibly attempting to use a wildcat referendum to achieve it.

Yesterday the IFS said Covid had ‘blown a hole’ in the finances of an independent Scotland, and warned euphemistically of ‘difficult choices’ ahead.

In reality, there aren’t likely to be many meaningful choices beyond austerity — austerity, indeed, as we’ve never known it before.

The SNP says it’s also determined to drag us back into the EU, if they’ll have us, and to protect the NHS from ‘Tory governments’.

But the Covid vaccine shambles in Europe has made the re-entry argument tough, or perhaps impossible, to sell (that’s why it’s discussed on page 72 of the SNP’s 76-page manifesto).

And even those who don’t have much time for the ‘Tories’ Miss Sturgeon viscerally loathes would have to concede the immunisation programme has been a resounding success (despite a shaky start in Scotland).

The NHS, and indeed all public services in Scotland, need protection not from the Tories — but from the SNP.

And that was true before Covid — throw independence into the mix and you have a perfect storm from which the country might never recover.

The ‘progressive’ society Miss Sturgeon wants to build would be anything but — they might just have enough cash lying around for some more baby boxes (but they could well be empty).

The impoverishment would be literal and figurative: there would be many more than 11 rough sleepers, that’s for sure, and many of them would be on the steps of long-closed museums — or derelict libraries.

But doubtless there would be cash for the things that really matter — hiring more special advisers, and fat-cat salaries for the quangocrats who toe the line.

Given the hash they’ve made of running the country so far, imagine the chaos the Nationalists would inflict on our lives as they tried to construct an entirely new state — with a price-tag yet to be specified.

And all for the sake of a bankrupt idea most of us don’t believe in — following a referendum most of us don’t want.

  • This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on April 27, 2021.

Home Affairs Editor, columnist, leader writer, Scottish Daily Mail. Twitter: @GrahamGGrant Facebook: @sdmnewspaper