The SNP says we should stop being so gloomy… after all, we’ve never had it so mediocre…
By Graham Grant
IF your child’s school doesn’t have enough teachers, or you’re stuck on a lengthy waiting list for an operation, don’t despair.
The SNP has some positive news for you: it may not be good enough, but it could always be worse – you could be living in England or Wales.
There is no criticism of the Nationalists’ lamentable record in government that isn’t routinely countered with a knee-jerk cross-Border comparison.
Sometimes it’s more of a global statement, such as John Swinney’s claim that Scotland is ‘very much at the low end of the spectrum internationally’ in terms of teacher shortages.
No facts are ever volunteered to back up this assertion, naturally, but it’s of limited comfort to any Scottish parent to know that while your son or daughter doesn’t have a maths teacher, things are much worse in, say, the Third World.
On Friday, Mr Swinney accused his many critics of being too ‘gloomy’ – ignoring the fact that some of that gloom might have been lifted if the SNP hadn’t made such a hash of its ‘reform’ of state education.
In essence, then, the SNP’s style of government amounts to: ‘You’ve never had it so mediocre’ – but it’s a deflection tactic that leaves the roots of the problems at home unexamined, and unchallenged.
It also helps to bolster the party’s central argument that Scotland is being held back by a failing UK state, by reinforcing the core idea of ‘wha’s like us?’, innate Scottish superiority – even if it’s an approach that risks stoking anti-English bigotry.
For Nicola Sturgeon, who at First Minister’s Questions famously ‘takes no lessons’ from anyone, the situation in Scotland, on any issue where an alleged, or obvious, deficiency is highlighted, is usually ‘in stark contrast’ to the position in England and Wales.
But her officials are well-briefed to take the same tack, so – confronted with evidence of morale in freefall in Scotland’s biggest police division – the Scottish Government’s response was predictable.
A spokesman said the ‘latest statistics show Scotland has more than 900 additional police officers compared to 2007’, which ‘contrasts with a decrease of 19,588 from March 2007 to March 2018 in England and Wales’.
In no way does this tackle the overriding anxiety of officers in Greater Glasgow, the majority of whom are ‘disillusioned’ because of ‘insufficient numbers of officers to meet demand’, according to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.
‘In stark contrast’ to England, we’re told repeatedly that Scotland has conquered violent crime, though official figures snuck out by Police Scotland on Friday afternoon showed it had risen by more than 10 per cent in the last year, while detections have fallen.
For its part, the Scottish Government maintains that police officer numbers ‘remain significantly above the level inherited in 2007 compared to an almost 14 per cent decrease over the same period in England and Wales’.
Indeed, on another occasion, a government spokesman said the ‘chance of falling victim to crime in Scotland has fallen significantly in recent years, and is lower than that in England and Wales’.
It’s no wonder that Professor Susan Deacon, chairman of the Scottish Police Authority, has admitted ‘in this area and in relation to education and health there is a consistent default often in Scotland that kind of says, “Aye well, things are better here than they are south of the Border”.’
On health, Miss Sturgeon tweeted recently: ‘GP numbers higher in Scotland than rest of the UK and @scotgov is investing to increase numbers further.’
Her husband, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, backed her up by pointing out there are ‘76 GPs per 100,000 people in Scotland, compared to a UK average of 60,’ then added a list of other ways the party is ‘improving everyday life for all who live here’ (and yes, baby boxes did feature – in the top spot).
But as one rural medic told Miss Sturgeon on Twitter, ‘GPs per head of population have been higher in Scotland long before SNP took office – just a simple necessary reflection of our unique geography’.
The Sturgeon household’s tweets also ignored the fact that more than 80 GPs’ surgeries have been lost in a decade, and that Audit Scotland has warned the NHS in its current form is ‘not financially sustainable’.
And, according to a Scottish Tory analysis, Scottish GP services should have received nearly £660million more over five years – if the levels of investment in Scotland had matched those elsewhere in the UK.
Told that prisoners’ assaults on jail staff have never been higher, Community Safety Minister Ash Denham told MSPs that ‘we have not seen the same levels of violence in Scottish prisons as experienced in prisons in’ – you guessed it – ‘England and Wales’.
As for personal finance, anyone unfortunate enough to have the dreaded ‘SC’ Inland Revenue code on their monthly pay-slip knows taxation is more punitive here than in England and Wales.
But that’s because we need the cash to finance our aspirations for greater social justice, not goals shared by those compassionless Tories in London.
Those noble ideals were on display last week in Glasgow, where SNP council bosses declared a gimmicky ‘climate change emergency’ – in the midst of a burgeoning epidemic of homelessness and drug addiction.
Meanwhile drug-driving limits and roadside testing are to be introduced in Scotland in October – surely a far-sighted and visionary measure, illustrating the benefits of devolution?
Well, not quite: a similar crackdown came into force south of the Border more than four years ago, meaning Scotland has endured a shameful delay that may well have cost lives.
Fair enough – but wasn’t the lower drink-drive limit in Scotland, introduced in December 2014, an example of a devolved administration determinedly ploughing its own furrow?
Well, no – a Glasgow University study into accidents following the change found that it ‘simply did not have the intended effect’ of reducing collisions.
What about wresting control of some aspects of the benefits system from Westminster, at a cost so far of around £90million – shouldn’t the Scottish Government be lauded for using its new powers to create a longed-for socialist nirvana?
Again, not quite – the Auditor General, Caroline Gardner, has warned there is a ‘significant risk’ the Scottish Government will fail to deliver billions of pounds of the devolved benefits on time.
And last year officials at the Scottish Fiscal Commission admitted they had overestimated the number of higher-paid people north of the Border – meaning the UK Government had to step in to cover the £550million shortfall in income.
Our Westminster overlords are loathed and unnecessary – until, that is, their help is desperately needed to mop up after a mess of the SNP’s own creation.
In one area at least, the party’s performance is undeniably world-leading: when it comes to fomenting division at every turn, while cynically attempting to cover up endemic failure in public services, its track record cannot be bettered.
*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on May 21, 2019.