The Tories can rebuild Scotland … but first they must demolish the yellow wall
CONSIDER the SNP’s position after nearly seven years of Sturgeon rule, a tumultuous era that in theory should have given a huge boost to nationalism.
Brexit, a Tory landslide at Westminster, and bogeyman Boris Johnson taking the reins of power: any one of these should have been a fillip for separatists.
Yet most of us don’t want independence, or a referendum, and the chances of another vote on breaking up Britain are somewhere between remote and non-existent.
The cast-iron mandate for a second tilt at dismantling the Union, claimed by the SNP and the Greens, is nothing more than wishful thinking.
All of which suggests that the ‘yellow wall’ of SNP votes which at times has seemed unassailable is in fact vulnerable to attack — and indeed wholesale demolition.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, in his speech at the Conservative conference, dismissed the SNP Government as a ‘constitutional campaign group on stilts’.
And he made a credible claim that not so long ago couldn’t have been taken seriously: that his party now has more working-class voters than Labour and is ready to ‘stop nationalism for good’.
In May, against all the odds, he spearheaded a successful campaign to deprive the SNP of the majority it craved and desperately needed, driving the party into the arms of the sycophantic Greens.
It underlined a simple truth: the Nationalists no longer have much of a purpose, and their room for manoeuvre has been severely limited.
Ideologically, they have nowhere to go because there’s no appetite for a referendum, certainly while the economy is rebooting after the pandemic — so they can keep banging on about it but it’s not going to happen.
Covid containment was the sole mission of Nicola Sturgeon’s regime, as it was for all governments, in 2020 and much of this year, but the vaccination rollout, masterminded by the Tories, has turned the tide — hopefully — against coronavirus.
Now Miss Sturgeon and her burnt-out Cabinet have nothing to hide behind — they have to get on with governing, and it’s more painfully obvious than ever that they’re appallingly bad at it.
In the U.S., one of the key factors that led to Donald Trump’s victory was a sense among large swathes of the non-urban electorate that politicians weren’t speaking their language, and occupied a rarefied realm that had nothing to do with their daily lives.
Public discourse was mired in political correctness and woke talk about non-gender specific bathrooms — while families were struggling to make ends meet and just wanted a decent education for their kids, and a job.
Take a look at Miss Sturgeon’s programme for government last month — thin gruel that wouldn’t pass muster in a manifesto for a student union president, let alone a First Minister.
A pardon for offences during the miners’ strike, transgender reforms and tougher controls on fox-hunting … no doubt worthy enough, but how much does the average Scot really care about any of it?
And Miss Sturgeon found herself outflanked by the Tories’ proposed hike in National Insurance, with the biggest rise in personal taxation in two decades, leaving her social democratic credentials looking a little anaemic.
But there’s no reason why Mr Ross, if he were to become First Minister, couldn’t lower the tax burden on Scots in the longer term, where it’s possible under devolution, and when it becomes a feasible fiscal proposition.
Tackling sky-high business rates would also help to bolster business and economic growth.
Bear in mind that Miss Sturgeon’s new partners in government, the Greens, are opposed to capitalism — and to the very concept of growth as a desirable aim.
The SNP Government is now exposed to public scrutiny as never before, and it’s a deeply unimpressive picture.
Mr Ross hopes to duplicate Tory advances against the English ‘red wall’ of Labour strongholds in Scotland, by building on and forging new connections with those voters who feel politically homeless.
They’re fed up with the circuitous ‘debate’ about independence, filled with half-truths and blatant deceptions about the socialist Utopia that lies within our grasp if only we had the courage to embrace it.
Rhetoric doesn’t pay the bills, which are about to rocket, and this represents the biggest structural weakness in the yellow edifice of SNP votes, one that Mr Ross has targeted effectively so far — and he should continue to do so.
What Scotland needs and won’t get under the SNP is a massive repair job — a prospective Tory government has to pledge above all else to reverse the damage done by the SNP since it took office in 2007.
In many cases, the remedial action required may be relatively small-scale: take the rationing of subjects in secondary schools which has seen pupils’ range of learning dramatically narrowed.
That was an avoidable by-product of the SNP’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), which it doesn’t want to admit has failed — instead it points to a whitewash report it commissioned which gave the CfE the all-clear, compiled by experts who didn’t bother speaking to any of its critics.
In 2019, a major global report found that Scottish pupils lag behind those in Latvia, Slovenia and Estonia in maths — and are outperformed by children in England.
This should be an open goal for the Tories, given that Miss Sturgeon staked her political reputation, or what’s left of it, on turning around the tanker of state education failure.
In fact, the attainment gap remains stubbornly wide and official figures show the exam results chasm between council-run schools and their fee-paying counterparts has grown — with the poorest pupils, as ever, paying the price of government failure.
The NHS is in a state of perpetual crisis and is overseen by a weak and hapless minister — the widely ridiculed Humza Yousaf, once seen as a possible successor to Miss Sturgeon.
He has pulled off the remarkable feat of appearing even less competent than the previous holder of the post, ‘Calamity Jeane’ Freeman.
Blaming the pandemic will work for a while, but sooner or later voters will arrive at an inescapable conclusion: that a government that was responsible for the chaotic mismanagement of the NHS for more than a decade before coronavirus struck cannot be trusted to re-build it.
Quangoland is the one area of public life that is in peak condition, with ham-fisted fat cats rewarded with pay hikes and bumper pensions (most notably at Education Scotland, which is — we’re told — earmarked for belated ‘reform’.)
The botched Covid vaccine passport scheme showed again the capacity of the Sturgeon administration to get it wrong, with potentially catastrophic consequences for businesses — not that anyone is ever held to account, naturally.
The Sturgeon government is a hollowed-out husk pushing a product that no one wants to buy while voters are crying out for change.
And the yellow wall that encircles it must be bulldozed if Scotland is to stand any chance of renewal after 14 years of SNP failure.
- This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on October 5, 2021.
- Follow me on Twitter: @GrahamGGrant