Wish you were here? A postcard despairing of the SNP’s toxic grip on power
IMAGINE writing a postcard to a relative in a far-flung country who hasn’t been keeping up with events back home.
Where to begin? A former leader is accused of sexual harassment amid claims that complaints were covered up for years.
The ensuing in-house probe is a costly disaster, letting down victims and landing taxpayers with an astronomic bill — but no one loses their job.
There are a couple of inquiries characterised by unrelenting evasion, obfuscation, and downright suppression, to get to the bottom of what happened.
One concludes that the present leader misled parliament, and the other saves her neck with a heavily redacted report — but the final version is missing more than 1,000 words.
Again, no one loses their job, while the head of the prosecution service, which was accused of ordering the censorship of vital evidence, is a member of the Cabinet.
A few months later, police announce they’re probing the accounts of the ruling party after multiple complaints of fraud relating to the whereabouts of more than £600,000 raised by donors.
Oh, and the long-standing chief executive of that party is also the husband of its leader — who’s running the government. Got all that?
Okay, you might need a long email rather than a postcard, but wouldn’t your relative be entitled to think this was a portrait of a tin pot dictatorship — rather than modern Scotland?
You might also want to add a postscript about the administration’s record of chronic failure, which has allowed public services to fall into a state of terminal decline.
Child cancer patients died in a ‘super-hospital’ where tap water was allegedly contaminated — and a flagship hospital for kids was deemed unsafe for use.
Schools were saddled with a shambolically implemented curriculum that eschewed traditional practices in favour of woolly ideals — with the net result that pupils lag behind their peers in Latvia and Estonia on maths skills.
Meanwhile, as the pandemic raged, hundreds of elderly care home residents paid the price of government failures when the deadly virus was seeded among them by patients discharged from hospital, who hadn’t been tested — or in some cases had tested positive.
Against the backdrop of this devastation, the hierarchs and their officials spent some of their time coming up with plans for a referendum to dismantle the UK.
Granted, some of this sounds like the plot of an airport thriller, the kind you might consume by the pool before leaving it behind for other guests to enjoy — in those long-ago days when overseas holidays were possible without red tape and the threat of quarantine.
But the case for a Netflix adaptation becomes more persuasive when you add in the fact that the political leader’s husband is also accused by a leading MSP of perjuring himself before a parliamentary inquiry — an allegation prosecutors have been studying for several months.
You should probably mention to your pen-pal that the body in charge of deciding whether it’s a complaint that holds water is itself in crisis after a string of scandals.
They include the ‘malicious prosecutions’ of key figures associated with a botched fraud probe into the finances of a famous football club.
The fallout for the taxpayer is unknown but might well amount to £100million, yet a new Justice Secretary — perhaps the lowest-profile of any minister, ever — has nothing to say about it.
An inquiry is promised but then again, you might tell your relative — who by now is probably regretting opening the email — there are inquiries of one kind or another, or pledges to hold them, roughly every five minutes in this malfunctioning, secretive state.
You might also find time to point out that this is a realm that exists far beyond anything as pedestrian as accountability — that’s a bit ‘last century’.
Instead an incestuous elite is guarded by highly-paid propagandists, or special advisers as they’re formally known.
Laws designed to shed light on how government works, and spends your money, are routinely flouted, often with no perceptible consequence.
And abusive trolls are permitted to spread bile on the internet, denouncing anyone with the temerity to question what’s going on — some of them are elected members.
One of them seemed to imply last week that — thanks to the oppressive Conservative Government — we are slowly evolving into a fascist state, ill-advisedly tweeting that the Nazis didn’t have ‘murdering babies’ in their manifesto.
But that is fairly typical of the trench warfare that has raged for years, pre-dating (but exacerbated by) a referendum that divided families and poured poison into public discourse — by the gallon.
You might be surprised when you discover that your relative wasn’t clued in about this, and dismayed that all they seem to know is that the First Minister has done a relatively good job of handling Covid.
That’s a myth — take a look at the case numbers — but it’s also testament to the sales job the SNP and its spinners have done over the years.
And in fairness Boris Johnson has set the bar low on that one, though we were happy enough to take the vaccines he’d presciently pre-ordered (even if we are making a mess of dishing them out).
As you catalogue these calamities for your newly enlightened correspondent, you might well take a moment to reflect on just how dismal it sounds — on the damage that has been wrought, some of it perhaps irreversible.
Yet that’s the reality of Scotland in 2021, and there’s little sign — looking at the systems in place to keep our leaders in check — that it will improve any time soon.
When parliamentary committees aren’t anaemic, or riddled with craven loyalists seemingly incapable of independent thought, they are ignored, bullied or ridiculed.
Failed ministers are brought back into the fold — either because there aren’t any alternatives, or because they’re yes men, or women, guaranteed not to rock the boat.
When government’s sole objective (well, okay, apart from independence) is self-preservation, something has gone disastrously wrong.
Holding onto power for its own sake and buying into the myth of infallibility — demonising all those who dare to criticise — comes at a cost for democracy.
So, how should you end your email (assuming the recipient hasn’t logged off in disgust?) You might mention that at least the weather’s nice, for now anyway…
But there is another possible note of optimism — the allegations of fraud now engulfing the SNP have led to calls for the chief executive, Peter Murrell, who might be on the list of people detectives want to question, to step aside.
These are events that could stoke the factionalism already rife within a movement once renowned for its internal discipline.
Mr Murrell comes as a package with his wife, who was the party’s only real electoral asset — but the gloss is rapidly fading.
And there aren’t many credible successors in the ranks of placemen and time-servers on the SNP’s benches.
It was an empire always likely to crumble from within — but its overdue demise is Scotland’s only hope of renewal.
*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on July 20, 2021.