SNP GOVERNMENT’S PERFORMANCE UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT LIKE NEVER BEFORE
Few governments retain their popularity for four successive straight terms. The SNP’s 64 seat victory in May is unlikely to buck that trend. The fact that Nicola Sturgeon was re-elected as First Minister was more courtesy of almost a year of solid BBC Scotland TV coverage, when she was given an hour a day to update the weary public on the Coronavirus pandemic. The daily Nicola Sturgeon Show was a great promotional tool, while at the same time a significant distraction from the SNP’s legacy of failure as a government.
Let us examine the results of fourteen years of SNP maladministration. A committee of MSPs labelled the Scottish Government’s procurement of two new ferries, ordered from Ferguson Marine, as “a catastrophic failure”. In a deal that was supposed to help revive the Clyde ship building industry, the rusting ferries are now more than four years late. The original £97 million bill for the vessels has soared to £114 million, plus £4.3 million of Covid-induced shutdown costs for the yards. The Ferguson ferry fiasco has compounded an on-going problem with decades-old, broken down Calmac vessels, disrupting freight and passenger services to the islands.
The SNP government’s incompetent and seriously pot-holed transport strategy crashed on takeoff when they bought Prestwick Airport. So far £43m has been loaned to the almost flightless airport since it was saved from closure in 2013 and it remains to be seen whether any new buyer will be prepared to take on that debt. But disastrous state-interventions by the SNP are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to squandering taxpayers’ cash. In 2019 the Scottish Government had to pay more than £500,000 in legal expenses to former First Minister Alex Salmond following a mishandled inquiry into sexual harassment claims; an episode that cascaded into a criminal trial, an acquittal, a lengthy parliamentary inquiry, a huge SNP split and the creation of the Alba party, which attempted to gerrymander the UK out of existence by securing a ‘supermajority’ at the Holyrood election. They failed to win a single seat. Now, in another chaotic mess, it looks as if taxpayers could face a £100 million bill following the bungled attempt to prosecute Rangers’ bosses.
Suspicions among many Scottish business owners that the SNP Government was ‘hoarding’ pandemic relief provided by the UK government, in order to build up a ‘war chest’ for pre-election give-aways, have lingered and are a continuing cause for concern. A Fraser of Allander Institute report in November 2020 highlighted some £1 billion of money squirrelled into reserves rather than being distributed to businesses entering another lockdown. Sure enough, a plethora of expensive pre-election windfalls, from free bikes and laptops for kids, to a new National Care Service, were unveiled in the SNP’s manifesto. Yet, in the words of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), “the SNP provides very few details on how much would be spent on COVID recovery in the months and years ahead, in keeping with their more general lack of transparency on their spending plans.”
Scottish businesses are crying out for well-educated school leavers and university graduates, to meet the enormous challenges facing our economy. But despite endless pledges from Nicola Sturgeon and her team to close the attainment gap, a recent Audit Scotland and Accounts Commission report said progress had been ‘limited’ and ‘falls short’ of the government’s targets. Scottish education, that was once the envy of the world, has plunged to new depths thanks to the SNP. Now there is increasing confusion over how pupils will be awarded grades this year, with the newly appointed Cabinet Secretary for Education, Shirley-Anne Somerville, claiming that “grades will be based not on historical data or use of an algorithm”, only to be confounded by an Education Scotland document published this month which states that staff will “analyse provisional results against three-year or five-year trends from historical data.” In other words, they intend to use historical data and an algorithm! The SNP’s right hand literally does not seem to know what the left hand is doing!
Our failing schools have been matched by similar calamities in the healthcare system. The Scottish Government’s flagship healthcare spending priorities, the £840 million Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow and the sick kids’ hospital in Edinburgh, were both victims of procurement incompetence. Contamination problems in Glasgow led to the deaths of four people, while the Edinburgh facility was delayed for nearly a decade due to problems with ventilation and drainage. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also grudgingly admitted that her government “took our eye off the ball” on drugs policy, leading to rising numbers of deaths since she took office and leaving Scotland labelled the drug death capital of Europe. Then in April the Crown Office revealed that at least 3,400 Covid-related deaths in Scottish care homes were under investigation, highlighting the Scottish Government’s catastrophic failure adequately to protect the most vulnerable people in society during the pandemic. The then Health Secretary Jeane Freeman admitted that sending 113 elderly hospital patients who had tested positive for Covid 19 to care homes “was a mistake.” To top it all, we now have a massive backlog of cancer patients waiting for long-overdue surgery and an NHS waiting list scandal that worsens daily.
An innocent bystander may have thought that with the highest taxes in the UK, Scotland might have boasted some success stories. But the SNP’s cack-handed approach to jobs and business has simply created one disaster after another. As the election dust settles and Scotland begins to return to a sort of post-pandemic normality due to the success of the UK-government’s vaccine rollout, people will have more time to mull over the SNP’s appalling record. Scotland’s business community will hold Nicola Sturgeon’s and her cabinet’s feet to the fire if economic recovery does not remain at the top of her agenda for the foreseeable future, with all talk of breaking up the UK binned. The spotlight is now on the First Minister like never before and the Scottish public want proof that she can run the country as well as read out daily stats on Covid-19.