Remember ‘Facts’ for a safer Scotland. How many times have you heard Nicola Sturgeon or Jason Leitch droning out those words and then going on to explain, tediously what the acronym ‘Facts’ stands for? But, to this day, you’d be hard pressed to find a single person who knows what it is. It almost lends itself to Father Jack’s favourite outburst in the Father Ted sitcom! In England, the government chose the slogan ‘Hands, Face, Space.’ Three words, easy to remember and easy to understand. Wash your hands, cover your face and keep a safe distance. The best slogans are always in threes. Remember ‘Get Brexit Done’, that won Boris Johnson a landslide election victory, or ‘Education, Education, Education’ that did the same for Tony Blair? Or even “Slip, Slop, Slap” the Australian sunburn reminder to slip on a shirt, slop on sun cream and slap on a hat.
The ludicrously bewildering ‘Remember Facts’ became a symbol of how the SNP government was determined to be different and, in their view, better. It became like a national poker game. If England suggested that the rule of six excluded children, Scotland said it didn’t. If 15 people can attend a wedding reception in England, 20 can attend in Scotland. If England opted for a 3-tier system before the new lockdown, Scotland had to have 5 tiers (bafflingly numbered 0-4!). Such is the confusion that most people have completely lost track. But for our First Minister, her daily appearance on BBC television was a grand opportunity to pretend how effectively she was dealing with the pandemic in Scotland.
A reality check is long overdue. Firstly, there has been scant mention of the fact that millions of Scottish jobs have survived the lockdowns so far because of massive handouts from the English taxpayer. If Scotland had voted for independence in 2014 we would now be facing a catastrophe, with our economy in freefall, no cash to cover furloughs and a tsunami of bankruptcies and vanished livelihoods. But Rishi Sunak needn’t expect any thanks from the SNP. Like Oliver Twist in the workhouse, Nicola Sturgeon says “Please sir, can I have some more,” every time a cheque for £1 billion lands on her desk. Then, in the traditional nationalist spirit of grudge and grievance, she invariably blames Westminster for not doing enough and for selling Scotland short. But unlike Oliver Twist’s workhouse, Scotland has not been forced to survive on “three meals of thin gruel a day.” On the contrary, Scotland has so far been given more than £10 billion by the Treasury, through furlough payments, business loans, the kickstart scheme for young people, eat out to help out and other Barnett Formula trickle-down consequentials.
Restaurants, pubs, nightclubs and other hospitality businesses forced to close under the draconian Scottish restrictions can claim up to 80% of staff salaries under the furlough scheme, extended to March by the Treasury. But our First Minister, who declares that she never lets politics enter her daily Covid briefings, has launched attack after attack on Rishi Sunak, ridiculously claiming he was failing to support Scotland through the pandemic. Sadly, this subterfuge appears to work, with many Scots believing that the cash handouts are thanks to the generosity of the SNP government. Nicola Sturgeon rages that Scotland can’t borrow money on the international money markets and has to wait for the Chancellor’s contributions. She fails to mention that an independent Scotland, with no credit capacity, would face crippling interest rates on any borrowed cash.
In the fantasy world of SNP politics, nationalists argue that the stark economic realities of independence must be fake news, otherwise why would their revered leaders back it. The similarity between hardline Brexiteers like Nigel Farage, who peddled lies and fantasies to a gullible electorate and hardline nationalists, is strikingly evident, although both would vehemently deny it. Sharply critical of Johnson and Gove for tearing the UK away from the EU, its closest and biggest trading partner, the First Minister is nevertheless determined to tear Scotland away from the UK, our closest and biggest trading partner. 60% of all Scottish exports go to markets in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. If, in the eyes of the SNP it makes no sense for Scotland to leave the EU, then it makes even less sense for Scotland to leave the UK. Swapping Brussels rule for London rule would be foolhardy in the extreme, especially now. The Scottish Government’s own figures imply that independence would be at least eight times as costly as the worst-case, no-deal Brexit situation.
In the Dickens tale, Oliver Twist ends up falling under the spell of the Artful Dodger, who introduces him to Fagin, Bill Sikes and their team of trained pickpockets. Comparisons with the current SNP government are beguiling. However, Dickens’ story has a happy ending when the baddies are all despatched and Oliver Twist inherits a fortune. If Scotland elects a nationalist government again next year, there will be no happy ending. The trained pickpockets will have won and we will face yet another divisive referendum on independence, the outcome of which, if current polls are to be believed, would plunge us into decades of economic hardship.
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted, as never before, the value to businesses and jobs of Scotland’s membership of the UK and the short-sightedness of efforts to end it. The SNP government has a poor track record in a wide range of policy areas, including business support, the education of our children and young people and our healthcare system and yet, balancing the books if we left the UK would entail stark choices over revenue and spending priorities on fundamental services like healthcare and education, mortgages, pensions and infrastructure. Its response to the Covid crisis has been similarly lacklustre, creating confusion and uncertainty for businesses, while taking the credit for support that primarily originates from the UK government. The people of Scotland have had enough of the risk and uncertainty that the endless threat of stepping into the unknown entails. It would benefit would-be supporters of the SNP to ‘Remember Facts.’