Last month, as the Scottish Parliament pulled down the shutters in preparation for the May elections, Nicola Sturgeon appealed to voters to put their trust in the SNP’s ‘experience’ in leadership and governance. It is an experience that many voters may wish to forget. The First Minister had just survived a vote of no confidence for misleading parliament. Her deputy, John Swinney survived another vote of no confidence for withholding evidence from the Salmond Inquiry. The experience of voters after watching Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond fighting like cats in a sack was not a pleasant one. Nor was the experience of confronting the worst recession in our history, while the SNP government wasted time on their endless and selfish obsession with breaking up Britain.
If the SNP manages to form yet another government on 6th May, Scotland will experience five more years of incompetence, scandal, arrogance and authoritarian control, against a background of constant demands for partition and constitutional upheaval. Grudge and grievance against the Westminster government will be turbo-charged, as the nationalists try to convince us that jettisoning our successful 314-year-old partnership with our British neighbours will lead to economic heaven. They will scream “project fear” when down-to-earth economists try to point out that severing links with the rest of the UK will end the £11 billion of fiscal transfers paid annually to Scotland from the UK Treasury, enabling the Scottish government to spend £2,000 more per head on every man, woman and child than they get in England.
The separatists will claim that those who support the UK live in a fantasy world, where wicked Tories at Westminster impose harsh decisions on Scotland. They will conveniently forget the £10.9 billion emergency funding provided by Chancellor Rishi Sunak during the lockdown that helped to sustain 900,000 Scottish jobs. They will ignore the warnings from the TaxPayers’ Alliance that an independent Scotland would need to raise the basic rate of income tax to 46 pence in the pound, or increase VAT to 49% to pay for its current level of spending. They will pray that voters will forget their cack-handed ineptitude, costing Scottish taxpayers over £400 million, at BiFab, Ferguson Marine, Prestwick Airport and the Lochaber Smelter, not to mention their shambolic supervision of the Sick Kids’ Hospital in Edinburgh and the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow. They will omit to remind voters of how they landed Scottish taxpayers with a £600,000 bill over their bungled handling of the Salmond sexual harassment case, not to mention the fact that they badly let down the two women concerned, with no-one held accountable for the debacle.
The list of failures and fiascos is a long one. But such matters can be quickly overcome by hoarding money earmarked for helping Scotland’s struggling hospitality sector and small businesses, then pumping it out at the last minute before the election in the form of a high-profile wage increase for nurses and a £350 million pledge to provide schoolkids with a laptop and bicycle; blatant election bribes that will cost jobs in the hospitality sector where the money was supposed to go.
SNP ministers’ shouts of “Give us all the levers of power and we will stimulate economic growth” ring hollow, when you review their record of failure in office. The Scottish Government repeatedly calls for greater borrowing powers but omits to mention that it already has borrowing powers which it doesn’t use. The model of independence they are proposing is one in which the key macro lever for an independent country - monetary policy - will not be available to them for a considerable time, due to their proposed use of sterling. So-called ‘sterlingisation’ will lead to them being forced to pay brutally high interest rates on their debt, which will of course mean that money that could be spent on public services will have to go to paying much higher debt servicing charges than would exist if we stayed in the UK.
But as Mark Twain said “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” The truth is that severing links with our nearest neighbour, where we do 63% of our trade, will lead to catastrophe. We need to concentrate all of our efforts on rebuilding the post-pandemic economy, rather than indulging in a divisive, time-wasting indyref2. All of the opinion polls point to the fact that the people of Scotland place jobs, economic growth and recovery from the pandemic as their priorities and regard the SNP government’s focus on independence as a distraction. They do not want another independence referendum for years. Scottish businesses are desperate for better and faster broadband rollout, for vastly improved infrastructure and for restoring education to standards that used to be the envy of the world. They are crying out for a government that values business and industry as the cornerstone of a country’s prosperity. They do not want another five years of falling standards and neglect.
Alex Salmond’s new Alba Party raises the prospect of years of further civil strife as the Salmondistas and the Sturgeonites slug it out. The voters have no time for this absurdity. They do not like divided parties and they do not want years of division. They want leadership, they want economic recovery and they want stability. They know that these things will never be delivered by the warring factions within the independence movement. It is time to move on, to concentrate on the priorities for economic recovery and jobs. Fourteen years of poor governance under the SNP, culminating in 14 months of Covid lockdown and economic stagnation, have brought Scotland to a crossroads. We must choose between a future filled with nationalist division, risk and uncertainty or a future based on our shared determination to succeed as a United Kingdom. Scotland is better off within the UK and the UK is better off with Scotland in it. Our experience of 314 years of economic, social and cultural co-existence as a union of nations, should be the experience that guides our votes. The SNP’s election leaflet is headlined “Hope for a better tomorrow.” After the past 14 years of SNP waste and incompetence it is a slogan worth remembering.