IT’S incredible. At one time we Scots were known for our pugnacious, in-your-face attitude. ‘We’re a’ Jock Thamson’s bairns’ was the common saying, meaning no one was above criticism. We delighted in cutting the high and mighty down to size: ‘Him, I kent his faither’. Yet today we are supine, meek sheep, frightened to say boo to a goose, or at least frightened to say boo to Nicola Sturgeon. Scotland, no longer the stag at bay, more the sheep to be fleeced.
What happened? An increasingly authoritarian SNP government, in power for fifteen years with very little in the way of achievements and many disasters, appears to sail calmly on without serious opposition. It has failed in education, it has failed in health, it has failed in the economy, it has failed in transport: the list goes on and on.
Scotland has consistently fallen down the OECD Index of Social and Economic Wellbeing. In the last Index Scotland fell five places across a range of measures including income, education, longevity and inclusivity. Scotland now ranks 21st out of 32 and matches Slovenia, a country climbing out of the social, cultural and economic devastation of communist rule. Yet there is no popular swell of discontent.
Partly this is due to the fact that since 1990, apart from four years under John Swinney, the country has been led by two of the most effective politicians in the UK. You may not like Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon but they are able to run rings around the Westminster parties. Salmond was widely acknowledged as the most able operator in the Commons.
Salmond’s protege and chosen successor Nicola Sturgeon displays her political expertise at home, eviscerating her opposition in Holyrood: that is those in her own party who could become rival contenders for the throne. Salmond was nearly thrown into jail, independent thinking MSPs like Kenny MacAskill have been forced out, and the redoubtable Joanne Cherry has been effectively sidelined. Like all authoritarian leaders the paramount quality in the Sturgeon playbook is ‘loyalty to the leadership’.
Sturgeon’s instinct for self-preservation serves her well, but has consequences for Scotland. The SNP government is now crowded with mediocre politicians with an inflated sense of their own importance and delusions as to their own ability jostling for position.
Humza Yousaf flits from ministerial post to ministerial post: Europe and International Development, Transport and the Islands, Justice, and now Health and Social Care. Wherever he goes he displays as much evidence of administrative competence as he does on a mobility scooter, yet he is always moved either upwards or sideways, never sacked. He is loyal, for the moment.
John Swinney’s boringly nice exterior is fraying after repeated missteps, including censure by Parliament for ‘an abuse of power’ as long ago as 2010. Despite this he rose at one point to leadership of the SNP. He is the cabinet member overseeing the Named Person Scheme which would appoint a state-selected ‘guardian’ able to overrule the parents for every child in Scotland. Thankfully this was kicked out by the courts, not by the opposition MSPs.
Writing of the failure of SNP’s education policy as revealed by the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) figures, economist John McLaren of the Scottish Trends website attributes underperformance to factors including accountability: ‘There is a lack of being held to account over policy decisions, in other words too little scrutiny and proper evaluation of the actions of the Scottish government.’
To describe the opposition in Holyrood as feeble is charitable. Scottish Conservatives under Douglas Ross are little more than pale blue Lib Dems, and Labour have never recovered their nerve after the shellacking they received for taking the electorate for granted. It is best to pass over the Lib Dems, the political equivalent of Harry Enfield’s ‘Tim Nice but Dim’. The Greens have traded what little soul they have for a place in Nicola’s cabinet. To quote Nicola Sturgeon, ‘Effective opposition matters in a democracy, but that is not what we have in Scotland.’ She got it spot on.
At First Minister’s Questions, Sturgeon freely treats the opposition with ill-concealed contempt. She knows the electorate has little affection for them and won’t complain when she refuses to answer their questions. With Alison Johnstone, elected as a Scottish Green, as Presiding Officer (Speaker) she knows she is not going to be held to account.
In the four elections since the EU referendum, the pro-independence vote has averaged 41 per cent. In the General Election of 2019 the combined SNP and Green vote was 46 per cent, a total failure if we consider Brexit and the unpopularity of the UK’s Johnson government. Despite the impression given by both BBC and STV, it is evident that the Scottish electorate reject independence and support for it is dropping. Meanwhile the supposed opposition parties meekly propose the proven failure of enhanced devolution, always another step towards independence.
Our media have no hesitation in ripping into Boris Johnson or Michael Gove, yet give Sturgeon, Yousaf, Blackford et al the easiest of rides. No searching interrogation regarding the ferries debacle, no full court press on the Named Person Scheme, no relentless questioning on their damaging educational policies, meek acceptance of their authoritarian wokeness. Perhaps the overwhelmingly left of centre Scottish media got accustomed to acquiescence during the decades when Scotland under Labour was a one-party state and have mislaid their spherical objects. Whatever the reason they give every impression of being Sturgeon’s poodles.
Business, unions and councils all keep their heads well below the parapet. Before readers in England look smugly north they should ask themselves: ‘Where is the resistance to the woke advance in England?’ Certainly not in Parliament and the socially conservative parties are too fragmented to be effecive, all chiefs with no one is willing to be an Indian for the same of the country.
Wherever we look there is meek acceptance.