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Sunday, April 14, 2024
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HomeCulture WarCarry On Spending! The SNP’s farcical Egyptian jolly

Carry On Spending! The SNP’s farcical Egyptian jolly

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IT USED to be typical for 70s sitcoms to set a film-length edition overseas, usually on the pretext of a works outing or group holiday. Cue culture shock hilarity and national stereotypes of a sort somewhat out of fashion these days. But revelations that the Scottish government spent £150,000 of taxpayers’ money taking a large cast and crew on the road to a five-star resort in Sharm El Sheikh for last November’s COP 27 (with a nice wee stopover in Milan) revives memories of the sitcom trope. Minus the hilarity, of course (the SNP produce the least humorous politicians on the planet).

The ‘Carry On Spending’ luxury boondoggle in Egypt is particularly egregious as technically speaking the Scottish government were not even invited to the global climate shindig. They decided to crash the party in the interests of carrying on the good work from COP 26 in Glasgow. Along with all the personal expenses (and we’ll get to some of those) £75,000 was spent on office space and a pavilion, wholly unnecessary given that the UK government – and let’s not forget the UK includes Scotland – were invited and represented at the highest level: Rishi Sunak, no less.

A Freedom of Information request produced a 24-page list of the minutiae of the excesses of the Egyptian jolly. 

They include £45,000 spent on rooms at the resort with its three swimming pools, spa and tennis courts and nearly £1,000 on mobile phones. As for food, 18 burgers, including a ‘Whopper large’ (served, presumably with a side order of ‘Glasgow salad’ (chips) were claimed for along with pizzas, sushi, tapas, ice cream and Pringles. All of which is hard to swallow for taxpayers suffering from a cost of living crisis who might be lucky to get a weekend in Millport this year, never mind a premium resort in Egypt.

The bill from Sharm El Sheikh adds to the mounting evidence of the colossal waste and incontinent excesses over 16 years of SNP maladministration. Putting an exact figure on the current bill is hard but £4.5billion is one estimate. The never-ending ferries saga (a further £20million has been pledged with still no sign of a launch date), the propping up of hopeless bankruptcy-bound companies, pointless overseas ‘embassies’ and countless other failed and failing vanity projects (such as the £148million on a census whose data could not be used). amounts to an appalling and continuing cycle of taxpayer abuse.

How did this happen? Along with the individuals involved, whom former UK ambassador Craig Murray has dubbed the ‘troughocracy’,  blame can be apportioned to the flaws in the devolution settlement, the inability of the opposition parties in Scotland to mount a serious challenge to SNP dominance, and the media for failing to hold the ‘Scottish government’ to account (the Sharm El Sheikh story received no coverage on BBC Scotland or STV). You could also blame Scots for being daft enough to keep electing these larcenous clowns and the UK government for allowing them to get away with it.

If any of this could be fixed, the devolution settlement might be the best place to start, with far more oversight and much greater scrutiny urgently needed. Devoid of any real accountability or likelihood of losing office, and supremely confident that Westminster would continue to sign the cheques come what may, a ‘spend, spend, spend’ mentality developed on a ministerial and personal level during the SNP era.

There are now 28 members in the bloated incubus that is the Scottish government cabinet (Donald Dewar made do with nine in the first Scottish ‘executive’ in 1999) all with staff, limousines and expense accounts. It seems there is always room for another first-class customer on the gravy train with plum jobs which seem to have been plucked from the BBC’s W1A. For instance Julie Hepburn, wife of Minister for Independence Jamie, has recently been appointed to the new role of ‘head of strategic delivery’, no doubt with a generous salary. This has to stop.

When I heard about the Sharm El Sheikh expenses, I couldn’t help contrasting this wanton self-indulgence and heedless profligacy at the top of government with the attitude of Margaret Thatcher, hatred of whom apparently motivated Nicola Sturgeon to enter politics in the first place. Notes released after Lady Thatcher’s death revealed that she frequently quibbled with her officials about household expenditure at Number Ten and urged thrift even in seemingly trivial purchases

Less than two months after she took office in 1979 she commented on a note from a civil servant on the breakdown of a £1,700 refurbishment of the Number Ten flat, which included itemised costs for basic household items. The civil servant had written: ‘I find these figures impossible to believe’ to which Mrs Thatcher responded ‘So do I!’ She added that she would pay for the ironing board herself and that some of the linen could be put into store, ‘bearing in mind we use only one bedroom’.

But that was back in the 70s. Such attitudes are somewhat out of fashion these days.

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