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Monday, April 15, 2024
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HomeNewsHow Sturgeon’s policy posturing ended up penalising Scots

How Sturgeon’s policy posturing ended up penalising Scots

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THE law of unintended consequences tells us to ‘check out all possibilities emerging from an action, because no matter how well intentioned, it could come back and bite you where it hurts.’  

Scotland’s SNP administration, an outfit rarely accused of joined-up thinking, has never managed to learn from experience that it should think things through. The past few weeks have thrown up two reports highlighting the unintended consequences arising from this failure. 

As Health Secretary in 2008, Nicola Sturgeon pledged to act ‘decisively and comprehensively’ to tackle problem drinking, which costs the health service more than £2billion a year.  

A decade later, Sturgeon was First Minister when minimum unit pricing (MUP) became law. Introduced in a well-intentioned effort to reduce the number of alcohol-related deaths, MUP placed a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol at point of sale. By raising the cost of super-strength ciders from £3.50 a bottle to £11, this was intended to hit the hardest drinkers.  

MUP’s effect has not entirely been as intended. Whilst raising the price of alcohol for everyone, the government’s own health body, Public Health Scotland, has found that MUP has led problem drinkers to sacrifice heating and eating to buy alcohol. Hardly a surprise. 

As well as an alcohol problem, Scotland has the worst drug problems in Europe and this has been exacerbated by MUP. The death toll from drugs in 2021 was 1,330 – nine fewer than the previous year, but still almost four times the rate recorded in England. In 2018, Scotland had 295 drug deaths per million of the population aged between 15 and 64. The next highest was Sweden at 81. 

In 2015 benzodiazepines – known as ‘benzos’ or ‘street Valium’ – were linked to 191 deaths, but were a factor in almost five times as many (918) last year. Benzos are readily available for as little as 20p a pill. 

Annemarie Ward, founder of the drug and alcohol charity Favour UK, said its fears that MUP would cause people to switch to drugs had been borne out. ‘If members of deprived communities no longer have access to oblivion through cheap “lighter fuel” cider, they will choose a different source to get that,’ she added. ‘If you have 30 quid in your pocket and you are feeling stressed, you could go to the cinema, go out for a meal or buy a nice bottle of wine. If you’ve only got three quid, there’s not a lot of options.’ 

In education, the SNP’s failure to think things through is also being highlighted. A briefing paper on university education from Reform Scotland has found that the SNP’s policy of free university tuition fees has ‘created an artificial cap on the number of Scottish students that can study in Scotland. Our young people’s ambition is being stifled by how we fund higher education’. 

On gaining power in 2007, the SNP abolished university tuition fees for Scottish domiciled students. Students from elsewhere have to pay full fees.  

The SNP administration sets the amount of funding provided to Scottish universities in order to cover the shortfall, but this amount is proving inadequate. The unintended, but entirely foreseeable, consequence of this move has been an artificial cap on places for Scottish students at Scottish universities. 

Instead of making it easier for Scots to attend Scottish universities, the SNP policy of no fees for Scottish students makes it harder for qualified Scots to attend Scottish universities.  

Since 2006, there has been an 84 per cent increase in the number of Scottish domiciled applicants being refused entry to Scottish universities. And the SNP is not prepared to admit it has failed and make the necessary policy adjustments. 

Places in Scottish universities do go to overseas students, particularly from China and from the rest of the UK, who pay a full fee. Also, in the cause of levelling up, places go to Scottish students who live in selected postcodes.   

Whilst the SNP administration is straining to be the ‘most progressive’ anywhere, gaining the entrance qualifications with flying colours is no longer sufficient for a Scottish student to get a place at a Scottish university.  

Finally, the Scottish middle classes, who could afford and would be willing to pay tuition fees but aren’t permitted to, have to struggle for the remaining places. Those failing to get a place in Scottish universities go elsewhere, usually England. 

A further consequence of SNP failure to think things through is the impact this will have on Scotland’s future. When Scottish students do go to English universities, gain good degrees and enter the labour market, does anyone actually believe they are going to rush back to Scotland in order to make a meaningful contribution to Scotland‘s economy and culture?  

The SNP, whilst posturing as an enlightened administration working hard for Scotland, is in effect creating Scotland’s very own brain drain. The main beneficiary is England. 

As well as excluding many Scottish students, the universities’ search for fee-paying students has led to a significant increase in Chinese students.  

Of a total fee income last year of £790million at Glasgow, Edinburgh, Strathclyde and Heriot-Watt universities, Chinese students contributed £245million. One consequence of this is that Scottish universities host cultural programmes that have been described as ‘an extension of the government in Beijing’. 

China has also provided more than £3million to place Confucius Institutes, which promote Chinese culture, in Scottish universities and schools. In 2019, a Human Rights Watch report on China said the institutes ‘censor certain topics and perspectives in course materials on political grounds, and use hiring practices that take political loyalty into consideration’. So much for the SNP’s progressive posturing. 

When governments fail to think things through, it is the people who pay the price. 

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Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Dr Campbell Campbell-Jackhttp://www.agrainofsand.co.uk/
Campbell is a retired Presbyterian minister who lives in Stirlingshire. He blogs at A Grain of Sand.

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