RATS in a sack. How else to describe the state of the Scottish National Party at the moment?
Despite riding high in the polls both in Scotland and England, Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP government is heading for the rocks. The only question is whether it will be holed irretrievably before the May elections.
By the time those elections come around, the SNP will have been in power for 14 years. With the exception of Blair and Thatcher, that’s longer than any single-party British government since 1830.
With popular support and increasing constituency votes, one would expect Scotland to have been transformed. But this is Scotland and the SNP record is one of consistent failure. Sturgeon’s government has been as effective as Ally MacLeod’s Scotland team in the 1978 World Cup.
Beating Labour by one seat in 2007, the SNP made manifesto pledges. It promised to abolish council tax, which is still with us. It promised to reduce poverty, standing at 17 per cent in 2017. It is 20 per cent today.
It promised ‘smaller class sizes, starting with a reduction in the first three years of primary to 18 or less’. Instead, class sizes have grown. There was a promise to scrap student debt. Instead, this has soared by 42 per cent since the SNP came to power.
When Sturgeon became First Minister in 2014, she proclaimed that she wanted to be judged on her reputation in education. At one time, Scotland had a reputation for educational excellence. No longer. The standard has plummeted like mercury in the Arctic.
Scotland is hurtling down the Programme for International Student Assessment rankings, with the lowest scores in maths and science since first taking part 20 years ago. Under the SNP, Scotland has gone from 11th to 24th in maths and from 11th to 23rd in reading.
Thirty per cent of pupils now leave primary school below the expected literacy level. As a result of continual failure in education, there has not been a government-led debate on education standards in the Scottish Parliament for more than two years.
On health, the SNP government is doing no better. The target for 95 per cent of A&E patients to either be seen, transferred or discharged within four hours has not been met for over two years.
Scotland has the highest drug death rate in the EU. Records show there were 1,264 drug deaths in 2019, the highest number on record and nearly double the figure in 2014, and three and a half times the death rate in England and Wales.
Two new hospitals have been built, the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow and the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People in Edinburgh. Both are subject to the same inquiry as to their planning, design, construction, commissioning and, where appropriate, maintenance. Hearings begin in September 2021, well after the election.
It’s not only procurement of hospitals. Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee has concluded that there has been a ‘catastrophic failure’ in the procurement process for the two ferries presently under construction at the Ferguson Shipyard in Port Glasgow.
Every woke step forward the activists take distances the SNP from their core. Not just the steps themselves, but the bungling of their implementation.
Announced in 2014, the disastrous Named Person scheme, whereby every child in Scotland was to be given a state appointed guardian from birth to 18, was supposed to be introduced in 2016.
All the political parties, apart from the Conservatives who abstained, supported its introduction. As well as arousing intense opposition amongst the public, the introduction of this flagship programme was handled so badly, including an SNP government loss in the UK Supreme Court, that it was cancelled.
The SNP determination to introduce legislation supporting self-recognition of gender change has aroused direct opposition within the party itself. Fifteen MSPs, including three cabinet ministers, have urged the party not to rush into legislation.
Infighting over the gender change legislation has reached the stage where Joanna Cherry, a fierce critic of Sturgeon, has been sacked as SNP Commons spokesman for home affairs.
The Women’s Pledge grouping of SNP activists argues that the Scottish government’s measures to strengthen the rights and protections for trans people have eroded rights for women. They have won seats on the national executive and other party committees. The opposition to the Gender Recognition Act has become a proxy internal SNP war between the supporters of Sturgeon and Salmond.
With a compliant media and a pitiable opposition in Holyrood, the only thing which can bring the SNP down is the SNP, and there is plenty of evidence that, true to Scottish tradition, the infighting is increasing. The word may come from Italy, but the principle of vendetta has long been to the fore in Scottish history and politics, and the SNP is no exception.
The scandals are lining up, chief amongst them is the attempt to destroy Alex Salmond. Salmond is not noted for having a gentle and forgiving spirit.
It is generally thought that emerging unscathed from his trial for sexual offences in the High Court of Edinburgh, he had something on his mind other than a quiet evening by the fireside in his slippers.
Anne Harvey, a member of the Law Society of Scotland and principal assistant to Patrick Grady, SNP chief whip in the Commons, says that she has ‘believed for some time’ there has been a ‘witch hunt’ and a conspiracy to ruin Salmond.
The ire of the Salmondistas is focused on Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell – who is also chief executive of the SNP – and the reluctance of the duo to provide credible and non-conflicting evidence to the Holyrood inquiry into the ‘Salmond affair’.
Such has been the disbelief in the inquiry committee that Jackie Baillie, deputy leader of Scottish Labour, has invited the Crown Office to investigate Murrell for allegedly giving a false statement under oath, an offence with a maximum five-year prison sentence.
The SNP will implode. The real question is will it happen before May 6, the date of the next Holyrood election.