The Nats are Leaving the Sinking Ship
The news of John Swinney's departure from government reinforces the feeling of a party that is drained of energy and devoid of ideas.
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16 years in government is enough to exhaust anyone. So I wish John Swinney well as he decides to follow Nicola Sturgeon overboard. It is incredible though that in a matter of days, we have seen the First Minister and Deputy First Minister both resign, and Angus Robertson Keith Brown decide they don’t want to lead.
They are leaders of a political movement that has been built on creating the impression of momentum, of the inevitability of the break up of the UK. They spent their whole political journey telling us that the destination was just on the other side of the next ridge, but the clouds have cleared, and they see they are no closer to the summit than when they started. They can’t fool others when they can no longer kid themselves.
16 years in government is also long enough to exhaust the electorate. Every day it seems that another example of the SNP’s dismal failure to deliver. In the last few days, we’ve seen the flagship national care service policy fall apart, the bottle deposit scheme descending into farce, the neglected ferry network close to collapse, figures showing thousands of Scots waiting for years for NHS treatment, and the news that thousands of burglaries simply go uninvestigated. Little wonder the current management wants to leave Yousaf to take the blame for all this. The growing list of failures is still the most convincing theory for why Nicola Sturgeon walked. Though some are still looking for others…
There’s no sign of renewal from the SNP candidates. For one thing, they look tired and uninspired: standing in front of PVC glazing and crates of bottles; standing beneath exit signs in seemingly empty rooms; or posing out by the bins holding a felt-tip written prop.
More worryingly for the party of government is the total absence of a credible governing vision or political strategy from these three potential First Ministers. I suspect this is because there doesn’t seem to be any appetite for this from their selectorate. The first hustings from Cumbernauld this week began with a question asking the candidates to agree that the media were awful baddies and went on to ask such probing questions about nationalist strategy as “who is your best friend?”
Little wonder the party machine tried to keep this debate behind closed doors. The risk for the party wasn’t fireworks between candidates, it was the realisation that the whole contest is a damp squib.
A party facing such fundamental problems needs to ask itself profound questions. All three briefly made contact with reality by admitting there is no majority for leaving the UK. They, and the members they have to win, seem utterly uninterested in asking themselves why.
In a telling moment Yousaf remarked that the Nicola Sturgeon “is the smartest person I know - if there was a quick way to independence, Nicola would have found it.”
In the course of the debate, the contenders offered that they will rejig the management of the independence campaign, give members better memes, or suggested activists knock on some doors. There’s no examination of what independence means for a post-oil, post-Brexit, highly devolved Scotland. No acknowledgement of the political shift happening as UK politics shifts to the left. No interrogation of why previous SNP pledges haven’t been delivered in government, just a heaping of more promises on top of those now forgotten.
The party doesn’t exist to answer such questions. As this passage from a Kate Forbes interview in The Times makes clear:
Later, asked about the state of public services, Forbes says: “I think politicians see the answer is all in the money: put more money in and you’ll get a result. That’s not true. You can have the funding, the funding needs to find its way to the front line, which is where the public are ultimately engaging with these public services. So we need new radical ideas to fix problems, rather than just assuming that money solves problems.”
I feel like I could be listening to a David Cameron-style Conservative, I tell her. She does not protest. How does this fit with the fact that many SNP politicians would be on the left of the Labour Party?
“It’s a broad house, you know, it’s really broad,” she says. “And it reflects the diversity of the Scottish people: ultimately, at the heart of the SNP is a very simple belief that whatever you believe about the way that Scotland should be governed, it should be the people of Scotland that make that decision.”
Hey! Don’t worry about her enthusiasm for austerity, her views on women’s access to healthcare or her opposition to civil rights for gay people, there’s only one thing that really matters.
(And btw, no I’m not saying the SNP’s leaders are rodents. It’s a figure of speech and an amusing pun - thank you, Kevin Hague).
It’s a sign of how unlikely journalists think the break up of the UK is when Ash Regan can announce that she would establish a new currency “a couple of months” after independence without it starting a wider economic discussion.
If Scexit was taken seriously then they might ask what it would mean for the three-quarters of a million Scots who would have their mortgage in a different currency; how many jobs would be lost through hundreds of millions of pounds of new transaction costs for trade with our biggest customer; or what the impact on public services would be of immediately having to accrue massive reserves to defend that new currency.
It’s easy to attack this proposal as daft. After all, how can a group of politicians who can’t be trusted to launch two ferries after eight years be expected to launch a new currency within eight weeks? Yousaf attacked her proposal as lacking credibility. The irony though is that the currency policy that he and Forbes have yet to disavow (one of prolonged Sterlingisation) is even more reckless and would, through crisis rather than choice, result in what Regan is proposing.
Local Budgets, National(ist) Cuts
Where you live in Scotland there is probably a localised row over your local authority budgets - what has been cut and how much Council Tax is going up. It is important to remember that this is against a backdrop of 16 years of the SNP cutting local communities and the services they rely on. This year is no different, despite claims by the SNP of a more generous budget for councils this year. This mini thread from the IFS is worth reading if you want to understand why your local community is being short-changed again:
Culture Corner: Camus Knew
I stumbled across this in a collection of letters from Camus. Although he was writing in an entirely different context from ours, this reply to a friend who accused him of not loving his country resonated. He understood how incoherent it is when we are accused of lacking belief in our country simply because we refuse to subordinate our values to unthinking nationalism:
“You don't love your country!" When I think of your words today, I feel a choking sensation. No, I didn't love my country, if pointing out what is unjust in what we love amounts to not loving, if insisting that what we love should measure up to the finest image we have of her amounts to not loving.