John Campbell says of the SNP that one would struggle – even in all the pages of history – to find a political party which after so long in power fell quite so short of its own bar.

Ever the underdog, Scotland may have been surprised to learn that it recently topped a league table: after 14 years of SNP rule we have the highest drug death rate in Europe.

And it gets worse – ours is the highest by far.  With 295 deaths per million in Scotland, we have over 3 times the number of drug deaths than the next country on the list – Sweden, with just 81.  The UK has 76.

But this article is not only about drug deaths.  It is about the failure in social policy this tragic reality represents, and the opportunity to improve Scotland which the SNP traded off for the only cause they have advocated in 100 years: separation.

As I enter my mid-thirties, I have lived my entire adult life under SNP rule.  At the age of 18, it made sense to me that a complacent and managerial Scottish Labour Party of 2007 lost to an invigorating and positive movement of fresh faces and fresh ideas.  The front page of the SNP’s 2007 manifesto promised us, “A nation that is healthier, with vital health services kept local; communities that are safer with a more visible police presence…and families that are wealthier.”

One would struggle – even in all the pages of history – to find a political party which after so long in power fell quite so short of its own bar.

And what was the headline policy that ushered in this new era of change? – Their promise to cut class sizes to just 18 pupils.  And yet here we are in 2021, with 1,700 fewer (full time equivalent) teachers than we started with, steadily declining academic standards in international league tables, and average class sizes of over 23.

The signs were clear to many Scots early on.  As a student activist a decade ago, I was forced to campaign against the SNP’s devastating cuts to college education across our nation – which disproportionately impacted upon the lives of our poorest young men and women.  And then I led students across Scotland to campaign nationally, resisting the SNP’s reintroduction of tuition fees.  Scottish degrees remain amongst the most expensive in Europe for ‘rest of UK’ students.

And what was the SNP’s ‘big idea’ for getting to grips with Scotland’s appalling levels of crime? The dysfunctional Police Scotland.  The amalgamation of Scotland’s historic forces placed all policing power into the pocket of the SNP.  And so what was the insurance policy to guarantee against the politicisation of our police? The Scottish Police Authority: an organisation so toothless and ineffective it was described as “fundamentally flawed” by its own former Chair; ignored by the Chief Constable who had to out-source its work; and labelled ineffective to the Justice Committee by HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland. 

Police Scotland’s first Chief was sacked, and its second forced to resign amid serious allegations.  But its challenges went well beyond its management at the top.  The SNP’s commitment to ‘1000 extra police officers’ was counteracted by compulsory redundancies of civilian staff, which pushed our most experienced officers into office functions.  Response teams were merged and then cut.  As a response officer in Edinburgh, I was regularly one of only 4 officers covering the whole of East Edinburgh on shift.  Calls unanswered; appalling levels of enquiry into crime; brave officers and vulnerable communities let down.

Where was the radical shake-up of education and meaningful investments in social services?  Where was the rewriting of criminal justice to deal with addiction, antisocial behaviour and repeat offenders?  Where was the war on poverty?  Perhaps the greatest irony of our government has been that in its pursuit of independence, our communities have been left so much less empowered.  The fact that child poverty in Scotland has risen to an astonishing 1 in 4 (and forecast to grow even further) illustrates the magnitude of their failure.

Each life is precious, and weaves uniquely into the remarkable fabric we call our society.  Like many of Scotland’s social challenges, the reasons behind drug deaths are complex.  But they are rooted in a story of failing education standards, a broken criminal justice system, underperforming healthcare, and neglected social services.  And when was the last time any of us had a meaningful policy debate about these core functions of government?

When we consider the direct results of these policy failures, we bring into sharp focus that the ‘enemy’ of our nation is not Westminster, the BBC, or the ‘establishment parties’.  It is nationalism – the same divisive fallacy that promises us everything and yet offers us nothing.

Scotland’s drug death figures may have been a wakeup call to the SNP that they needed a new Minister for Public Health.  But to our nation, they ought to serve as a wakeup call that we need a new type of politics: one which seeks progress and unity; rather than protest and division.

We cannot quantify the opportunities we have lost to nationalism.  We will never know what could have been made of the lives and communities that have slipped through the fingers of our nationalist government over the last 14 years.

We have lost one generation.  Let us ensure that we do not lose the next.

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8 thoughts on “Scotland’s Lost Generation

  1. Hello John. Thanks for an interesting article with the points raised very powerfully put. There is a lot I have to agree with here but not your analysis that nationalism/separatism is the underlying cause. (I support independence)

    You say that “One would struggle – even in all the pages of history – to find a political party which after so long in power fell quite so short of its own bar.” but I don’t think we have to look that far back in time to see the abject failure of the Blair government in similar areas to those you highlight. I recall Tony Blair in 1999 promising to eradicate child poverty by 2020, (and Gordon Brown would halve it by 2010) but Brown and Blair even missed this first target. I remember Thatcher freezing grants for students then replacing them with student loans something you expect of a Conservative government but it was Tony Blair’s Labour Party that introduced tuition fees in England. It is this policy that disadvantaged many working class families and that led to the ‘odd’ outcome in Scotland that you mention.

    One of Blair’s first speeches as leader of the Party was a pledge to get rid of zero hours contracts but after thirteen years he never got round to doing it. I still have the pleasure of working under these conditions. Then we had the Labour party’s promise of an “ethical” foreign policy; well, this ended in the dodgy dossier, extraordinary rendition and a couple of wars around the world

    Labour’s pledge to reduce primary school class sizes in 1997 was attributed by David Blunkett himself to being made possible at the expense of class sizes at secondary level. Interestingly, the link between class size and attainment level has been the subject of debate for some time. Matthew Taylor (Labour’s director of policy 1997) of the IPPR now says that the class-size pledge was a mistake and that targeting inner-city schools would have been a better investment whilst the LSE state that good teaching is of more importance in raising attainment than class size. The problem of education in our schools is much bigger than class size and this needs more considered thought to attempt a fix. One major problem that has to be addressed here in Scotland is the failing CfE itself – it just is not working.

    With regard to Police Scotland, I have to say that like yourself I was particularly concerned about the loss of local accountability and the centralisation of power. I agree with you this is very worrying and has to be rethought. I am not particularly au fete with police matters but reading the Martin Beck series it is interesting to see how Marxists view the same nationalisation of Sweden’s force and how it affected relations within the force itself and its relationship with the public. What does seem to be wrong – here in Scotland as in Sweden – is the way this new national police force has been constructed. Definitely needs looking at.

    Just one thing. The force is only in the pocket of the SNP if the population votes for an SNP government.

    However, there is no getting away from the major thrust of your piece: the scourge of child poverty is a national disgrace. Yes, the Scottish Child Payment welcomed by Poverty Alliance, JRF and Oxfam and hailed by CPAG as a game changer is useful but it is not enough. One in four is a terrible figure, I believe in England its one in three, better but a disgrace all the same. The problem we have to address is whether we actually want to solve the problem or to simply play with figures. I am sorry that here I have again to attack a Labour initiative but Gordon Brown’s SureStart project cut child poverty by a bit of a trick, targeting families living just below the poverty line to raise them above it. Yes, this had the effect of reducing figures and indeed alleviating the situation for some but in reality it left those at the bottom, those most in need, exactly where they were. This is not an area for party politics it is an area for a national effort over the whole UK. However, I cannot see a Boris Johnston government implementing such a policy nor in reality can I see a Sir Keir Starmer government implementing one either.

    Presently, Scotland has a purse that gets filled every so often for the housekeeping. She can only spend what she gives her. Better to let her loose and earn her own money and be responsible for her own successes and mistakes.

    1. I would like to respond to your last comment Presently, Scotland has a purse that gets filled every so often for the housekeeping. She can only spend what she gives her. Better to let her loose and earn her own money and be responsible for her own successes and mistakes”, Scotland or the SNP government propped up by the greens seem to find plenty of money to use on failed projects like “Prestwick Airport”, “Bi-Fab”, “New Ferries” to name but a few, hundreds of millions spent on projects that will never be recoverable, yet you say that the government can only do so much with the money from the block grant, I get very tired of listening to excuses being made from many quarters around the failures of the SNP Government, yet each election, I am sick and tired of areas like child poverty becoming politicised and an election pledge, yet as soon as the election is over it’s all forgotten about. Happy to listen to the funding argument, if millions are not wasted on projects that should never have been or funded by Tax payer monies, and I nearly forgot about the SNP foreign missions that cost about £40 million a year, yet this is a reserved area, look what this money could have done for local areas to help fund community projects as well as lift our children out of poverty.

      1. Hello Douglas. Thanks for your comment and I agree the three projects you mention are good examples of “her own successes and mistakes” – and Scotland managed this waste without independence! I think the problem sometimes is that we equate the SNP with independence but they are not the same thing. Many who vote SNP do so for the outcome, not the party. With the centrist placing of almost all parties there is little to choose between them so the SNP just have the additional appeal of the possibility of independence – which is attractive for those who want it.

        For me, what that independence will allow is a complete change of direction that is not inhibited or encumbered by an overlord which manages the overall accounts and sets the ideological undercurrent.

        Taking your examples, the BiFab fiasco and the ferries contracts. I agree these are two really poor projects wasting not just money but opportunities and jobs, but with regard to Prestwick, I believe it was bought for a quid eight years ago and is now making a profit after years of losses and is up for sale again. How much this will cost the tax payer in the end we will have to wait and see.

        However, the losses to the taxpayer you mention requires some context as all of us in the UK have to pay for the following UK disasters:
        NHS computer system £10billion (billion), e borders £830million, FireControl £469million, ID Cards system £257million, Scope 2 £24.4million – all long-term computer projects that were cancelled. Nothing to show for this money.

        And away from computer systems there was the 1998 Strategic Defence Review which included the following initiatives:
        building two aircraft carriers for the future £6.2billion, developing then scrapping Nimrod ELINT £3.4billion (billion), and of course maintaining our nuclear capability with Trident and replacements. All of these disasters were commissioned under Tony Blair’s Labour party. In Scotland, Labour were at it too: with Donald Dewar we had the Scottish Parliament building £414 Million, with Jack Mc Connell the Edinburgh Trams project was given the go ahead costing ‘someone’ £776million.

        I don’t mean this to be attacking Labour. All political parties make bad decisions that cost taxpayers money. I wouldn’t even go near the list you could weigh against Thatcher and Cameron and Co. I admit as a socialist I am no fan of the Blairite Labour party but by eck, you can see the difference when you have the Tories in office.

        I note what you say about the £40million going to overseas projects but I believe that this is a continuation of the good work started by Jack Mc Connell when he set up the Scotland Malawi Partnership in 2005. This was funded in part by the then Scottish Executive for two and a half years something the SNP continued from the International Development Fund. Surely this is a good thing?

        What I am trying to say though is that Scotland needs to be able to make all of its mistakes – not just in those areas it is allowed. A lot of independence supporters only support the SNP for that outcome – Scotland unencumbered.

        Look at what the UK is just now, a right wing government with rampant corruption operating in a non-proportional elected democratic chamber, scrutinised by an unelected second chamber overseen by an unelected head of state. Is this what we want for our government?

  2. Drugs are not a new problem. During the time of Strathclyde region, drug addicts were decanted to Cumnock from Glasgow in the belief that a removal from their familiar environs would help wean the off drugs—it had the opposite effect. The dealers followed them down finding society totally unprepared for a drugs deluge involving its youth—then Cumnock and Doon Valley had an economic collapse with pit and factory closures, and East Ayrshire has a serious drug problem to this day. Both Cumnock and Strathclyde were Labour heartlands at the time.
    Does anyone have a solution? Poverty and despair is a drivers of addiction, and Scotland has has decades of economic decline. It is a highly profitable criminal enterprise and Scottish drug pushing families seem to have more to fear from each other than the police.
    This should be a cross-party issue not a sore to be picked for party advantage, but like the pandemic, attracts low-life politicking.

    1. One suggestion would be to fund more addiction treatment facilities. Instead the SNP shut them down. Own it. Stop saying “This should be a cross-party issue” to avoid facing up to the failures of the government you support.

      1. I absolutely agree that more addiction facilities would help, but that alone will not solve the problem, which is long standing and imbedded in our poorest areas. We have to find a way to stop the conveyer belt of our young people getting hooked in the first place, and that will not be easy, or achieved with sound-bites from millionaires.
        I only “support” this government because I believe what Keir Hardie believed—that Scotland should be a self-governing country.

        1. I think we need to introduce a minimum sentence of 10 years for drug consumption. Most young people wouldn’t dream of committing an armed robbery or rape because they known they’d get a lengthy prison sentence. If there was a minimum 10 year sentence for drug use, nobody would go near the stuff. Drug dealers need sentenced to life without parole. Who would be a drug dealer if getting caught meant spending the rest of their life in prison? We can eliminate drug deaths in Scotland, but only through very tough actions. My plan would eradicate drug deaths and consumption in Scotland by 2030.

  3. You are a bunch of undemocratic twerps. You tried to overturn the Brexit result and now you’re trying to stop us Scots from freeing ourselves from the shackles of Westminster. Shame on the lot of you.

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