Alastair Osborne says the SNP’s hubris is breathtaking in its scale, but the cracks are appearing and its nemesis will surely follow.
Shostakovich’s son Maxim used to perform a sketch for his father’s friends called ‘The Bulgarian Policeman ties his shoelaces’.
He would shuffle forward with his laces untied and a large stool under his arm. He placed the stool on the ground, lifted one foot onto the stool and then proceeded to bend way down and tie the shoelaces of the foot still on the ground. He then repeated this for the other foot. He would then bow, grinning widely, apparently oblivious to the irony of the applause.
I couldn’t help but think of that when Finance Secretary Derek Mackay stepped out to present his Scottish Budget – ‘The Scottish Finance Secretary ties his shoe laces.’
In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four we are introduced to an invented fictional language called Newspeak created by the totalitarian state Oceania as a tool to limit freedom of thought, and eliminate concepts that pose any threat. The goal is for everyone except the Proles—the working-class citizens of Oceania—to be speaking this language by the year 2050. In the SNP’s Caledonia of 2017 this is one target where they are ahead of schedule. The words and language they use exemplify this.
The Scottish Government likes to talk of the possibility of ‘a progressive alliance’, yet by any and every comparison the SNP is no progressive party. There have been no redistributive policies from the SNP in government. Under the SNP we have seen the decline of the NHS and our education system. The SNP and the Tories joined forces to defeat Labour’s proposals for a progressive tax system. Under the SNP, Tory austerity is simply being passed on in Scotland, with the Nationalists planning a £327 million cut to local services in 2017. That is not ‘progressive’– it is a Tory budget.
There is also nothing progressive about seeking to break away from the rest of the UK – our biggest trading partner. In SNP Newspeak a ‘single market’ is good when talking of the EU but bad when it is the UK. And, of course, in the language of the SNP, saying they are in favour of a progressive alliance really means the opposite – they hate Labour so much they will do anything to bring about its destruction and the continuation of a Tory Government in Westminster as the best route to independence.
Today’s SNP are the perfect example of what Gore Vidal had in mind when he coined the maxim ‘It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.’
Scotland will have £800 million extra to spend next year. This is not due to the use of devolved tax powers, but rather the hated block grant from Westminster. In SNP Newspeak, ‘new tax powers’ aren’t enough; ‘more tax powers’ are essential; but ‘using tax powers’ just doesn’t ‘feel right’. Unless you are a local council moaning on about budget cuts, that is. Then ‘using tax powers’ (i.e. the Council Tax) feels about right. ‘Borrowing powers’ on the other hand are doubleplusgood and should be used to the maximum even if the Scottish Government has no idea what they are borrowing for or exactly how the repayments will impact on spending on health and education in the future.
Economist Professor John McLaren has exposed the ‘duplicitous’ manner in which Derek Mackay presented his budget figures, saying it was ‘impossible’ to justify from the published information the SNP’s claim that council spending was increasing. He warned this ‘makes the schools budget difficult to prioritise’ given most of their funding comes from local government.
Professor McLaren found the entire cost of the SNP’s pledge to spend an extra £500 million on the NHS was coming from additional funds allocated to Scotland resulting from higher health spending in England. Writing for his Scottish Trends website, he concluded that Mr Mackay has merely tweaked decisions made by the UK Chancellor rather than make distinctly different choices to suit Scotland’s needs.
Nicola Sturgeon’s claim that she is increasing education spending to close the gulf in performance between the best and worst state schools is another example of SNP Newspeak. The reality is a huge cut in council funding. And Alex Bell, former advisor to Alex Salmond, described the budget as “cowardly” and accused the SNP of insulting voters’ intelligence by pretending it differed markedly from the spending choices made by the Tories in England. He concluded “The draft budget is a white flag raised by a leadership who don’t have the courage of their convictions.”
Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s economy spokesman, said the analysis ‘adds to the growing consensus that the SNP has passed up the chance to use the tax powers of the Scottish Parliament to do things differently.’ However, in SNP Newspeak, the Scottish Government hailed Mr Mackay’s spending plans as a ‘Budget for growth and public services’ adding: ‘The Scottish Government’s spending plans exercise our new powers responsibly, marking a significant step in the history of the Scottish Parliament.’
So the official line of Big Brother in Caledonia is that the NHS is doing just fine, education is expanding and local government funding is increasing. The reality is that A&E waiting targets are being missed, as are hospital admission targets with a shortage of specialists. You can’t expect to tackle an attainment gap in schools when you are cutting council budgets – the main source of educational funding. My grand daughter couldn’t pick the highers she wanted to study – nor the ones she needed to study – only those the school had the teachers to teach. Our councils are seeing their budgets cut massively this coming financial year.
North Ayrshire Council Leader Joe Cullinane slammed the SNP government for “dumping cuts” onto local authorities. He said: ‘Despite the Scottish Government receiving a £415 million revenue increase for 2017/18 from the UK Government, the Scottish Parliament Information Centre notes a cash cut of £424 million for local government’s revenue budget for 2017/18.’
While Joe Cullinane understandingly saw the £9.2 million cut to North Ayrshire Council as ‘bad news following a £10 million cut last year’, the council’s SNP group described the draft budget as ‘a welcome boost for growth and public services’. SNP Group Leader, Willie Gibson, until recently Council Leader, hailed the finance secretary’s first funding settlement in the Scottish Parliament, for its ‘new investments in healthcare, education and local services’. But then he has the benefit of an O Grade in Newspeak.
Meanwhile just down the road at Scottish Government owned Prestwick Airport, losses have increased to more than £7 million. The 2016 operating deficit at the airport, which was bought by Scottish ministers for £1 in November 2013, is nearly £1 million up on the previous year. Audit Scotland had projected total Government loans of £40 million by 2022 but new Scottish Government consolidated accounts figures show this could be reached by 2018. The losses come as the number of passengers using the airport fell by 25 percent in a year. The airport now has almost half a million fewer passengers than in the year before the Scottish Government took ownership.
It was right that the Scottish Government stepped in back in 2013 but there is an absence of realism in their statements about the airport’s viability. It was always going to be hard to turn it around so there is no need to hide behind talk of the airport growing into ‘the successful and vibrant business we know it can be’. They have high hopes for its future as a ‘Spaceport’. Meanwhile we have smart new signage in saltire blue and white and a bi-lingual sign at the rail station that ensures no passenger with Gaelic as their only language misses their flight.
The SNP’s hubris is quite breathtaking in its scale, but the cracks are appearing and its nemesis will surely follow. We see that in the reaction of economists, think tanks, former advisors, the growing resistance of councils. Their downfall will come when the electorate decide in their own good time.
Meanwhile, we can look forward to Mr Derek Mackay coming back on stage to reprise his hilarious performance of ‘The Scottish Finance Secretary ties his shoe laces’.