Leader: After gaining her mandate, Sturgeon must deliver

What will the verdict on Nicola Sturgeon be after the next five years? Picture. Neil Hanna
What will the verdict on Nicola Sturgeon be after the next five years? Picture. Neil Hanna
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As we reach the end of a campaign that has rarely captured the attention, far less the imagination, the opinion polls all point towards a clear victory for the SNP in Thursday’s Scottish Parliamentary elections. Remarkably for such a ballot, no other party is claiming it can win. The fighting talk instead is of who can provide an effective opposition.

Since campaigning began at the turn of the year, there has been little variation in the size of the SNP lead, even when opposition parties have appeared to land blows in areas where the Scottish Government was been open to attack. The only real intrigue has been over who will come second, and while some may dismiss this election as a non-event, second place for the Conservatives would be a defining moment in the history of the Scottish Labour Party.

Today, Nicola Sturgeon outlines to Scotland on Sunday her plans for a further five years in government. In doing so, Sturgeon is not being presumptuous about the outcome of the election. Her targets are manifesto pledges, and she is conscious of the need, first and foremost, to attain the personal mandate from the electorate that she has so far not acquired, after taking over as First Minister following the resignation of Alex Salmond in 2014.

Her campaign slogan is “re-elect”, and we have to ask seriously whether the past five years of SNP administration have delivered enough to merit a further term.

Education has been, bluntly, a failure. Sturgeon recognises the problem and describes this field as “the central defining mission of a re-elected SNP government”. The effectiveness of Police Scotland has not impressed so far, and in health, targets have been missed and funding has been criticised as woefully inadequate.

There are also very challenging questions to answer over policy on GM crops, fracking and the Named Person scheme.

Meanwhile, there is a reluctance to harness new powers devolved from Westminster and a continued focus on the divisive issue of a second referendum.

Is this record worthy of a further five years in power? Arguably not, but at the same time, the SNP will point to the council tax freeze, free tuition, free prescriptions, mitigation of the bedroom tax and intervention to rescue threatened industry as successes.

In any case, for all the weaknesses in the administration’s report card, the electorate appears willing to continue under the present terms. But will that still be the attitude five years from now? At the next election in 2021, after what would then be 14 years of the SNP in full or shared power, it would be natural for voters to seek a fresh perspective. If by then there remain as many flaws to highlight as there are today, time could well be up for the SNP. A repeat of the past five years will not be good enough.