AN oft-repeated maxim is that politics is driven by “events, dear boy, events”. The phrase was coined by a former Tory prime minister, Harold MacMillan, and reflected how governments could be thrown off course by the unexpected.
Since 2007, even the unexpected has barely dented the public popularity of the SNP government. Curiously, it is their own actions, or rather the lack of them, that are damaging the SNP’s standing with the public.
Take capital investment. The SNP and many others have called on the Chancellor, George Osborne, to kickstart the economy by committing funds for new roads, railways and schools. The SNP and finance secretary John Swinney say that if money was forthcoming from the Treasury then they have a list of “shovel ready” projects. Yet a recent Scottish Parliamentary debate revealed few projects are ready and next to none will need a shovel any time this side of the referendum. A total of £20 million is being spent rather than the £353m promised. John Swinney attacks London but it turns out that it is the SNP that is not working. Not much sign of competence here.
Patients have suffered over NHS waiting lists. It is now clear that health boards across Scotland were under enormous government pressure to meet waiting list targets. In 2007, the new health secretary declared that she would end the previous government’s waiting-time fiddle. Nicola Sturgeon did. The SNP replaced one fiddle with another. NHS boards were told to deliver on waiting time targets or else. The NHS was put under huge pressure to remove patients from a list when the target was about to be missed. Sturgeon could not afford to have her flagship policy breached in the run up to the 2011 Scottish General Election. Patients the length of Scotland now know they were classed as socially unavailable for treatment. In most cases, they were not asked. Their treatment was secondary to hitting an SNP target.
In recent weeks, the SNP government’s claim of competence has really worn thin. In parliament, Richard Lochhead, the rural affairs minister, said there was no evidence of horsemeat being eaten in Scotland. London was at fault. Sadly, Scottish consumers know that this is anything but the truth. The horsemeat crisis is an opportunity to change the purchasing of school and hospitals meal contracts. A total of 28 of 32 local authorities use an SNP centralised purchasing contract with a Kent-based multinational. Instead, Scotland could pioneer local contracts using local butchers. The SNP is meant to care about Scottish produce, but apparently not when it comes to school and hospital dinners.
Finally, the SNP has managed to remove Raasay crofters’ sporting and fishing rights. The Scottish Government now reminds crofters of the most rapacious landlord. This decision was taken, as all are, in Edinburgh. Competence and the SNP? These words are no longer better together.
• Tavish Scott is Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland.