Brian Monteith: SNP turns to Orwell for inspiration

Actor Ronald Pickup plays George Orwell, writing his masterpiece on the island of Jura. The book's 'Ignorance is strength' could be a mantra for the modern age in Scotland. Picture: Brian Stewart
Actor Ronald Pickup plays George Orwell, writing his masterpiece on the island of Jura. The book's 'Ignorance is strength' could be a mantra for the modern age in Scotland. Picture: Brian Stewart
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Failure is dressed up as success in an insidious culture that would have done 1984 proud, writes Brian Monteith

Politicians often look to great writers for inspiration. Churchill was not the first to find solace in the words of Shakespeare, while profound thoughts from classical Greeks and Romans, down to the likes of Goethe, Dickens, Chekhov and Shaw have appeared regularly in speeches of our leaders down the ages.

"Challenging Sturgeon's pride will be presented as anti-Scottish". Picture: Lisa Ferguson

"Challenging Sturgeon's pride will be presented as anti-Scottish". Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Who then should the Scottish Nationalist Party turn to in its great moment of need when Marx is so obviously discredited and MacDiarmid less well known than Rankin or Jardine? From the behaviour of the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and her Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson, the answer is most obviously George Orwell. Unfortunately they have taken the wrong lessons from his great work, Nineteen Eighty-Four, for instead of understanding its warnings they have chosen to adopt the sinister methodology of Doublethink and Newspeak that was used to lie to and manipulate the people.

How else are we to interpret the behaviour of our most senior Holyrood politician when she decides that the only way to defend her government’s record is to proclaim to parliament this week that she is proud of her administration’s achievements? Leaving aside that in the last two years her government wilfully divided the nation more than Thatcher ever did, and continues to do so – setting Scot against Scot and family members or friends against each other – the litany of failure of Scotland’s public services under SNP management is without record.

Such is the scale of the SNP’s poor performance it was obvious that once the independence referendum was over the opposition parties would look to draw the public’s attention to the government’s collective ineptitude. Thus, any opportunity of deflecting away from the repeated bad news on education, health and justice (to name just three of a burgeoning catalogue), by fabricating or exaggerating disputes about democratic process, will not be passed by. There is not enough oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere to support the time the SNP will give to discussing the need for more constitutional powers, while choosing callously not to use to full effect those powers that Holyrood currently has.

So far it has worked, with the Scottish public still expressing an overwhelming desire to support the SNP ahead of the others. But the SNP leadership did not come to power through being naive; it knows there must come a time when the questions about the scandalous numeracy and literacy rates of our young, of missed accident and emergency targets and clinical outcomes in the NHS, or the collapse in public trust for Police Scotland, have to be answered. Orwell wrote how the politically corrupt state would corrupt the language too, turning past meanings on their head so that “war is peace”, “freedom is slavery” and “ignorance is strength”.

Now the First Minister has decided that “shame is pride” and “failure is success”, for she cannot feel anything other than shame about the lives that have been ruined by services that have either deteriorated since the SNP came to power – or have not improved as much as those in the rest of the UK. Saying she is “proud” absolves her from admitting her responsibility for all that has gone wrong with this government.

In so doing the policies themselves have been elevated to the status of hallowed religious artefacts beyond challenge, no matter how perverse the outcomes they deliver. Free tuition at university for all (no matter how wealthy) becomes more important as a pious article of faith than the reality that Scotland now has a smaller percentage of disadvantaged students attending higher education than countries where fees are charged but bursaries are given to the poorest.

Shamelessly, the funding of college places that would give fresh hope and a second chance to those with the poorest educational outcomes has been raided by the SNP government to subsidise the wealthier students that the empirical evidence suggests are most likely to still attend university if they have to pay. Rather than accept the policy is failing, Sturgeon chooses to take pride in the nation’s shame and drive on, regardless of the cost in making Scotland a less open and meritocratic society.

Comparative international studies show Scottish schools are falling behind those in other countries and most notably England. What then should be done? Should the failed centralised educational policies be changed and replaced by greater devolution to schools and parents – policies that are shown to be working across Europe? No, the answer is to withdraw Scottish education from participating in comparative studies that reveal the truth.

Thus the Education Secretary is truly the Ignorance Secretary for she cannot know how well Scottish pupils are performing, and in presiding over a fall in numeracy and literacy is indeed a purveyor of ignorance. Fortunately she can sleep easy at night knowing that in the SNP’s Newspeak “ignorance is strength”.

The Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson, speaks from the same crib sheet. Having learned of the early resignation of Police Scotland’s Chief Constable Sir Stephen House, he stated this weekend that the departing officer had left a “lasting positive legacy”. If that is the case why then did House feel compelled to resign?

It can be argued that not one damaging episode during his tenure was sufficient to force his departure, but the charge sheet of introducing regularly armed police officers, escalating stop and search, surveillance of journalists’ communications to identify their sources, advancing station closures, de-prioritising household burglaries, a reported collapse in officer morale and the appalling failure of the force’s call centre is not a “positive legacy” but a damning indictment.

Never mind that House’s legacy was to create what for many became Police State Scotland, the next Chief Constable will have to rebuild the public’s trust. Matheson shows he either does not understand the words “positive” or “legacy” or in Orwellian fashion is telling us that “failure is success”.

We now know what we can expect of the coming months up until the Holyrood elections next May: the opposition will criticise with embarrassing comparative statistics and the government will respond with blind faith that positive legacies and improved performances are being established. Challenging Sturgeon’s pride will be presented as anti-Scottish as the truth becomes lies.