Brian Wilson: Permanent cacophony of grievance from SNP
Is all Scotland not supposed to be crying out for her own “leap in the dark”? Did Nationalists and Greens not join hands this week to demand one?
Are two “leaps in the dark” better than one? And does a referendum between them make sense to anyone whose Saltires are not on permanent stand-by?
Leaps notwithstanding, we do have some inescapable clarity. Fact one is that there is not going to be another Scottish independence referendum any time soon.
Fact two is that Brexit negotiations are under way. The interests of Scotland lie in adapting to these two realities and getting on with serious tasks in hand.
Like many who voted to remain in the EU, I am neither convinced that leaving need be an unmitigated disaster nor blind to opportunities. How often have we been told by Scottish Ministers that something unwelcome had to happen because Brussels said so? The idea we might do things better without these constraints should at least be considered.
I offer one tiny example, relevant to my own neck of the woods. The Scottish Government is cutting EU subsidies to farmers and crofters in fragile rural areas by 20 per cent and transferring the money to those with better land. That is a priority set in Edinburgh, allegedly prompted by an EU demand for a new funding structure. The president of the Scottish NFU says plaintively: “After Brexit, we will have the chance to design a support scheme for Scottish hill farmers and crofters that will be fit for purpose.”
How does that comment fit with the unremitting narrative of doom and gloom? One of Brexit’s most immediate benefits will be that there is one less scapegoat to blame for everything emanating from Edinburgh or Whitehall that politicians do not want to accept responsibility for. Is that such a bad thing?
It would help if our more portentous broadcasters stopped talking about a “constitutional crisis” and other such nonsense. These efforts to breathe life into matters which are effectively settled, while subordinating everything else, equates to an agenda which neglects the priorities of their audience. How long is it going to continue?
Are we to have years of breathless non-stories from the pre-programmed spin machine, alleging neglect or betrayal of Scotland’s interests? Is it too much to expect scrutiny of these claims before soundbites are invited? We need more coverage of fact-based realities and less of utterly predictable posturing.
Maybe it could start with the parable of farming subsidies.
The UK Government has a responsibility to ensure that the devolved governments are treated with due respect. They must go out of their way to do so and be seen to do so – because that is the correct way to proceed. It will not stop the grievance-mongering but should at least allow people to form a judgment.
Involvement of Scottish interests should be substantive and transparent.
If the past few weeks produced any ray of hope, it is that a substantial majority have simply refused to buy Sturgeon’s contrived narrative in support of a second independence referendum. The ‘middle ground’ saw through it and they will continue to do so if the Scottish Government’s approach to Brexit is perceived as destructive and dishonest.
For example, when Nicola Sturgeon came out of her meeting with Theresa May this week to claim there had been “agreement” on a Brexit timetable which accommodated her own referendum schedule, who did she think she was impressing? Nobody with any sense believed Mrs May had said any such thing, so why twist her words?
Ms Sturgeon risks looking like a one-trick pony whose specialism is spin and process.
We are promised more referendum theatricals over the coming weeks.
But whose interest does that serve? There are local elections in little over a month, yet the inherent issues that directly involve people’s lives are marginalised while the commentariat obsesses over referendums and constitutional crises. That is ground the Nationalists want to fight on and should not be rewarded.
Between 2010 and the new financial year, the Holyrood budget increased by 0.4 per cent in real terms. In the same period, the Scottish Government has cut like-for-like, real terms funding to local councils by 19.4 per cent, as confirmed by their own figures. This is an astonishing state of affairs.
Some might even say it is a “constitutional crisis” – what right does a devolved government have to treat local democracy with such contempt?
If the Tories cut council spending by a fifth, there would be demonstrations in the streets, trade unions up in arms and the Scottish media deploring the wickedness of it all. So why do we hear so little of it now? I suspect it is because the chatterati are not in the front line of the inevitable cuts – to home helps, community centres, failing schools, special needs, early intervention, street-cleaning and all the other services that less well-off people have disproportionate reliance on.
I have yet to hear any Scottish Government minister challenged on the very straightforward question – why have they cut council funding by a fifth during a period when their own extremely generous pot of money remained unchanged? Over the next few weeks, there should be relentless pursuit of that dichotomy.
But that, of course, means less time for endless, pointless hypothecating about each twist and turn of constitutional bickering.
Every family and business will be affected by the outcome of the Brexit negotiations over the next few years.
They should be subject to scrutiny, debate and ultimately approval or otherwise through the democratic process. They are far too serious to be treated as an ongoing pawn in another game which the same players would be pursuing anyway, under other pretexts.
It is also important to remember the story of the boy – or let’s make it girl – who cried wolf. There will be times when distinctive Scottish interests really do need defending. It would be a pity if their cries were lost amidst the permanent cacophony of grievance.