Grandstanding SNP leaders pander to party activists but ignore people's priorities like economy, education and NHS – Murdo Fraser

SNP MP Joanna Cherry is right: government by announcement, with no plans for delivery, needs to end

In almost every opinion poll, the priorities of the people of Scotland rank just about the same. Usually jobs and incomes come first, followed by the state of the National Health Service. In the mix too are concerns about standards in our schools.

But if you were to try to judge the people’s priorities from the issues which make the headlines out of Holyrood, you would find a massive disconnect. The right to die is the newest legislative kid on the block. Gender recognition is still unresolved although the decision not to prescribe children with drugs not designed for them, but which block puberty, has yet to be discussed.

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And the First Minister so believes that there is a rising tide of hate in this country he has championed a controversial piece of legislation to soothe his fears – or grab him a headline – in the Hate Crime Act. Then there were the climate change targets which, however high they were in the people’s priorities, were so divorced from reality that they have now been dropped in what is not just a political embarrassment for the SNP/Green coalition but for Scotland as a whole.

This is in danger of being more than just a disconnect from people’s concerns. It suggests that MSPs live in a bubble increasingly reinforced by their own party activists rather than the public’s needs. The Westminster Village perhaps can now be twinned with the Holyrood Hamlet.

‘A salutory reminder’

It was, of course, Nicola Sturgeon who claimed that Scotland was the first country in the world to declare a “climate emergency”. Now she seems rather more pre-occupied with pressing ‘domestic emergencies’ in her own driveway. Getting ahead of our national neighbours on climate change is now less important than trying to keep the prying eyes of the Joneses away from their net curtains.

Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser wants to start a cross-party movement with SNP MP Joanna Cherry to oppose government by announcement with no plans for delivery (Picture: Paul Campbell/PA)Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser wants to start a cross-party movement with SNP MP Joanna Cherry to oppose government by announcement with no plans for delivery (Picture: Paul Campbell/PA)
Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser wants to start a cross-party movement with SNP MP Joanna Cherry to oppose government by announcement with no plans for delivery (Picture: Paul Campbell/PA)

There was no policy behind her headline-grabbing climate declaration, and that is not a partisan view. Her SNP colleague Joanna Cherry MP welcomed the dropping of the climate change targets saying: “It’s a salutary reminder of the need for my party to move on from Sturgeon’s style of government by announcement with no plans for delivery.”

Too often that is what our Scottish Parliament is used for. A place to grandstand without substance, rather than the place where policy detail is held up to scrutiny to make sure it delivers. The people’s priorities – jobs, incomes, health and education – are all difficult areas where resources are stretched and policies need reform. But, for some of our Holyrood class, they come secondary to publicity-seeking.

Harvie’s ducking stool

Patrick Harvie’s bedsit puritanism may make him the toast of the hand-knitted, vegan-dinner-party circuit but it has little to do with the rest of us. He has not apologised for either missing the climate change targets or misleading the public that they were ever achievable. Nor has he the decency to resign as a minister for his essential failure, presumably because his addiction to his ministerial car is so strong.

Instead, everyone else is blamed – even the Tories at Westminster although the outgoing chief executive of the Climate Change Committee, Chris Stark, praised their achievements in comparison to the lack of progress by the Scottish Government. The truth is that because Holyrood is used as a platform for publicity rather than a crucible for the correction of policy, more and more of its shibboleths are beyond reality. Anyone who had opposed the climate change targets when they were set because they were unrealistic would have been put on Mr Harvie’s ducking stool of hypocrisy and accused of climate change heresy.

Doubtless if his bill on assisted dying becomes law, Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur will be seen in some quarters as a social reformer akin to David Steel with his abortion bill in the 1960s. I do not, however, see equivalence of legend as a need for legislation.

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Politicians focus on reputation-building

Perhaps, for some, it is a case of legislating first in a race, in what they see as the cutting edge of liberal history, to give the Scottish Parliament an international reputation for innovation. But what kind of narrative does it say about the nation when the First Minister asserts we live in a place where hate is rising, but where it is regarded as a progressive step for your friends and relatives to help you die?

It is not that Scotland lacks the need for reform. Indeed, if anything, we could do with the repeal of so many regulations and restrictions that stifle enterprise and the chance to create the wealth which so many Scottish parliamentarians want to redistribute.

Without its own Parliament, Scotland achieved an international reputation for enterprise, education and medical achievement. Now, with an enhanced democracy, these essential priorities are secondary to the reputation-building of individual politicians rather than the national good.

So let me start a cross-party movement joining with Westminster’s Joanna Cherry to say we want an end to government by announcement with no plans for delivery. We might disagree about what we want to be delivered and we might dispute the plan. But it would be a much better step in the direction of good policy-making and governance than what we have at present.

What we have now is ministers making grandiose announcements, frequently to please a clique of the few, and starting penning the words of their acceptance speech for the anticipated awards without a thought to writing any policy. Climbdowns are embarrassing, but it would be better if some of our leaders didn’t get on their high horse in the first place. Stick with the people’s priorities – they are at least consistent.

Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife



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