Leaders: SNP's digital downpour could drown out criticism

HISTORY warns of the dangers of putting too much power in the hands of one party '“ checks and balances are needed

Mr Swinney has promised supporters the most comprehensive campaign we have ever fought, with a digital drive to contact every internet user. Picture: TSPL

For the SNP, it seems a mere majority of seats in the May Holyrood ­election will not suffice. Deputy First Minister John Swinney has revealed plans for an electoral “digital downpour” to secure a grand slam of all 73 constituency seats as well as making gains in the remaining list seats in Scotland’s hybrid voting system.

With less than two months to go until the election, the party is already well ahead of all its rivals, helped by the resonant popularity of party leader Nicola Sturgeon. She has ably led her party out of the trough of defeat in the 2013 independence referendum to renewed popularity.

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At the same time the convulsions of the Labour opposition and the controversial choice of Jeremy Corbyn as UK party leader has cast serious doubt on the party’s ability to win back those who deserted in droves in the UK general election last May. The SNP is seen to offer the more credible left of centre alternative for former Scottish Labour voters.

For these reasons the party now looks poised to secure an unprecedented third term in office at Holyrood. Mr Swinney has promised supporters “the most comprehensive campaign we have ever fought, with a digital drive to contact every internet user”.

However, the SNP’s muscular ambitions raise concerns on two important fronts. The first is the party’s address of – or lack of it so far – the latest official figures showing that Scotland’s annual budget deficit has swollen to almost £15 billion, equivalent to almost ten per cent of Scottish output and more than double the comparable figure for the UK as a whole.

SNP campaigners can blame the oil price collapse, the slowing world economy, austerity, or Westminster generally. But the blame game doesn’t lessen the need for the party to present a realistic and credible programme to put Scotland’s finances in a strong and stable position. That means real candour over its tax and spending plans in the next parliament. Serious politics is about more than promises of higher welfare ­spending and digital downloads of policies that lack credibility.

The second concern is over the ­ambition to win every constituency seat in ­Scotland. While SNP campaigners ­cannot be faulted for putting up a fight for every seat, voters may feel uneasy about the ­ambition to achieve total uniformity in ­Holyrood and reduce opposition to an impotent rump.

History provides troubling ­examples of the dangers of untrammelled power in the hands of a single party – and one already marked by tight internal discipline that ­discourages ­criticism and questioning. As it is, because of the SNP’s existing overall majority, Holyrood’s committee system is failing in its function of correcting and improving ­legislation.

A parliament overwhelmingly dominated by one party runs formidable risks of ­political power over-reaching itself and of hubris ­setting in.

The SNP may feel itself entitled to a powerful renewed mandate. But the political health of Scotland also requires checks and balances for a democratic system to function.

No room for air safety complacency

Flight is now so commonplace we tend to take safety for granted. In 2014, more than three billion ­people flew safely on 36.4 million flights. According to the International Air Transport Association, there were 81 aviation accidents – equivalent to one accident per 2.4 million flights.

But the figures scarcely impact on the ­trauma and tragedy of a flight disaster. Two in particular give a timely reminder of the loss of life amid all the technological advance.

In the wake of the Clutha Bar disaster in Glasgow in 2013, when a police helicopter crashed through the roof claiming ten lives, we should hear details today of plans to fit a new Police Scotland helicopter with a black box recorder in line with recommendations of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.

It recommended equipment to record data, and for audio and images be made compulsory for police aircraft. Further additional safety ­features include video recording of helicopter flight systems and instruments within the cockpit, a terrain awareness and warning system, and an ­emergency locator transmitter.

Meanwhile, investigators probing the crash of the Germanwings flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf have called for new world rules requiring medical professionals to warn authorities when a pilot’s mental health could threaten public safety.

The aircraft crashed in the French Alps last year killing 150 people. Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz was previously treated for depression.

The tragedy is a painful reminder that air ­safety has to have regard to human factors as well as ensuring that technology and equipment used by the pilots is fully and safely recorded for any subsequent investigation.