Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf should fund 'loss and damage' they caused back home - Brian Monteith
What is it about nationalist First Ministers such as Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf that they believe their role is to place themselves at international political events where their lowly status gives them no leverage to make a difference?
Why not focus on all the domestic issues that, as legislators, and with massive budgets they are paid handsomely to improve?
Yes, it gets them some short term publicity, they get to shake hands and be photographed with other politicians (mostly of dubious reputations) and their all-expenses paid entourage enjoy the best food and wine while staying in top hotels. For politicians and their bag carriers it is the equivalent of the Tartan Army on tour but at the taxpayers’ expense.
Yet back in the real world it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. People will die sleeping rough this winter in Scotland – what would they give for a warm dry room and a square meal rather than knowing the First Minister met the President of Turkey or has promised millions to other nations threatened by climate change.
And meanwhile around the world more people will still die this year, as ever, from extreme cold than from extreme heat.
One could of course argue Scotland is a safer place with the First Minister abroad, that the more he and his administration attend to domestic issues – such as drug deaths, housing crises, growing NHS waiting lists and times, falling education standards – the worse the outcomes are. That only raises the question about the failure of devolution to improve Scotland’s lot, the quality of our politicians and how we protect ourselves from their dangerous meddling.
The reality is though, our politicians are meant to improve what they are accountable for, not to constantly find fault with others who have no responsibility – but have a legitimate role in representing us internationally.
The SNP-Green Government is responsible for drug rehab, housing, health, education, transport and the rest – but seeks to blame Westminster. Yet it is not the politicians or officials in London who take the decisions that have a real impact on the health, education, housing and law enforcement. It is the First Minister who would rather be in Dubai than Drumchapel, and his supporting ministers who decide the outcomes directly impacting on the lives of Scots.
Last November Nicola Sturgeon attended the COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh and promised £5 million of Scottish taxpayers’ funding towards “loss and damages” suffered by developing nations due to climate change – and had the nerve to call on global leaders to follow suit. By August this year not a single penny had still not been spent and Nicola Sturgeon was no longer to be seen lecturing national leaders on how to run their affairs. Now Humza Yousaf is promising another £2m of funds to go abroad – while many deserving causes in Scotland look on in disbelief.
The cost of Sturgeon and her entourage going to COP27 in Egypt came to nearly £150,000 with some £45,000 of that being on the hotel bill, with additional hotel bills in London and Milan for the party en-route. The Scottish Government pavilion cost over £75,000 – for an event where the UK Government already represents us and has an official role in deliberating over what action can be agreed. There is no need for Sturgeon and Yousaf to go junketing and grandstanding at the taxpayers’ expense.
In the scheme of the Scottish Government’s budget that is measured in tens of billions the expenses may seem small – but they are large to Scottish organisations crying out for support and there is a bigger issue in the distraction of the First Minister and his Government’s focus away from the issues that are vital – and causing “loss and damage” at home.
Dualling the A9? Forget it. Having the two new ferries waiting to be brought into service next year (the first was “launched” in 2017) – is not now expected until 2025. Yousaf and his ministers could be repairing the “loss and damage” they do rather than believing they are able to repair the damage caused by the climate changing or by other politicians in other lands.
Now local council leaders are warning some Scottish local authorities face the risk of bankruptcy because of the miserly funding decisions delivering years of real-terms cuts to council budgets – with this year’s budget expected to be severe again. Cosla believes councils face “tough choices” forcing some essential services “will cease”.
And why should it be severe when Westminster has repeatedly increased spending and put it at record levels?
When Humza Yousaf announced a Council Tax freeze at his party’s conference he was in search of some badly needed headlines – but he had not told council leaders or his own Cabinet. Had he taken the trouble to consult he would have found councils believe they will need nearly £15bn for the 2024-25 budget just to “stand still”.
Last year councils faced a £1 billion funding gap just to keep services going – the fear now is that despite assurances the freeze will not be fully funded.
The perilous state of council services is not some mirage Yousaf might see in the sands of the Arabian Gulf; it’s real, for local taxpayers are seeing the closure of libraries, swimming pools and other community services. With further budget cuts inevitable because Council Tax will fall fail to keep up with inflation the outcomes that councils have an impact on – including community healthcare, education and support services for children, young people and the poorest in society – can only get worse.
But money for other countries? When it comes to “loss and damage” Humza Yousaf is your man – unless you’re in Drumchapel, and not Dubai.
Brian Monteith is a former member of the Scottish and European Parliaments and editor of ThinkScotland.org
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