On the SNP's 16th Christmas, they just gave Scotland a lump of coal. And next year, we'll get the same – Christine Jardine

So which was he going to be – Santa or Scrooge? What, I wondered as I waited for the Deputy First Minister to unveil the coming year's budget, would he offer to soften the impact of the cost-of-living crisis?
Scotland is paying the price for repeated mismanagement by SNP governments (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Scotland is paying the price for repeated mismanagement by SNP governments (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Scotland is paying the price for repeated mismanagement by SNP governments (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

And what would be the theme of the SNP's 16th annual financial plan? The wait was, of course, a wee bit longer this year, delayed by discussion of how journalists were able to publish in advance what was on John Swinney's Christmas list.

Not having access to the leaked document, I passed the time by wondering what Scotland might have looked like if things had gone slightly differently in 2007. A contemplation that the writers of comedy series Friends might have called: “The one where the SNP didn't win the election.”

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Sadly I am old enough to remember that what swung that election for the SNP was a combination of a wizard wheeze which put them top of the ballot paper and a series of promises to do what the Labour/Lib Dem coalition had, the nationalists claimed, not. Oh, and there would be independence of course. Ambrosia and nectar for all.

Sixteen years later, I can find little evidence of the cast-iron promises made before and in office by the SNP's first administration. We were, long before now, supposed to be free of that dastardly unionist invention, the council tax, which we still pay every month and which years of freeze simply made ineffective in meeting local authority needs.

Student debt was to be written off and the A9 was to be dualled all the way from Perth to Inverness. Certainly, progress has been made towards the latter, although most of it was planned and budgeted for by the previous Lib/Lab administration and the promised completion date has passed unmet.

Student debt is still a painful reality for many now in their 30s or who were still in primary school when the SNP strode to power. Not much has been mentioned in recent years to remind us of those promises, except of course for the one constant: independence. And the failure to deliver is, of course, never the fault of the SNP.

Like the state of the NHS, our education system, our roads, our level of drugs deaths, employment gap, you name it, is all somebody else's fault. Westminster’s usually.

But what could the coming year and financial planning have looked like if things had gone differently?

Any administration would of course have had to deal with the pandemic and most probably the invasion of Ukraine by former First Minister Alex Salmond's ex-employer at Russia Today, Vladimir Putin. There is no training for dealing with the sudden onset of pandemics and invasions.

But at some point the excuses must stop. The plan for a single police force and then emergency services for all of Scotland might never have happened but for the wins in 2007 and 2011. Holyrood may have used its tax powers, which the SNP allowed to lapse for several years, more effectively and sooner. Or perhaps not at all.

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Other powers Holyrood has but the SNP seems not to want or to at least to use could have been harnessed to address issues like pension inequality for women born in the 1950s. The so-called Waspi women could already have had some mitigating support if the Scottish Government used the powers it has never denied could be used to create a specific benefit or payment for them. It seems they prefer instead to let the women continue to suffer and say simply that it’s Westminster's responsibility to fix.

Of course, it could still have been in John Swinney's plans this December. But no, no extra help for those now elderly, and in some cases unwell women, to help cope with the cost-of-living and energy crisis which challenges all my constituents in Edinburgh West. What we did get fell far short of the list that many of those people had hoped for.

Cosla, which represents our councils, had wanted more of an uplift to local authority budgets to help them. They will be sorely disappointed that the rise is barely what they asked for and a real-term cut. Although councils have been given authority to raise council tax by as much as they like, it is still not being abolished. In Edinburgh alone if the council was to try to plug the gap in its budget created by Scottish Government cuts, it could mean a double-digit increase for the public.

The care sector is to get 6.2 per cent increase but not for looking after the people who desperately need support. Instead, it is being spent on the bureaucracy needed to create a National Care Service that hardly any groups involved in the sector support and most criticise. It’s a centralisation too far for even some of the SNP’s own MSPs.

I do welcome the fact that the SNP/Green administration has finally recognised the folly of £20 million set aside for a referendum when the public is facing a cost-of-living crisis. But another £72 million for those ferries? Not so much.

And what about the £4 million cut for the voluntary sector and where is the help for the 200,000 sufferers of long Covid? No. There’s not much cheer for many people in what the SNP government had to say.

What we got for our 16th Christmas with the SNP was, in the main, a lump of coal. I’m tired of typing these words again and again, in the knowledge that it will be the same next time round.

John Swinney declared these are “spectacularly difficult times”. They are for his party, too. And we are all paying the price.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West



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