A new poll shows declining public confidence in health, education and justice in Scotland. How the Scottish Government reacts is crucial.
There is, it is probably fair to say, a general feeling of malaise among many members of the public about today’s political class. So it is possible that a new poll showing significant declines in public confidence in the Scottish Government’s handling of health, education and justice partly reflects this sense of discontent.
However, the seemingly endless stream of bad news about the NHS in particular also provides concrete evidence that all is not as it should be in the health service.
Education Secretary John Swinney has been bullish in his defence of the SNP’s record on education, but the recent Pisa figures, which compare the education systems of different countries, saw 15-year-old pupils’ performance in maths and science hit a record low. And while reading levels had improved, they were still below those at the start of the millennium.
The much-troubled Scottish Police Authority appeared to have stabilised under the stewardship of former Labour minister Susan Deacon, but her decision to quit as chair demonstrates that problems remain. In her resignation letter, she condemned the “fundamentally flawed” system of holding the police service to account and suggested a “better separation between politics and policing” was necessary.
To his credit, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf did not seek to undermine Deacon’s credibility, saying instead there had been “significant improvement across many facets” of the force and that “our police service is in a much stronger place now than prior to her appointment”. So he appears to recognise she was doing a good job and perhaps suggests he thinks she has a point. If so, it is an attitude that other politicians should emulate. If our public discourse becomes nothing more than a shouting match in which all sides try to paint each other as the devil, regardless of the facts, then policy will become all about perception, rather than reality, with any criticisms dismissed as “fake news”.
In such a situation, public services are bound to suffer. We need politicians who take criticisms seriously and who are big enough to accept them when they are on the mark, even if this requires a U-turn or an embarrassing climbdown.
Perception is important – if the SNP loses public confidence, they could be voted out, ending their independence ambitions – but it must not become all important or the current malaise will only get worse.