Scott Macnab: Storms clouds gathering for Sturgeon
The country’s new leader may now be casting an anxious eye over an increasingly stormy domestic agenda which could yet engulf the forthcoming general election campaign on which the SNP has so much hope pinned.
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For while Ms Sturgeon, along with her predecessor, Alex Salmond, have devoted much effort to setting out the conditions of an informal coalition with Labour, a series of front-line issues in her own back yard are suddenly piling up.
Thousands of Scottish jobs are in jeopardy as the oil price continues to plummet and the SNP – unusually – has been sluggish in its handling of the growing crisis.
And conflict may be brewing with the country’s most powerful teaching union, as the EIS goes on the warpath over claims of “broken promises” by the SNP government on teacher numbers. The EIS is adamant that Nationalist ministers abandoned key commitments to maintain teacher numbers in proportion to class sizes. Ministers reject this, but there is no doubt austerity cuts are poised to bite hardest on front-line services in the next two years.
And the NHS suddenly doesn’t look like such comfortable territory for the SNP government. As the crisis in accident and emergency units south of the Border looks poised to place the health service at the heart of the forthcoming election, Ms Sturgeon has found herself on the back foot on the issue. In hospitals across Scotland this week, medical procedures have been postponed as the impact of the annual surge in winter demand takes its toll. The Scottish Government is already coming under pressure to adopt the English system of publishing weekly figures detailing the performance of A&E departments. Scots currently have to wait until February to discover the full extent of how hospitals coped this winter.
But perhaps the biggest battle facing Ms Sturgeon stems from her admirable decision to return to the “unfinished business” of land reform. Major landowners have made known their concern over measures that could see parts of estates forcibly sold to communities if they are thwarting local economic development.
Now, these are part of the rough and tumble of any political leader. But Ms Sturgeon must quickly realise that struggling Scots are increasingly facing up to the threat of redundancy and cuts to health and education. They are unlikely to hold much truck in this election campaign with a leader focused on coalition agreements and cutting Smith Commission deals on the constitution.
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