Scottish Election 2021: How Nicola Sturgeon is copying Boris Johnson's Brexit playbook – Susan Dalgety

An excerpt from The Scotsman’s prospectus of 1816 sits atop the 2021 leader column. It reads, in part, “Their first desire is to be honest, the second is to be useful…”

The same principles should apply to political parties and their prospectus – their manifesto – so that voters can make an informed decision about how to cast their vote. Sadly, in recent years, some politicians have abandoned any pretence at telling the truth in favour of crude election bribes or downright lies.

Boris’s Brexit bus is now the stuff of folklore, and its slogan, “We send the EU £350 million a week – let's fund our NHS instead”, a national joke.

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Even when the independent head of the Office for National Statistics described the claim as "a clear misuse of official statistics", the Prime Minister shrugged, ruffled his hair and grinned, confident in his ability to look the voters in the eye, lie and get away with it. We will be paying the price for Boris’s duplicity for decades to come.

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But the Prime Minister is not the only culprit. It could be argued that the SNP, whose manifesto was published on Thursday amid headlines declaring its promise to transform the NHS, are as cynical as Boris Johnson and his merry band of Brexiteers.

Even the most cursory examination of successive SNP manifestos since 2007 shows a litany of broken promises, from their commitment to abolish the council tax to Nicola Sturgeon’s personal and solemn pledge to close the education attainment gap.

Who can forget their promise to set up a North Sea super grid with Norway or to cut classroom sizes to 18 pupils, both of which have been long abandoned? Over the years, opposition parties have taken great delight in listing the SNP’s broken promises, but to no avail.

Can election campaign pledges by Nicola Sturgeon, seen with Boris Johnson outside Bute House in 2019, be trusted? (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)

Remember their commitment to meeting waiting times targets – now broken over 300,000 times. And their 2010 promise of 130,000 green jobs by 2020. Today there are only 21,000 in the sector.

As The Scotsman’s deputy political editor, Gina Davidson, wrote yesterday, many Scots will vote for Sturgeon “no matter if she delivers on her promises or not”.

But if honesty mattered when setting up a national newspaper in 1816, then surely it matters now, in 2021, amid a global pandemic, when our economic future is on the line and our planet is in crisis?

Let’s examine just one of the SNP’s promises from earlier this week, Sturgeon’s pledge to transform Scotland’s NHS and restore it to its founding principles.

“The pandemic has placed exceptional pressures on our NHS – that requires an exceptional response,” the First Minister urged in her manifesto speech.

“So, over the next Parliament, we will increase frontline NHS spending by at least 20 per cent,” she promised, with an electioneering flourish. This represents a real-terms increase of 2.1 per cent per year, according to the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies.

So far, so transformational – except that last November, the UK government’s spending review promised to increase England’s NHS budget by £34 billion per year over five years – 3.4 per cent a year.

Under Barnett Formula rules, Scotland’s share of NHS funding will go up by a similar amount, but the Scottish government is free to spend the extra money how it wishes. Free bicycles anyone?

It turns out Sturgeon’s vision for Scotland’s NHS is less ambitious than the Tory government’s. Hardly Nye Bevan, not even Matt Hancock.

But at least the SNP were open about their NHS spending commitment. Their promise on reforming the Gender Recognition Act is so opaque as to be impenetrable, deliberately of course.

Until Thursday, the SNP were clear in their support for self-identification, where a person can simply declare he has changed sex and that decision has legal status – a fundamental change that would have a significant impact on everything from the household census to the Equality Act, which protects women’s sex-based rights.

Their manifesto suggests they have stepped back a little from self-ID, promising instead to work with trans people, women, equality groups, legal and human rights experts to “identify the most effective way to improve and simplify the process by which a trans person can obtain legal recognition…”

But what does that mean in practice once votes have been cast? And what of the 17,000 responses that have already been submitted to the Scottish Government’s consultation. Are they to be binned?

In a desperate attempt to establish the truth, feminist group For Women Scotland tweeted the First Minister, “We are tired of the gas-lighting and the dishonesty… cards on the table Ms Sturgeon… we are seeking clarity on the manifesto.”

They may well have a long wait. Nicola Sturgeon, like Boris Johnson, has based a successful political career on misleading the voters. “Tell them what they want to hear,” seems to be their mantra.

The SNP will win the election on May 6. Nicola Sturgeon will be First Minister. And, if she is to be believed, the people of Scotland will face a second independence referendum as soon as the pandemic is over.

And we can look forward to a second SNP White Paper setting out how Scotland leaving the UK will herald an unprecedented period of unparalleled national prosperity and cultural renewal.

But will we be able to believe a word of it? Will any future SNP prospectus on leaving the UK be honest, or useful? That, dear reader, will be for you to decide.

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