SNP are failing to hold the Conservatives to account by obsessing about Scottish independence – Christine Jardine MP

Politics is often frustrating. It can drive you to the point of distraction that a solution you see as being clearly in the interests of everyone is blocked by party dogma. From whichever party.

The Conservatives have no long-term strategy to tackle the surge in unemployment when furlough scheme ends, says Christine Jardine (Picture: Jessica Taylor/AFP via Getty Images)

But this week we moved up to a whole new level. As the dust from the Scottish election began to settle, we returned to Westminster for the start of a new session and a Queen’s speech from which so much was expected.

The country is at a crossroads. Politically, economically and socially. The fabric of society has been stretched almost to breaking point by a continuing crisis with which we are all too familiar.

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Now, halfway through the debates on that Conservative Programme for Government, there is an overwhelming sense of an opportunity being missed. And not just by the Conservatives

Yes there are howling gaps in their agenda but there is also a stubborn refusal by some on the opposition benches to highlight those and work cross party to change them.

Sadly it often feels as if the benefit to their own party, and its aims, is more important than the cost to the country and its people.

That was amply demonstrated in the debate on jobs and a fair deal at work this week when SNP speakers seemed to delight in ignoring the problem at hand to recite, yet again, the independence mantra.

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I had to glance up at the debate screens to remind myself that this was indeed about how we tackle the looming jobs crisis and not yet another SNP Opposition Day Debate dedicated to the separatist agenda.

Yes, the speeches were passionate but, like the debates in that party’s name, they squandered a precious opportunity to scrutinise the government, question their policies and press them to accept improvements which would better reform the workplace for all.

For most others on the opposition benches, this was about the fact that, at a time when we know almost nine million jobs have been protected by a furlough scheme about to end, there is no Employment Bill on the agenda.

Figures last week showed that the economy has shrunk by almost nine per cent since before the pandemic and unemployment is standing at 4.9 per cent.

The Conservatives did offer vague promises and hints of measures to come, but no Employment Bill that could have addressed issues like support for unpaid carers or made flexible working the default position for British employers.

There was no long-term strategy or plan laid out for how to tackle the surge in unemployment that we all fear could hit us when furlough, business rates holidays and all government support ends in September.

Earlier this year the Conservatives tried to water down workers’ rights with the post-Brexit review of employment law. Thankfully that effort was stopped in its tracks.

But now that it looks as if the government has passed on an opportunity to legislate for the post-pandemic world of work, surely it was incumbent on all of us to call that out?

Over the past year we have seen huge shifts in how people work, whether they are office-based, at home, or gig economy workers experiencing a spike in their workload.

We need to ensure that in the post-pandemic world people have the working conditions and support they need, whether that is the right to paid breaks and leave in the gig economy, a higher minimum wage on zero-hours contracts, or outlawing fire and rehire. Wherever you live in the United Kingdom.

And what about the small businesses who are the backbone of the economy and employ around 16 million people? Or the creation of green jobs if we are to make progressing tackling climate crisis? Perhaps some kind of revenue compensation scheme to reimburse small businesses for the income they have lost?

All of that is missing from the government’s plans and we had the opportunity, indeed the duty, to press for reconsideration on behalf of our constituents.

Surely that is why all opposition Scottish MPs, regardless of our parties, were elected to Westminster: to scrutinise and hold the government to account?

No. Apparently for nationalists a rant about independence is more important, despite the fact that if they check they will find that there is no majority in Scotland to support it.

But the question is why? Why continue stoking up a grievance when there is work to be done that could improve people’s lives.

It is difficult to ignore the suggestion that perhaps it is because it is the grievance that is the important thing.

Who would vote for a separatist party if they did not feel that they were somehow being left behind and that it was the fault of the state?

This is the scenario which the SNP constantly depicts. Whether it is education, the NHS, drugs deaths, everything is the fault of the UK government and everything would be fixed if we simply got rid of them.

Ironically many things, like our broken immigration system, failures in Universal credit and the lack of a long-term, post-Covid economic strategy can be laid at the door of the present Conservative government.

But surely the answer is to work with others for change. Persuade those within the Tory ranks to join in putting pressure on the Cabinet.

If we were to succeed, of course, that would not serve the nationalist purpose. Their dogma.

We have many challenges to confront if this country is to emerge the other side of the pandemic in good shape.

There are many discussions and disagreements to come about how best to meet them. But working to find a positive way ahead for all of us, in every part of the UK, should be only priority.

No dogma. No distractions. Just focus on recovery.

Christine Jardine is Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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