SNP has left an open goal but Scotland needs an opposition that can score – Brian Wilson

As rubbish piles up in the street and discontent grows over public services in Scotland, the opposition’s strategy to oust the SNP should be clear, writes Brian Wilson.

Nicola Sturgeon will press ahead with demands for a second independence referendum in 2020.

What will be the defining issue in Holyrood elections 15 months from now?

At this distance, it all seems neat and packaged. The Nationalists will keep caterwauling about another referendum and expect the risen people to give them a huge endorsement.

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Meanwhile, the Tories will keep saying “no, nay, never” confident that many beyond their core support will reward that clarity of message. So far, so straightforward and mutually satisfactory – unless the people intervene.

At some point, is it possible, the silent majority will tire of constitutional game-playing and make the collective decision that matters directly affecting their lives are those on which Scotland’s politicians should be held to account?

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That is, I believe, possible. Indeed, I suspect the ground may already be shifting; that Scotland is rapidly losing interest in Sturgeon’s strident demands and unimpressed by the faux indignation in response to Johnson’s brush-off.

I offer contrasting cameos to illustrate why this might be happening. Last Saturday, an indeterminate number of people splashed their way through Glasgow, waving flags. (Incidentally, should Scotland’s Education and Justice Ministers really be sharing a march with banners which denounce opponents as “scum” and “c***s”?)

‘Send more money’

The same day, the GMB union published pictures of what its members in Glasgow’s cleansing department had to deal with (not least in Sturgeon’s constituency); piles of rotting rubbish, accumulated over weeks as the service is relentlessly cut.

Am I over-optimistic to think it a matter of time before the latter image trumps the former; that performance in Government becomes the yardstick by which the Nationalists are judged, rather than the illusion of constitutional demands equating to any serious interest in public wellbeing?

As confirmed by Holyrood’s own research, SNP ministers have cut local government support by over four times what would have been equitable if reflecting changes to their own financial settlement. Councils are facing another round of cuts which will, as night follows day, lead to more closures, more job losses, more rotting rubbish.

That is the day-to-day experience of many Scots who have so far suspended disbelief about the realities of Nationalist rule. How long can they get away with it?

Apart from referendumitis, the other Nationalist mantra is: “Send more money”; the question of how it is used being entirely secondary. This week we have another scathing report from Audit Scotland on the City and Regional Deals which are bringing, literally, billions into Scotland.

Higher taxes, higher spending

Five years after the first one, in Glasgow, they find the Scottish Government has not set “clear objectives or outcomes for the deals programme” or defined “how it will know if deals are value for money”. Communities have had “very little involvement” in defining priorities and there is no transparency around why “some projects are selected and others are not”.

Remember, we are talking here about huge sums coming into areas with massive needs for regeneration and investment. So will it all be looked back on as another chapter of “missed opportunities” – as the report warns – while the cry continues: “Send more money”? Scotland deserves better.

In response to every negative finding on devolved services, the stock SNP line is that they are “better than England”. Who knows? But if they aren’t, they should be since we get £1,700 a head more to pay for them as well as £750 million from higher income tax. Anyway, many Scottish services were “better than England” before Holyrood was heard of.

The Scottish Government’s big idea this week was to publish an alternative to the GERs statistics (honorably produced by its own statisticians) which annually annoys the flag-wavers by confirming financial realities. The alternative, we are told, will paint a picture of what the numbers would look like after independence.

If the head of the civil service in Edinburgh allows this stunt to go ahead at public expense, she will confirm her unfitness for the position. And even the least engaged Scottish voter just might wonder: “Wouldn’t that money be better spent on emptying the bins instead?”

There are plenty open goals to aim at. But it still needs an opposition which can score.