SNP leadership contest: 'Mediocre for Scotland' won't make a great nationalist election slogan – Brian Wilson

Those of us who assume that the SNP’s record in government is abysmal now find ourselves in unlikely company – that of no less a personage than the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, Kate Forbes.

“More of the same would be an acceptance of mediocrity,” she declared with admirable clarity. This was no unscripted remark but a carefully targeted Exocet across the bows of the “continuity” candidate, Humza Yousaf. One could see the hand of Ms Forbes’ media adviser, who served Alex Salmond until the last day in court. “If you’re going to put the boot in, make sure nobody misses the point,” the great man might have counselled. And nobody did.

While this judgment caused understandable tensions within the ruling cabal, it’s the truth of it which must concern the rest of us. One of these three – Ash Regan is the third contender – will be running Scotland in a few weeks' time and the contest does not inspire confidence.

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At least Ms Forbes recognises the scale of the problem. Whether she could even begin to make a difference in the face of hostility within her own ranks is doubtful. Would the current mediocrities wish to serve? The subs bench is even worse.

Kate Forbes delivered a carefully targeted Exocet across the bows of 'continuity' SNP leadership candidate Humza Yousaf (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA WireKate Forbes delivered a carefully targeted Exocet across the bows of 'continuity' SNP leadership candidate Humza Yousaf (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Kate Forbes delivered a carefully targeted Exocet across the bows of 'continuity' SNP leadership candidate Humza Yousaf (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

What about the army of special advisers and hangers-on she would inherit, each committed to “continuity” for their places at the trough? What about the civil servants with fiefdoms to protect? Is Ms Forbes really a new broom who would sweep through all of that?

The contest is bogged down in the same old problem that has engendered mediocrity whenever it comes to actually doing anything. None of them, with the possible exception of Ms Forbes, has any interest in policy except as an enabler of their constitutional objective. In the first televised debate, “independence” was mentioned 78 times; “education”, not once.

When Tory members were choosing a leader, Nicola Sturgeon enunciated the vital democratic principle that a general election must follow. That has been abandoned without a backward glance when it comes to SNP members doing the same thing. So Scotland will be landed with one of these three for the next three years.

That is scary for the Scottish economy, jobs and public services. Nobody outside their own circle cares about their hypothetical routes to independence. Yet “continuity” would mean the same dreary script of bad decision-making, squandered money and contrived grievances while Scotland stagnates.

The significance of the word “mediocre” is that it is non-ideological. It does not relate to belief but to competence and that is what this contest should be about. It is not difficult to understand why Ms Forbes, as a spectator for the past nine months, reached her conclusion about Edinburgh rule.

Education is a mess. The NHS is in crisis. Showpiece legislation like gender recognition and the deposit return scheme are in freefall. Within her own patch, the ferries don’t sail and the planes don’t fly. None of these is ideological. They are about competence and priorities. Ms Forbes just might be an improvement; Mr Yousaf certainly wouldn’t be.

What’s needed at Holyrood, as in the UK as a whole, is political change which only a change of government can bring. The current spectacle will significantly increase the number of voters who, if they agree on little else, share the view that getting shot of “mediocrity” is the first priority.

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Ms Sturgeon boasts that she must be right because Scotland keeps voting for her. In fact, most Scots do no such thing but while the separatist vote is united, the anti-separatist vote splits several ways.

The SNP’s nightmare is that, even temporarily, the Scottish majority takes them at their word and accepts the political divide in Scotland is constitutional rather than social and economic. I have always been wary of tactical voting because, in a sense, it is an admission of defeat. But it may be the only way to get rid of them.

Local by-election results in Aberdeen and, this week, in Edinburgh suggest this just might be happening spontaneously, at an accelerated pace. The new ingredient is that “Mediocre for Scotland” will never be a great slogan on which to fight any election.



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