SNP's winter of discontent: With nurses, ambulance crews and teachers all set to strike, Nicola Sturgeon can't blame this on Westminster – Murdo Fraser

For readers of a certain vintage, the term “winter of discontent” brings back memories of the dying days of the Callaghan government in 1978-79, when industrial unrest led to widespread public sector strikes.
Ambulance staff in the GMB union are set to hold a one-day strike later this month (Picture: John Devlin)Ambulance staff in the GMB union are set to hold a one-day strike later this month (Picture: John Devlin)
Ambulance staff in the GMB union are set to hold a one-day strike later this month (Picture: John Devlin)

Footage of mounds of rubbish piled up in the streets were replayed endlessly on our television screens. The Conservative opposition saw it as an indictment of the government’s failures in economic management.

Today, in Scotland, we are facing a repeat. First, the nurses indicated that they are willing to strike over issues of pay and workload. They were followed by the teachers, who are due to walk out next week. And now, to add to the sense of crisis, ambulance staff represented by the GMB union are planning a 26-hour walkout on November 28.

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The least we might expect from the Scottish Government in this situation is some sort of coherent response. So far that has been missing. Whilst the acting Finance Secretary John Swinney has made it clear there is no more cash for additional pay offers, the Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has been singing a different song, saying that additional funds might be found for teachers from within her education budget.

Mixed messages like that will encourage the belief that industrial action will force concessions from ministers. Meanwhile, the growing crisis in the NHS in Scotland has left the hapless Health Secretary Humza Yousaf writing to the UK Government to demand more cash for what is an entirely devolved service.

Given that he and his predecessors were responsible for managing health spending over recent years, but still managed to deliver a weaker NHS, this looks like a desperate final act from a failing Health Secretary to try and shift the blame for his own inadequacies. Trying to blame Westminster for the strikes isn’t going to wash with the public, and it just leaves Humza Yousaf looking more and more out of his depth.

If Nicola Sturgeon is serious about NHS recovery, she needs to start by replacing her Health Secretary with someone who will have the confidence of patients and staff, and actually take responsibility for sorting out NHS problems, rather than trying to blame others. In transport, Yousaf was the minister without insurance to drive. In health he is the minister without the license to lead.

Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife



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