It is sometimes pointless to delve back into “who did what” but Richard Leonard was right this week to recall the promises made on student loans by the SNP leadership a decade ago, in the run-up to Holyrood elections.
Long before Trump and Farage entered the field, this was a prime example of the “big lie” for a crude political purpose. Without doubt, the promise to abolish student debt and replace loans with grants secured the SNP’s wafer-thin victory which allowed them to take control through a deal with the Tories.
Honest people who pointed out the impossibility of fulfilling the commitment on grounds of the vast cost were pilloried. Alex Salmond denounced civil servants who did the costings as “lickspittles”. Nicola Sturgeon, who fronted the operation, condemned truth-tellers as “unconcerned with student debt”. And yes, it worked.
The rest is history. The ludicrous pledge was immediately reneged upon and they went much further, cutting grants and bursaries to low-income students, to be replaced with higher loans. This week, the fruits of their handiwork over the past decade were set out by the Student Awards Agency.
Students from low-income backgrounds now leave university with debt of over £23,000 while average debt per student is more than double what it was when Salmond, Sturgeon and Swinney campaigned on the slogan: “Dump the Debt Monster.”
The last thing I would expect from that trio is an apology. But perhaps the patsies at Heriot Watt University who allowed Salmond to erect a vainglorious monument to the absence of tuition fees for the better-off could allow a neighbouring pillar to proclaim: “Paid for by the poor of Scotland.”