Leader comment: Public dissatisfaction shows size of SNP’s task

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It may have simply been a coincidence that the Scottish Household Survey was published on the same day as the Scottish Government announced its “Programme for Government”.

That headlines about the latter might dampen publicity about a fall in public satisfaction about the state of Scotland’s schools – down from 85 per cent in 2011 to 70 per cent last year – presumably had nothing to do with it.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Getty Images

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Getty Images

There was some good news for the SNP. Despite the NHS’s current problems, 82 per cent said they were satisfied with the health service last year, compared to 81 per cent a decade ago. But, the overall picture was a gloomy one with the combined satisfaction rate for the three key public services of education, transport and health falling from a peak of 66 per cent in 2011 to 52 per cent last year.

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The Conservatives said the figures were a “truly damning indictment of the SNP’s record in Government”, while Deputy First Minister John Swinney sounded a conciliatory note, saying the results of the survey showed that “many people” were “managing well financially” and the “majority” were happy with their services, but also adding “we can see that inequalities remain”. With more than 10,000 respondents, the survey is significantly bigger than most opinion polls, so the Scottish Government – and the opposition parties – will take its findings seriously.

For the SNP, halting the slide in dissatisfaction is not simply about staying in power, but its ultimate aspiration of independence. And it could have an effect on Nicola Sturgeon’s thinking about a second independence referendum. If the SNP fears being ousted at the next Holyrood election, it may decide it has nothing much to lose by holding Indyref 2. If it believes Sturgeon will be returned to Bute House, it may conclude it’s wiser to wait for a more opportune moment.

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All that makes yesterday’s Programme for Government even more important. A £250 million recruitment drive that will see hundreds of new school nurses deployed to help cope with the demand for mental health services is a significant announcement with thousands of children waiting longer for treatment than the 18-week target. But, in the end, fixing such problems relies on fixing the economy. If Sturgeon achieves that, no-one will quibble about whether yesterday was a good day to bury some bad news.