THE dominant grip which the SNP has held over Scotland’s political scene for the best part of a decade reached new heights this week.
An astonishing poll put support for the party at 60 per cent in Scotland less than a year out from the Scottish Parliament elections next year. This compares with the 45 per cent which the party polled last time out at Holyrood when Alex Salmond won an “unprecedented” majority – something the voting system was specifically designed to guard against happening.
It came as Nicola Sturgeon’s soaring personal profile went global with a triumphant appearance on the prestigious Daily Show with Jon Stewart in the US. Government aides say media demand stateside for a slice of the First Minister hit fever pitch on the back of her appearance on the satirical show.
All of which suggests a thoroughly miserable year ahead for the opposition in Scotland. Labour are likely to be bedding a young new leader with Kezia Dugdale poised to replace Jim Murphy, but even senior party figures accept they have little or no chance of winning next year. Conservative leader Ruth Davidson cut an impressive figure in the recent referendum and UK elections, but Tory votes fell again in May, while the Lib Dems sunk to 0 per cent in parts of the country in last week’s poll.
Is there any stopping the Nationalist juggernaut? Well, thrusting the SNP’s record on the “bread and butter” issues under the spotlight, such as classroom standards, childcare and hospital waits – where the buck stops firmly with Ms Sturgeon – might be a start.
The SNP has faced difficult questions over key issues for which it alone is responsible in Scotland in the past four years. Campaigning mothers have revealed thousands of youngsters are missing out on their free childcare over a lack of flexibility in the system – despite Ms Sturgeon’s much vaunted aspiration to get a generation of working mothers back into the workplace with universal free childcare. Relations with teachers are not good, with the profession balloting on strike action over pay and conditions after a spat with ministers over falling standards of reading and writing. Scotland’s A&E wards have missed official waiting time targets for almost six years and concerns over Scottish policing persist over armed police routinely patrolling local beats and excessive use of stop and search.
But, the prospect of more powers coming to Holyrood in Scotland Bill continues to dominate the political agenda – and a second independence referendum still hangs in the background. If Scotland’s opposition wants to at least make a fist of it next year, they must achieve something that hasn’t been done in a decade – and focus the election battleground on the SNP’s own domestic record.