Why Scottish Parliament recess offers respite for struggling SNP

With recess comes a much-needed respite for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP as they reel from one of the Scottish Government’s toughest weeks since its re-election.

The catastrophe that is the ferries fiasco has been plastered across the front pages for two weeks and on Thursday, the First Minister’s answers were as seaworthy as hulls 801 and 802.

It is the first time since the election last year the SNP has struggled to tackle head-on accusations of incompetence which are regularly thrown their way by critics.

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First Minster Nicola Sturgeon arriving for First Minster's Questions in the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.

The ferries issue is phenomenally complex and has its roots in both Alex Salmond’s administration and a fundamental breakdown in relationships between CMAL and Ferguson Marine.

The failure of the Government to answer simple questions on ferries is mind-boggling and the opposition know the scandal taps into one weakness the SNP cannot hide – a fundamental lack of transparency.

Consider care home deaths caused by Covid unlawfully withheld, modelling data unlawfully kept secret, unlawful failures to publish details of the Lochaber guarantee, and two Government ministers intervening to delay care home death data being published before the election.

Secrecy is systematic, ingrained in the Government’s culture, and opposition know it.

The scathing Audit Scotland report provided a free hit to critics, stating no documentary evidence existed on why risks were taken with the ferry deal.

That fact alone raises suspicion of shifty dealings, and means Parliament and the public are unable to hold anyone to account.

And, as FMQs this week demonstrated, the First Minister cannot answer why this occurred, instead grasping at the straws of saved jobs at a shipyard that cannot build ships.

It is an open goal for the opposition and one they will gleefully relish hitting into the back of the net for months to come.

By comparison to the ferries fiasco, the nationalisation of ScotRail – a long campaigned for victory for trade unions and parts of the left-wing in Scotland – arrived to much SNP/Green fanfare on Friday, but does so in a cloud of potential further publicly-owned headaches.

No longer are Abellio a free punching bag to ministers and should the franchise’s problems continue, it will pose another test of the SNP’s inability to follow through on promises of accountability and improvement of services by nationalisation.

Want to hear more from The Scotsman's politics team? Check out the latest episode of our political podcast, The Steamie.

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