POLITICS IN Scotland today is enveloped in a vacuum – in a state of dazed inertia. The First Minister has the parliament in a trance, oblivious to the ever-worsening social and economic problems of the country from day to day by focussing solely on an event that is not scheduled to take place for another two years and may never happen at all.
The three so-called opposition parties form a chorus line, dancing to the SNP’s tune. They are all fascinated by the ritual of the plebiscite, the semantics of The Question and the metaphysics of the voters’ roll, to the exclusion of the real world outside parliament.
Yet the prescription for ‘independence’ is continually diluted. The promised porridge, rich enough for your spoon to stand up in, is already reduced to a thin gruel and before 2014 may not be worth leaving out for the cat. Quasi-independence became pseudo-independence which became sub-independence..... For the two crucial issues that are already dividing the administration – a newly independent nation’s status vis-a-vis the EU and nuclear submarines vis-a-vis membership of NATO – cannot be fudged much longer; and beyond that are numerous other criteria of national identity and obligation still to be resolved.
Moreover, the electorate’s patience with this grand illusion of mock-independence as a national panacea may snap, and even a triumphantly successful Commonwealth Games might not save it.
So why, if these could be the dying years of the SNP, does the grand illusionist remain unchallenged? The LibDems have always been ambivalent towards Scottish nationalism and are now hopelessly confused as to whether they should meekly follow Westminster’s unionist line or adopt a more conciliatory one of their own. Labour’s new leader has no positive policies of her own, no matter how effective her attacks on the FM, which merely fuel his publicity machine. Feeblest of all are the Conservatives, who appear to have been written off altogether.
Yet this present political paralysis actually affords the Tories the best opportunity of rousing the party and the country since devolution. For democracy has become perverted to mean “government of the people by the government and for the government”. From the incubus of Brussels by way of the octopus of Westminster to the albatross of Holyrood down to the deadweight of local councils, in addition to parasitical quangos, Scotland is now one of the most heavily governed countries on Earth.
In some parts of the country, as much as 70% of the working population is employed in the public sector. Almost everywhere, the top and bottom sections of society are expanding – i.e. the plutocracy, employed by the Council, and the under-class living largely or wholly on benefits – both of which have to be paid for by the shrinking middle section.
In the average local authority, four officials are paid £100,000 a year or more; in most areas, more than half of all persons earning such high salaries are employed by the Council; and almost always they will be the only ones who are virtually unsackable and with guaranteed pensions. Whereas a generation ago, there was a Town or County Clerk, a few technical officials and a typing pool, today there are staffs of hundreds. Most councillors are otherwise unemployable and are largely redundant, while the officers who style themselves ‘Executive Directors’ are in practice merely managers. But all this is only one symptom – one illustration – of what has become a national malaise.
So Tories should ask the Scottish electorate: “Do you really want even more politicians, more taxation and more regulation; or fewer politicians, lower taxation and less regulation – do you want to give politicians and bureaucrats even greater independence of the people — or to give the people long-overdue independence of them?”
Pledges must be given to cull MSPs¸ local Councillors and their staffs, to cap local government officers’ salaries to the level of MSPs, to purge quangos and the civil service, etc.
What makes this populist strategy infallible is that none of the other three parties can have any defence against it. In order to win power, it is necessary first to attack it. Whether Ruth is ruthless enough I don’t know, but let us show the way! It is the scottish Tories' golden chance.