Teflon coating wearing thin on non-stick Nicola

Teflon coating wearing thin on non-stick Nicola

by Jamie Greene
article from Friday 7, April, 2017

IT WAS a bad week for the SNP last week. What should have been a period of grandstanding and tub-thumping glory, after many years of carefully steering the agenda back to the notion of independence, it all felt like a damp squib.  With the backing of the Greens, the SNP forced through a vote to set up a second independence referendum less than three years after the last “once in a generation” vote on the issue.

Instead of trumpets of joy from the 3rd floor SNP towers in Holyrood, we saw U-turns, apologies and bad news on a massive scale. Given that the SNP is a party which neither likes admitting it’s wrong nor take kindly to criticism, this must have weighed heavily on the minds of the SNP leadership and its spin machine.

  • We had Keith Brown reversing the Scottish Government’s decision to abolish the board of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, a step the Scottish Conservatives had called loudly for, only months after the SNP swept aside a vote on this in the Scottish Parliament.
  • The Cabinet Secretary for the Economy was also forced to apologise over a collapsed investment pact with two Chinese firms after concerns were raised about the human rights records of the firms.
  • The collapse of the pact was revealed through an FOI many months ago, but the Scottish Government initially blamed the collapse on Scottish opposition parties in an attempt to spin the blame away from them – they backtracked on that too.
  • The Queensferry Crossing will be delayed. Again.
  • A report by the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland found that victims of rape and sexual assault are being let down by “unacceptable” forensic medical services.
  • Mental Health Minister Maureen Watt unveiled a new 10-year mental health strategy that was dismissed by council leaders because of significant late changes to it and disagreement over its delivery.
  • An ‘update’ was given on fracking but still without an indication on what the Scottish Government will do on this subject.
  • A report on mesh implant surgery was described as a ‘whitewash’ as parts of the interim report were dropped.
  • Derek Mackay, the magic money sofa man, admitted that millions of pounds which he had announced in the media as “investment in digital infrastructure” was actually a clawback clause in the contract with BT – who are delivering the publicly-funded and subsidised roll-out of fibre networks – and this admission came only after I reminded the Finance Secretary that no amount of spin would alter the fact there was “no new government money” being invested.  His words, not mine.

Despite the political advantage for me in listing a catalogue of errors, it is not the purpose of this article to gloat. The reason I am listing them here is that these admissions, corrections and U-turns were rushed out on the last week before Easter recess to mitigate any blowback.

These were quick Ministerial statements, one after another, in the closing minutes of Chamber time, the day before a two-week break giving MSPs barely seconds to hold the government to account. As our microphones went from “live” to “off” we were unable to rush out as much critique and questioning as we could would have wanted to do as we played beat-the-clock in parliament.

Given that we had just spent hours upon hours throwing verbal rocks at each over the referendum debate, there was little time left to actually discuss and debate the important matters of the day. Health, infrastructure, transport, the economy. You know, those day-to-day things that people care about and that politicians are elected to sort out.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am.

The Ministerial Statements on fracking and HIE were simply sideshows at the end of a long month discussing independence. There was nowhere near sufficient time to give them proper scrutiny.

Governments need to be held to account if they are to improve.

As the official opposition, the Scottish Conservatives play a crucial role in that and over the last year we have made great strides. But the Scottish Government has to be willing to stand before parliament and answer our questions.

The SNP members can chant about respecting the will of the Scottish Parliament in one breath and ignore that very will in the next.  The hypocrisy would be laughable, were it not so sad.

The fact that we haven’t debated a single piece of legislation in over a year is one thing, but when the Scottish Government tries to hide from the Scottish Parliament, it is nothing short of incompetence and shows contempt for Scottish democracy.

When it comes to discussing independence, there is apparently unlimited time to do so, and other issues really do play a backseat role under this administration. What we’re left with is key ministerial statements being fitted in on the last sessions of parliament, a tactic designed to minimise damage and limit press coverage on the individual issues.

In the Scottish Parliament, we are afforded precious little parliamentary time each week to go about our business, three-hours per day Tuesday-Thursday. Although most would welcome the family friendly hours that Holyrood promotes, the government of the day should not be exploiting that constraint.

No doubt we will be pressing the Scottish Government to bring these issues back to parliament when we re-convene after the Easter recess, but what else can we take from the shambles of last week?

The cracks in the SNP’s armour are well and truly showing and the reputation they have for letting criticism slip away is gradually falling apart.

Being in government for ten years is starting to take its toll on the SNP front benches and the electorate are starting to notice and lose patience.

Nicola Sturgeon is now having her personal authority tested.  When her government is forced to apologise on multiple issues and reports are highlighting significant failures under her stewardship, the public (and perhaps many in her own party) will be beginning to question her leadership.

The most successful governments are the ones that open themselves up to scrutiny. The SNP spin machine might just still be still be Teflon-coated, but the battle lines in Holyrood are well and truly drawn. The government cannot, and will not, escape the scrutiny of the opposition and indeed the majority of the Scottish people, and some of the legitimate criticisms of the SNP are beginning to stick.

 

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