Scotland needs a shake-up – why not produce our own Beveridge reports?

Scotland needs a shake-up – why not produce our own Beveridge reports?

by Allan Sutherland
article from Wednesday 20, May, 2020


"After this crisis is over, people may well be in the mood for radical change in Scotland. We need to be sure (insert party name) is the party of radical change....there are many party members, elected officials and office bearers in the (insert party name), who are not members of the government and who currently have time on their hands".

Unfortunately, this wasn’t an email from Jackson Carlaw, Willie Rennie or Richard Leonard to their MSP’s and members, although  it's certainly time for someone to encourage them to up their game. In fact it's from an article in The National on 7 May by Joanna Cherry, MP and the party name is SNP. 

Brexit and Coronavirus should have knocked Scottish politics off its axis but here we are, nine months before the next Holyrood election campaign, and, despite their woeful performance and the arguments and evidence against independence piling up, the needle has stuck perilously close to “YES” with the SNP are set for a landslide.

In her “National” article Ms Cherry  went on to cite the Beveridge Report as an example of work done during a major crisis that ended with the leader, who had excelled in a crisis, being voted out shortly after. 

She gave no hint of what her Beveridge equivalent would be in terms of how to transform Scotland's devolved areas of government, other than the implicit message that independence is the answer and for Churchill replaced by Attlee read Sturgeon replaced by Cherry, but clearly, for her, the historic part would be the fact that the leader would change but the party in power – the SNP – would be the same.

A day earlier, Professor Anne Glover, chair of the SNP’s new Post-Covid Futures Commission was wondering "what sort of things" could be done in Scotland to "set us up for a brighter future". To be fair she didn't mention independence but neither did she outline any policies other than building "a much more resilient and fairer society". This the political equivalent of the empty nester's florist shop.

Neither musing  sounds like any real drive, ambition or intention to convince their own party, sponsors, the public, Scotland's political class or our unimaginative, unchallenging media, that the real issues must be brought into sharp focus, recommendations made and supported and adopted by all parties who could then develop their own policies based on the recommendations.

So what are our politicians doing to create the policies for the radical changes that will address lessons from Covid-19 and the decline in most areas?

Nothing much, it seems, from the SNP or the opposition. In the Scottish leadership election, Jackson Carlaw talked about getting tax more in line with rUK,  wanting to transform business,  and employing 2,000 more teachers, ignoring the fact that schools are struggling to fill existing vacancies, teachers are leaving the profession in droves, and the next generation of teachers are STEM-lite products of CfE and therefore not exactly equipped  to teach pupils out of the STEM crisis. But at least he is trying, I suppose, which is a tiny step ahead of Labour and the Libdems. I have no idea why I should vote for any of them, especially as I don’t think independence is a threat worth voting tactically against.

After  21 years of devolution Scotland has descended into an ill-educated, wilfully unhealthy, economically dependent, socially, economically, culturally and politically divided, headless chicken of a "country" and I think the reason all these MSP’s with “time on their hands” aren’t feverishly telling us what they would do if they were in power is they  just don’t know, and they just don’t fancy the challenge they are faced with.

Fortunately, many of the big decisions will be made in Westminster. The scale of the economic crisis and its implications for taxation, borrowing and spending requires the clout and ability down there. There is also talk of a Covid Levy, a National Care Service, creation of a pandemic “defence” industry and, in the past few days , a war on obesity, fuelled by the Prime Minister’s acknowledgement that his near-death encounter with Coronavirus had a lot to do with his BMI score of 36. And we still have to navigate a course out of Brexit!

I mean, can you seriously imagine a Kate Forbes, a  drafted in John Swinney, or any of the opposition finance spokesmen being able to deal with the economics?

Luckily the UK Government has a huge majority and won't have an imminent election to face but it will have an opposition, under Sir Keir Starmer, that so far looks to be providing the kind of non-tribal, non ideological, competent, reasonable and hard-nosed scrutiny and alternatives that the UK will need in this crucial period.

But what about Scotland? What about all the local and devolved l issues we face along with the task of calibrating with the supra-national (UK, Brexit, global) facts of life and policy? Unless the parties work together we are going to be left behind. We already see this in the different attitudes to the pace of lockdown easing, and Brexit.

Scotland needs at least 5, possibly 6 “Beveridge Reports”, more precisely our political class needs to outsource the heavy lifting of designing the common sense, funded, executable “radical” reforms our Holyrood politicians have failed to conceive or enact in 21 years. 

I’m not talking about the virtue signalling, “the answer’s independence, now what’s the question?”, tick the box, kick into the long grass consultations, Citizens Assemblies, Expert panels, and Commissions that have been the political equivalent of PPE that sustained the SNP for  the past 5 years.

I mean independent, high quality investigations, notable for their lack of  the usual jobsworth quangocrat, vested interest placemen,  that will look across the world and deep into Scotland for answers and come out with clear recommendations  that have to be debated and passed by, say, a two thirds majority. The job of political parties would then be to devise the policies they think would best deliver on the basic recommendations, much like the Beveridge Report, for all its mission creep the past 75 years, has done.

Many people are calling for Labour, Libdem and Conservatives to find some common cause and work together to get the SNP and Greens out of power. Surely getting behind a campaign for some kind of Royal Commission would do that?

My candidates would be 

  • NHS, especially preventive medicine and health education; 
  • Education, what needs to be taught, how to control the  bad behaviour that kills lessons, how to make university education free for the most able students who apply for  the most economically and socially useful courses in the best performing establishments;
  • Housing, featuring a drains-up investigation into  planning and land hoarding, brownfield sites, town centre revival,  council housing, modern methods of building cheap, sustainable houses and enabling people to participate in the construction or renovation of their home. And a definition of “affordable” that means people on average earnings can afford  a house near their place of work big enough to hold their family;
  • Old age care: in this case I have a vested interest. I’m 65 in July. Currently I’d rather climb up a ladder to fix my guttering, fall off and die than go into a care home where, because I’ve worked hard all my life I could lose my house and capital,  leave nothing to my kids then die an even  worse death from boredom or  some bug or virus. But I’d happily sign up to an additional tax on my old age earnings and a decent limit on how much of my capital can be taken,  in an insurance scheme  that ensured me a clean, happy final existence either at home, or in a home,  and help pay for those unfortunates who couldn’t salt any money away; and,
  • Business and economy. Scotland relies too much on low pay, low productivity, low value-add industries such as tourism  and food production. Since they seem so reluctant to use it themselves, he Scottish Tories should donate their own, excellent, Dunlop report to the Commission as a blueprint for a  regionally driven, high value, growing economy.

And if that doesn’t happen and things haven’t improved  by the time if the 2026 elections,  my sixth “Beveridge” would  be a review of the past 27 years of devolution and if it has been deemed not to have improved Scotland, it should come up  with a series of recommendations for reform, including scrapping it and  restoring the Scottish office to its former power, overseeing and representing five or six “city regions” based on the model developing in England and working so well in Manchester.

Then put the recommendations to the electorate and asking for a two thirds majority to enable it to be enacted.



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