21 April 2021

After 14 years, Scotland is suffering from SNP Stockholm Syndrome

By Peter Young

What does it take for a ruling party in Scotland to lose power?

To judge by Think Scotland’s 72-page report on the SNP’s track record in government, an awful lot. It’s no exaggeration to say the SNP’s record is one of abject failure across every policy area.

On social policy, Nationalist rule has seen increasing rates of poverty, lower life expectancy, lower healthy life expectancy, increased food insecurity, worse educational standards, the highest drug deaths in Europe, homeless deaths three times higher than England’s, and higher hospital waiting times.

Despite 14 years in government the SNP have absolutely failed to tackle the poverty and deprivation in areas like Glasgow that causes poor health and early death. It is extraordinary that Glaswegian men have a lower life expectancy than their counterparts in Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Belarus, Libya, Bangladesh, Algeria, Iran and Mongolia.

Other policy areas are characterised by procurement disasters, funds announced but not spent, business investment failures, and poorer local government services due to cuts. SNP ministers like nothing better than announcing an expensive new initiative, then failing to spend its budget.

Economic policy is another disaster area. GDP growth is a third lower than the UK rate, with low business investment, declining business scale-ups, fewer innovative firms, lower productivity, a declining proportion of the workforce in job-related training, and employment growing at only two thirds of the UK level. It constitutes a huge SNP economic policy failure that is making Scotland considerably poorer and reducing its tax base.

The SNP is basically asking voters to ignore its record – and its failure to implement most of its past manifesto promises – in return for being offered a bizarre list of election bribes, including free bicycles for children, free dental care, free musical instruments, free music lessons, free bus travel and local services for under-22s, free art material, free school trips and free laptops for children.

The nationalist Stuart Christie, high priest of Salmond’s Alba party, has summed it up on his Wings Over Scotland blog:

“how completely pointless this election actually is, because nothing you do with your vote next month is going to affect anything that happens in the subsequent five years. Only one party is going to win, and once they do it won’t matter what’s in the 76-page “manifesto” they released today. The manifesto is a fake – in reality it amounts to a single line: “keep us in power so we can fill our pockets and do whatever we like for another half a decade, suckers”.”

Indeed, but one would normally expect a party with a record as poor as the SNP’s to be thrown out on its ear by the electorate, especially if it had been in power for 14 years. That doesn’t seem likely to happen, but why?

The SNP is actually the new Scottish establishment, a bureaucratic elite that has captured almost all of Scotland’s institutions and used them not only for its own benefit but to both cow and indoctrinate the population. The Scottish media, particularly the broadcast media such as the BBC, is supine and compliant, as evidenced by the continuation of Sturgeon’s TV briefings in the middle of an election campaign.

Scots now seem subject to a form of Stockholm syndrome where they believe what their captors say and accept that there is no alternative to the one-party state. Sufferers typically adopt a position of helplessness, make little or no attempt to escape, come to believe in the goodness of their captors, feel pity towards them and believe that they are victims themselves. That is where we have got to in Scotland.

Unfortunately, the opposition parties also seem subject to this condition, giving up any ambition to replace the SNP but instead vying with each other to be a “better opposition”.

Overcoming these problems requires a different approach.  Vigorous attacks on the SNP’s extensive and manifest failures need to become not only the main focus of the remaining two weeks of the Scottish election campaign but be maintained for months and, if necessary, years thereafter. The Scottish Labour and Conservative Parties need to widen their ambitions and greatly improve their performance. They need to develop comprehensive policy platforms that actually seek to replace the failed approaches of the SNP.

The UK Government needs to stop financing the SNP’s election bribes. As the Scottish Auditor General pointed out, £2.7bn of UK Covid support to Scotland has gone missing. No doubt it will be used to pay for all those free bicycles and laptops. Of course financial transfers from the Treasury to Scotland should continue, but if funds are being provided to help finance the Scottish NHS then they should be spent on that purpose only.

The good news is that it is possible to overcome Stockholm syndrome. A firm yet empathetic approach, applied over time, will enable sufferers to return to normal life. 

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Peter Young is former Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.