30 August 2022

Trash talk – will Scotland ever face up to SNP incompetence?


It’s been a busy few weeks for TV’s Nicola Sturgeon. The showbiz personality and Festival Fringe favourite has been interviewed numerous times on Edinburgh’s stages in the last month, sharing her opinions with the likes of Iain Dale and Brian Cox (not the one who lives here; the other one).

But, ever the trooper, she still found time to jet off to Copenhagen to open the Scottish Government’s new Nordic Office (which has been described as a sort of Scottish embassy, but is reportedly more accurately described as a desk in an existing UK government building).

Faint hearts and sceptics left behind on these shores as Sturgeon’s plane disappeared over the horizon could be forgiven for thinking the First Minister’s political priorities might be subject to criticism. After all, as she chalked up the air miles, her home country was immersed in a cost-of-living crisis which the Scottish Government has done little to alleviate. More immediately, the refuse workers’ strike that has turned Scotland’s capital into a pungent eyesore was still ongoing. In her defence, Copenhagen’s fresh air was presumably much more pleasant to the first-ministerial nostrils.

The strike has now come to an end; too late, alas, for the nearly one million visitors to Edinburgh whose enjoyment of the Edinburgh festivals was somewhat curtailed by the need to be ever vigilant against the intrusion on their personal space of opportunistic rats. The laborious process of returning the capital to some semblance of a modern cultural capital has begun, just as the First Minister herself has hung up the head mic and returned her passport to its drawer. For another few weeks, at least.

One of the problems with modern politicians is that they plead with us to give them the power they crave over our services, our taxes and our lives. But when things start getting difficult, they then claim they don’t have the power to sort it out, even though we can distinctly recall giving it to them.

So it is with this nationalist administration in Edinburgh. Back in May this year, the SNP got awfully grumpy when the single transferable vote system allowed Labour, a party with fewer votes and fewer elected councillors than the SNP, to form a minority administration with the unofficial support of the Conservatives. But by this summer, a democratic outrage had been transformed, for the SNP, into a dodged bullet, as the council’s leadership failed to stop the binmen’s strike from going ahead at the worst possible time of the year.

There then followed the usual blame game, with Labour pointing out that successive budget settlements controlled by the Scottish Government had left Scotland’s councils without the means to deliver a satisfactory pay settlement to workers worried about the cost of living, and SNP ministers pointing an accusatory finger at Labour-run Edinburgh.

Such cynical responsibility-dodging has not been successful for the SNP, however. Just as a settlement was reached in Edinburgh, the strike spread throughout the rest of the country, including the SNP-run cities of Glasgow and Dundee.

The nationalist administration will survive all this, of course. It will take more than the smell of rotting nappies and having to fight off a ravenous rat while you’re trying to enjoy a quiet, outdoor lunch on the Royal Mile to persuade most Scots that governing isn’t really the SNP’s forte

Even the revelation that Sturgeon herself was not inconvenienced by the strike, because she employed private contractors (at public expense) to remove the rubbish at her official residence of Bute House, will do little to dissuade at least some ordinary Scots that everything is just fine. 

About half of the electorate, if the latest polls are to be believed, still support Sturgeon’s party and her ambition of independence. But this isn’t nearly enough, and Sturgeon, to her frustration, knows this. Why, she asked Brian Cox, the actor, during her latest fringe review, as empty pizza boxes and discarded drinks cans formed their own modern art installation on the pavement outside the venue, were people who lived abroad (like Cox himself) so much more supportive of independence (like Cox himself) than people who actually live here?

Here were shades of Mrs Merton’s famous line, ‘So, Debbie McGee, what first attracted you to the millionaire, Paul Daniels?’

Why would people who don’t have to live under the SNP, who don’t see reports every day of nationalist incompetence and cynicism, who don’t have to live surrounded by stinking garbage every day, feel more relaxed about the prospects of independence than those who actually live here?

Yeah, that’s a tough one, and it will remain mysteriously unanswered, at least by the First Minister, her showbiz agent and her many fans, both famous and obscure. Meanwhile the rest of us have time and opportunity to consider what would happen to local services if the UK premium that keeps Scotland functioning were ever removed. If this is the best the SNP can do currently, just imagine the magic they could work with the equivalent of £2000 less to spend on every single Scottish resident.

Talk of crises at home is so overblown, after all. Just ask some of Sturgeon’s famous, rich American friends. Or her Danish ones. Just don’t ask ordinary Scots: people who can’t even afford to pay a private contractor to remove their own rubbish can hardly be trusted to offer a reliable political opinion.

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Tom Harris is a former Labour MP and author of 'Ten Years in the Death of the Labour Party'.

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