We have a government in Scotland that has only one objective, a grand obsession. They call it independence, I call it separation. Whatever anyone else calls it, the referendum proved that a majority of people in the country don’t want it. Yet ever since the SNP formed the Scottish government in 2007, and increasingly since they gained an outright majority in parliament in 2011, their grand obsession has come to dominate public life. It is the lens through which they see everything. And it has a baleful effect on the country.
There are those who say the SNP have delivered good government for Scotland. But if one characteristic has marked them out since they came to power it’s what might be called the handing out sweeties syndrome. The easy stuff. Free prescriptions. Toll-free bridges. Free university education. A long-running council tax freeze. Yet of course none of these populist measures are free. They are all paid for through our taxes. And they’re sweeties for everyone, even those who can well afford to pay for them. Some even benefit the well-off more than the poor. None address any of the fundamental economic or social issues facing Scotland any more than ‘bungs’ do for an airport that no-one wants to use or for the remnants of a civil shipbuilding industry no-one wants to buy ships from.
But worse than these populist actions is the fact that they just will not knuckle down and exercise the powers they have in an honest way. Everything is seen through their lens of separation. Anything positive that happens, whether or not they have caused it to happen, is claimed as theirs. Anything that is not is blamed on ‘Westminster’ even if their action or inaction contributed to it.
Armed forces bases closed or cut back in Scotland? Unfair and disproportionate. Never mind that an independent Scotland under the SNP would have a minuscule defence capability compared to the UK.
Foodbanks open on Christmas Day? An absolute scandal. Never mind that seven years of SNP government in Holyrood has done nothing about them until they became an issue in the referendum. And never mind that they are, sadly, a phenomenon throughout Europe.
Fisheries negotiations with the EU led by an unelected Tory Lord? And the SNP fisheries minister left on the sidelines as part of the UK delegation. Never mind that the deal negotiated is probably as good as could be achieved by anyone and an independent Scotland with 0.9% of the EU population would count for little in negotiations up against the likes of France, Spain, Germany and, yes, a continuing UK.
The Royal Mail universal service obligation (allegedly) under threat in rural Scotland and the islands? All down to privatisation by the Westminster coalition. Never mind that the volume of mail has declined relentlessly everywhere since the advent of electronic media.
A Dutch rail company gets the Scotrail franchise currently held by Aberdeen-based First Group? Hidebound by the UK government’s competition rules. Never mind that an unequal competition biased in favour of a Scottish company would get short shrift from the EU.
The UK air rescue co-ordination centre (ARCC) relocated from Kinloss to the south coast of England? Outrageous neglect of Scotland. Never mind that Kinloss co-ordinated airborne rescue for the whole of England and will now be co-located with its maritime equivalent.
And so it goes. Issue after issue after issue twisted to suit the nationalist agenda. Always Westminster’s fault and always a grievance to be hunted down or conjured up.
It has always been essential to justify the grand obsession and it always will be. But a year or more of increasingly bitter (and desperate) campaigning for the independence that most people never wanted has multiplied the outpouring of this sort of stuff. If it wasn’t the government saying it, it was the party. If not the party, individual elected representatives or members. And if not them, the accretion of pro-independence campaigners tagging along behind in the SNP’s wake. The wilder claims don’t of course come from the government itself. But they are rarely corrected or denied by the first minister or the cabinet because they all keep the pot boiling. They all add to the febrile atmosphere of grievance and a sense of being perpetually wronged. They all detract from the business of good government. And they all need to be countered by people of good will.
If that’s the perpetual turmoil and negativity people want they should vote for the SNP and their grand obsession. Anyone and everyone else should use their vote in these next two critical years of the UK and Scottish parliamentary elections to ensure nationalism becomes what it was for so many years in Scotland – a minority and rather eccentric sport.