Commentary by Derek Bateman
Haven’t written for a while – I’ve been doing the day job. I’ve also been preparing to go on holiday and hear Gillian Anderson plans to post a pic of me in seamed stockings.
See politics? Piece of piss. It really is.
That first paragraph encapsulates the entire Davidson Tory agenda – perform sub-Trump media histrionics to get attention and bite off snappy one-liners instead of policy development. So long as the media love you, so will the punters. Content is for losers.
And all across Scotland sensible Scots fell for it instead of asking hard questions about where this government is taking us. Funny how people who screamed for detail and certainty over independence, now meekly accept without question a catastrophic train wreck which will wipe years of growth off the UK economy.
I see the Brexiteer response is to say that Germany will really suffer when we stop buying their cars, which is true, it will. And am I supposed to cheer that the rest of Europe will also pay a price for British small-mindedness?
How long will the country suffer because of an ideological row in the Tory Party? Couldn’t they do that without ruining the country and our international relations? Can’t they get on with the day job? (It appears not as the economy tanks, the credit worthiness falters, promised policies are binned, the Cabinet disagrees and even long-held right-wing ‘principles’ like university tuition fees appear to be on the way out.)
It’s worth keeping some perspective on the bitter complaints from the politicos about the Scottish government and its perceived failings. The Tory MSP Dean Lockhart tweeted a graph showing Scotland’s economy on a low trajectory compared to the UK. No spin or excuses, he said.
Well, perhaps some context then…The UK economy he mentions is the worst performing in the OECD with growth levels below every European country bar none. On the same day the manufacturing industries were revealing how uncertainty is killing their business and how they’re pleading for guidance from the government. The financial bodies are now approaching Europe direct to see if they can strike a deal without the government being involved. The Lockhart approach is shamefully parochial without the wider perspective of a UK now in undeniable decline with galloping uncertainty of a kind we barely imagined over the indyref. Is it also fair to exclude the damning point that his party denies Scots the levers to run our own economy and then complains when we can’t…
And, as we’ve seen, Davidson chuckles and scoffs her way through it having created a media star relationship with the journalists which means she is rarely associated with her own party’s policies. Poking the SNP in the eye appears to be good enough to make her a serious FM contender.
But this is what we have to live with. So what is the SNP response? Well, this is the season for everyone coming up with pet theories. I’ve previously had a go myself and whether you agree or not, it’s pretty clear that the days of complacency are over.
Here are a few thoughts.
First, people have had enough of the SNP running everything. There were just too many of them. Whichever way you turned, there were Nats to the left and Nats to the right in a way that seemed to affront our sense of fairness. That was a problem for Labour for years too and I guess people didn’t want to repeat it. Ridiculous as the one-party state mantra was, it struck a chord. And voters learned that there was a way to stop it by lending a vote to the nearest challenger.
They were encouraged by the Unionists (yes, Labour too, urging folk to vote against the SNP, meaning Liberal or Tory if appropriate. Don’t give me your denials now)
And the referendum idea was merely the trigger to justify the vote. I distinguish between a desire to avoid going through a referendum process and the acknowledgment of a potential need for such a vote. The former is the scunner factor most want to avoid and the latter is the democratic method which people know could offer an alternative. They waved it away as if bothered by a persistent wasp.
So there has been a form of rebalancing of opinion against the concept of one dominating party.
But can we dispense with the canard that the day job is somehow being abandoned in pursuit of self-government? It has become childish and was never true. It is the case that the leadership can be distracted and there are the clearest signs of that at Westminster. What else was the snap election about but preparing to destroy all opposition to hard Brexit? What else is clearing out departments of state of talented personnel to turn them into Brexit operatives? There isn’t a voice in or out of Whitehall that would deny the UK government is overwhelmed by Brexit, not just pre-occupied.
And in Scotland? What is the evidence the SNP has surrendered policy objectives to independence? Did they bleat about it remorselessly or did the opposition tell voters they were doing so and plant the idea? Severin Carrell’s excellent observational piece in the Guardian from the north east – “We are fed up with the SNP, it’s as simple as that” – hammered home the point that folk were scunnered with hearing about a referendum. But, given that the SNP deliberately didn’t push the referendum line, the article failed to explain why people thought that way. Who in the SNP never stopped talking about it? Where did they hear it? Were they sure or were they hypnotised into disbelieving their own ears and eyes? The real story is the power of the political message overcoming rational thought – exactly the phenomenon that won America for Trump.
Oh, and the day job. You never hear it from the media so here is a sample – only a small sample – of Scottish government activity over seven days that mostly hasn’t been reported:
*Finance Secretary Derek Mackay has called for an urgent meeting (on the DUP deal) and highlighted that the Scottish Government will invoke the formal dispute resolution mechanism, if this situation is not satisfactorily resolved by HM Treasury.
*Creating a fully accountable railway policing service. Railway policing will come under the command of Police Scotland after legislation was passed by the Scottish Parliament. The expertise of British Transport Police officers and staff will be backed by the specialist resources of Police Scotland, including counter terrorism, air support and armed policing.
*Payments worth £6.7 million to Scottish sheep producers will arrive in farmers’ bank accounts this week, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has said.
The support scheme is targeted at sheep production on the poorest quality land to help farmers maintain the social and environmental benefits that sheep flocks bring to those areas, with payments being made to around 1,050 eligible producers by 30 June 2017
*Over two hundred projects working to promote equality and address discrimination will benefit from more than £20 million investment over the next year.
More than £5 million will be provided to organisations supporting engagement with communities experiencing prejudice on the grounds of age, disability, gender, gender identity, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation – while £2.7 million will go to frontline projects promoting equality and tackling prejudice.
*Transforming services to ensure people with dementia get the support they need, at all ages and stages of the illness, is at the centre of Scotland’s third dementia strategy.
*the Scottish Government intends to introduce legislation for a soft opt out system of organ and tissue donation.
Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell has confirmed plans to bring forward legislation during this Parliament after 82% of consultation responses supported the move
*National workforce plan for future NHS staffing. An estimated 2,600 extra nursing and midwifery training places will be created over the next four years as part of wide-ranging measures to support and strengthen NHS Scotland’s workforce.
*Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: We are doing all we can to deliver as many payments as possible this month. We are making progress, but we still need to do better. We have made a clear commitment to do all we can to make the 2016 payments by the end of this week and our staff are working as hard as they can to process the remaining payments.
*background briefing tomorrow (Thursday 29 June) held by Scottish Government.Statisticans and analysts to coincide with the publication of a report on the impact of UK welfare reform in Scotland. The briefing will examine the evidence, facts and figures behind how the UK Government’s welfare reform programme between 2010 and 2017 has impacted on people in Scotland.
*Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell and Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman will tomorrow (29 June) visit Upward Mobility in Edinburgh to announce access for young disabled people to a £5 million fund to help them live more independent lives.
The Independent Living Fund (ILF) will provide a short-term award to people age 16-to-21 to help the transition into adulthood.
*The second meeting of a Ministerial Working Group, convened to examine building and fire safety regulatory frameworks, has taken place today.
*Proposals to transform the approach to planning for homes and infrastructure projects have been put forward by the Scottish Government.
*Improvements will be made to the way wild deer are managed in Scotland, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has confirmed.
*The UK’s Chief Medical officers (Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland) have released new advice on physical activity for expectant mothers – believed to be the first of its kind in the world.
*Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman said today that women, disabled people and young people would be those disproportionately affected by damaging UK Government welfare cuts.The Minister was commenting on a Scottish Government report detailing the impact of UK Government welfare cuts on people across Scotland published today.
*Minister for Childcare and Early Years Mark McDonald will launch a new guide to enhance the design of childcare provision across Scotland during a visit to a local nursery.
*The police and courts will have greater powers to protect the public from perpetrators of human trafficking and exploitation from today. Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Orders (TEPOs) can now be used by the courts to impose restrictions on people who have been convicted of trafficking and exploitation offences.
*Young disabled people will be able to access a £5 million fund to help them live more independent lives, Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell has announced.
*Views are being sought on the best way to spare child witnesses from having to give evidence during criminal trials.
*Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity Fergus Ewing said: “As the Auditor General has confirmed, the changes we have introduced are showing signs of progress, which will deliver further improvements over time. This includes significant changes to the development and implementation of the CAP IT, including strengthening governance arrangements with a new senior management team.”
*Detailed work on how a potential bottle ‘deposit return scheme’ might operate in Scotland has been commissioned by the Scottish Government.
*Payments worth £2.4 million to Scottish dairy farmers will arrive in farmers’ bank accounts in the coming days, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has confirmed.
*Latest recruitment rates released by NHS Education for Scotland show that 97% of all medical training posts in Scotland in 2017 are currently filled.
*An HPV (Human Papillomavirus) vaccination programme for men who have sex with men (MSM) will begin in Scotland today (1 July).
*A consultation is underway on financial support for college and university students.
*A new guide to enhance the design of childcare provision across Scotland is now available for local authorities, private and third sector providers.
*Significantly higher numbers of north sea cod, haddock and whiting may be available to Scots fishermen next year, according to new scientific assessments published today.
*Veterans Minister Keith Brown said: This weekend marks several poignant anniversaries of major conflicts where we remember those from Scotland and elsewhere who made the ultimate sacrifice. I am here in Contalmaison to remember the men of McCrae’s Battalion who fought during the Battle of the Somme, 101 years ago.
*As of close of business last night (Friday 30th June) and subject to final confirmation we have made BPS, Greener and Young Farmer payments to 16521 farmers and crofters, valued at £343 million. This represents around 90.4% of expected total payments for those schemes.
*The way facial imaging and other biometric data is used to investigate crime is being reviewed.
The independent advisory group, chaired by John Scott QC, will consider human rights and ethical considerations of how biometric data is captured, used, stored and disposed of.
*Hundreds of Atlantic salmon will be tagged and released back into the water as part of a new study aimed at increasing the understanding of the routes they take and the conservation measures needed to protect them.
*External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop will be in Dublin on Tuesday and Wednesday to meet with her ministerial counterparts, as well visit a range of joint cultural and conservation projects under way between both nations.
*The latest RBS business monitor prepared by Fraser of Allander contains good news for the Scottish economy. Companies across the country have reported modest growth in the three months to February, with the financial and business services and tourism sectors enjoying above average growth
*Economy Secretary Keith Brown will visit global manufacturing company Interplex in Arbroath on Thursday, 5 July to highlight actions to grow the economy.
Astonishing, isn’t it? If you got bored and raced through it, I’m not surprised. Most of this is not the kind of stuff that anyone would call ‘news’ but this is a taster of what is going on over one week when the journalists and the unchallenged politics tell us the SNP must get back to the day job. And this is the published material. Behind the scenes work goes on day and night covering every aspect of devolved government. Can you imagine Ruth Davidson having the intellect, commitment or nous to perform this kind of detailed, policy-driven work instead of riding tanks and tweeting?
By never informing people accurately of what is really being done on their behalf, the media commits the sin of misleading readers. I think their obsession with image and frivolity and soundbites merely infantilises the audience. That’s why people think education is failing – but that’s neither true nor fair to teachers. The same for health where staff are constantly undermined by glib, partial coverage. Further in both schools and hospitals, the public learn to be fearful and distrusting as they are assaulted by exaggerated talk of woe.
You have to ask though, why aren’t the SNP making more of what they do? How robust is their reaction? I think their machinery has stalled and needs a clear overhaul from the top down. There is no good story any more. To the public there is only one politician, there is no cabinet, no other stars, no other agendas on health, saving our environment, energy or new social benefit powers. The government has no command over the agenda as governments should have and, for all its faults, that’s not down (only) to a biased media. That just gets the SNP off the hook.
If the material is there, it will appear. If the message has to be forced, it can be. Heaven help me but I recall one of the biggest transformations in media history occurring after Alistair Campbell took control of government communications and knee jerk anti Labour stories were replaced by supportive writing. Here’s Wikipedia: He oversaw new co-ordination and rebuttal systems which gave birth to a communications machine which became both feared and respected, and the model for modern communications in politics and business. He earned a reputation for ruthless news management which made him many enemies in the media. But even the Conservatives conceded they were partly defeated by their inability to find someone to match him.
The message should never overcome the mission as has happened with the Scottish Tories who in policy terms are a shell party. But the message is as important as the mission because it makes sure the voters get it. The SNP has a message, a cause, others can only dream of. Time we heard it again.