by Rona Mackay
When Alex Salmond formed a minority Scottish Government in 2007, his aim of fulfilling every policy in the manifesto was as likely as finding a pot of gold over the rainbow alliance.
At the time, a friend said to me: “Now we’ll find out who the SNP’s friends are.”
Four years on, we pretty much know the answer to that. Nationalists and Unionists have, and always will have, a troubled relationship. Three against one are harsh odds for any governing body, so the fact that the Nationalists have achieved 84 out of 94 manifesto promises is nothing short of a miracle. It says a lot about clever tactics and shrewd leadership that the SNP are now on such a positive path.
Unionists don’t like agreeing with the SNP at any level unless they can play it to their own advantage. The Calman Cabal is evidence of that: united they stood and together they delivered a flawed and sub-standard Scotland Act which even some of their own members are now questioning. (Wendy Alexander – remember her?)
Ironically, the party’s principal protagonists appear to have shot themselves in the foot. Labour – the party that likes to say no – have been hoist by their own petulance. Relentless negativity to anything the Scottish Government has tried to introduce keeps forcing them down dead-end streets where U-turns are the only option.
You couldn’t make it up. Scottish Labour have made such a mess of their time in opposition that you have to look behind the more obvious signs that have led to their current trouble, such as a lack of talent and desperate leadership problems. Is it because Labour have become a two-headed beast, with London Labour protecting their own backs at every turn and Scottish Labour being too weak to mark out their territory?
So here it is. Roll up, roll up for the greatest no-show on earth … they voted down minimum pricing for alcohol in Scotland, but appear to be supporting Westminster’s half-baked attempt at something similar in England; for four years they consistently voted against a council tax freeze but were forced into a fast U-turn when they realised what a vote-loser that was; they voted against a supermarket tax while claiming to support small businesses and local traders – MSP Des McNulty was exposed as a hypocrite for doing just that on his own doorstep. He opposed a giant Tesco expansion in his Milngavie constituency, but voted against taxing their obscene profits; the same MSP was quoted as saying that a graduate tax was “inevitable” but now appears to be part of the Party’s U-turn to support free education “if they can find a way” – a classic get-out clause, Mr Gray; they voted against 25,000 modern apprenticeships in the budget, despite asking for them in the first place. Confused? Me too.
Of course, the Tories and the Lib Dems have had their moments, too. Ms Goldie and her cohorts are quick to take credit for supporting the Government on increased police numbers, the council tax freeze and support for small businesses – all flagship SNP policies. The Lib Dems? Well, the poor lambs are suffering for the sins of their southern counterparts and watching them now is rather like witnessing a spider spin towards the plughole. They support a Local Income Tax, but not LIT as the Nationalists know it, rather a local authority led one, which has about as little credibility as their own dear leader.
Then, of course, right at the start of the Nationalist reign, there were those damn trams, which given the way the whole project has disastrously come off the tracks, must surely now be placed in the “it seemed like a good idea at the time” category. The SNP didn’t want them, the Unionists did, and the rest is history. No real point in speculating what that vast amount of money could have been spent on during these cash-strapped times.
So what of the future? Can’t they just agree to disagree? After May 5 the whole ball game will be different, whatever the result. Even the staunchest Unionist would have to admit that the SNP will always put Scotland’s interests first and as the Nationalists edge closer to freeing themselves from the constraints of Westminster, the Unionists are desperately trying to push back the tide.
But remember, the SNP were not expected to make it through the first year as a minority government, never mind four. The common perception is that they have “done a pretty good job”. And the sky has not crashed in. And the earth is still round. And if the SNP are given a second term, Scotland will continue to prosper – despite the oppositionists.