There are many difficult issues in these challenging times but one that concerns me is the potential breakup of the United Kingdom. The problem goes back to when devolution took place. Public health was a devolved issue as was education but responsibility for the national border of United Kingdom remains with the United Kingdom government. Economic policy is also a national responsibility for the United Kingdom. So we see the Nationalists, the Separatists as I call them, constantly vilifying Boris Johnson’s government while deliberately finding relatively minor details in which to give different instructions to their citizens. Thus the question of whether pubs should open has now been decided in England and they can open today provided a number of social distancing rules are followed. But in Wales they have not yet reached that position. There are some towns on the border where there will be pubs that can open on the English side of the road and not on the Welsh side creating an entirely absurd situation.
But the Scottish Nationalists take the biscuit for the way in which they deliberately seek to undermine the United Kingdom government by calling much of its actions into question when forgetting (perhaps not) that in Scotland they are the government and they are therefore responsible for all the devolved issues. Their behaviour is instead to always behave like an opposition making critical points and fuss, directing everyone’s attention away from their own failures in many areas of government.
When the referendum was held on Scottish independence in 2014 it was stated that this was a once in a generation action. However, many Scottish Nationalists are using the current crisis to agitate for another one. Of course, Boris Johnson is most unlikely to give them one but they can still cause a lot of trouble and hope to get to the position where the opinion polls show a significant majority for independence and then it becomes more difficult for the British Prime Minister to turn that down.
Kenny MacAskill, the SNP MP for East Lothian, states that “the road to independence is open” because while Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of the crisis has been “virtually flawless”, the Prime Minister’s has been “utterly hapless”.
I also think the Prime Minister has not covered himself in glory during this crisis and indeed, given the many things that have happened to him in 12 months, it might be surprising that he has recovered apparently so well from catching the virus himself. But Scotland too has seen delays in dealing with the crisis, in getting equipment, in getting testing and even distinguished itself with guidance stating that elderly patients could be discharged from hospital before their test results came back, risking the introduction of yet more infected patients into care homes. The Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman admitted that she “had not seen absolutely yet“ the guidance before it was revealed it had been published in error. And of course Sturgeon is not the one who has to find the money to pay for all the different policies that are being enacted. That job falls to Rishi Sunak who has to make incredibly difficult decisions on furloughing and taxing or borrowing to pay for it.
The SNP’s domestic record is pretty terrible. The Scottish have had their own education system for many years and it was once renowned for its encouragement of social mobility. That is no longer the case. During Sturgeon’s time in office the attainment gap between the least and most deprived children has barely moved. Since the Separatists took over ,standards in reading, science and maths have slipped very considerably. Performance in science has fallen by 25 points against other OECD countries, the second highest drop in the world. This statistic comes from the Pisa rankings which is the only international educational survey that Scotland still takes part in, since the SNP withdrew from two others. One can’t help wondering why.
In the area of healthcare the SNP fails to achieve its targets for treatment month after month. Even before the coronavirus, record numbers were spending more than 12 hours waiting for treatment in Scottish A&Es. As for mental health care several hundred children have been waiting for more than a year for this. And in the final quarter of 2019 the SNP again missed the target for 95% of those with an urgent cancer referral to be treated within 62 days. It hasn’t been met since 2011. Scotland has a terrible crisis with drug addiction and its deaths from the use of illegal drugs are three times higher in Scotland than the rest of the UK. In this particular case it seems extraordinary that £15 million was cut from the treatment budget.
So it suits the SNP to make the most of this horrible crisis by distracting their own people and the rest of the British population from their constant mismanagement and again raises the spectre of independence without having any credible attempt to resolve all the difficulties they had in the last referendum campaign. The SNP was founded with an early claim back in the 1970s that” It’s Scotland’s oil”. Well, it isn’t, it’s Great Britain’s oil but even if they were to secure independence how attractive does the oil market look today? Before the 2014 referendum the SNP based its plans on an average price of over $100 a barrel. Brent Crude is now around $40 per barrel and has been as low as $30 recently.
And if after 40 years of membership of the European Economic Community/ Union Britain has still not been able to negotiate its exit over four years after voting for it what is it going to be like for Scotland to negotiate its exit from the United Kingdom with which it has been involved since 1707. At that time the Union between England and Scotland was basically for England to rescue a bankrupt Scotland which had failed with its Panama project, the Darien Scheme. If the European Union wants £39 billion from the UK how much more than that should England take from Scotland. And how will Scotland cover the cost of the Barnett formula that will disappear. As English taxpayers subsidise the Scottish to a very large degree English taxpayers will be far better off if Scotland were an independent nation.
But that is not what I’m advocating. I’m advocating that Unionists, which is probably most of us, should be relentlessly scrutinising the SNP’s actions, hammering its record as a clueless administrator and getting the clearest messages across to those who are unsure of their position on the independence question in Scotland to show that if the SNP has performed this badly with a limited range of powers what chance is there for an independent Scotland?