Scotland has the worst drug death rate in Europe. More than half a million Scots are on hospital waiting lists. The NHS is being privatised by stealth as more and more Scots go private. We don’t hear much about this in the endless SNP leadership hustings. Instead there is an air of self-congratulation that things aren’t worse.
Candidates have distanced themselves from the Scottish government’s chaotic deposit return scheme for bottles and cans. But that isn’t the only environmental disaster waiting to happen. Sales of petrol and diesel cars in Scotland are to be banned in seven years, yet the electric charging infrastructure is so bad people are turning away from electric vehicles. Motorists aren’t following the government’s propaganda either and turning to bus and rail. Public transport was already in steep decline even before the pandemic – only 5 per cent commute by train.
Central heating boilers are supposed to be phased out from 2025 under plans from the Green minister Patrick Harvie. The installation of heat pumps in Scotland’s drafty tenement housing stock is rarely discussed because everyone knows they don’t work. Anyway, there isn’t government money to meet the estimated £33 billion cost of decarbonising Scotland’s 2.4 million homes.
Meanwhile the North Sea oil and gas industry is being wound down at enormous cost, even as fossil fuel imports increase and Scottish families can’t pay their heating bills. And on top of that the Scottish government has repeatedly failed to meet its climate change targets.
I could go on. In fact I will. A quarter of Scottish children are in poverty. The educational attainment gap, upon which Nicola Sturgeon said in 2015 her administration should be judged, is as wide as ever. The infamous island ferries, being constructed by the nationalised Ferguson Marine, are five years late, 150 per cent over budget and may never be used.
On the plus side free baby boxes for pregnant ‘people with cervixes’ are proving a great success.
If there is an air of unreality about this SNP leadership contest it is because there are so many issues about which the candidates dare not speak without stumbling over the SNP’s record in office. They are all implicated, as current or recent members of the Scottish government. That leaves precious little to talk about.
The former community safety minister, Ash Regan, was ridiculed for suggesting a giant ‘achievement thermometer’ should be erected in Scottish cities showing progress towards independence. Some achievements in the here and now might not go amiss.
What the candidates do talk about, at great length, are two things: journalists – no hustings is complete without a rant about media bias – and of course independence. Each candidate must declare their faith that independence is coming – even though they know perfectly well it isn’t.
The health secretary, Humza Yousaf, says he is abandoning Nicola Sturgeon’s plan to make the next general election a ‘de facto referendum’. Instead he’ll make every election about independence. The finance secretary, Kate Forbes, said she expects to hold a referendum on independence within three months of the next election. Ash Regan says negotiations with the UK will begin after ‘50 per cent plus one’ vote for the SNP. On what planet are they living?
They all know there is not going to be an independence referendum, real or de facto, any time soon. Both the Conservative leader, Rishi Sunak and the Labour leader, Keir Starmer have ruled it out. Now is not the time, they say, leaving the question of when it would be. Both leaders reject the idea of claiming a general election result is a mandate for breaking up the UK.
Mind you, given the state of the nation, after 17 years of SNP rule, perhaps the candidates should be relieved that a plebiscite is off the table. They would almost certainly lose. The best the SNP could hope for is a narrow victory, perhaps as the result of some extraneous event unrelated to the constitution. This would land Scotland with many years of division and acrimony following seven years of Brexit division and acrimony.
Does anyone seriously want to go through all that again? Taking Scotland out of the UK would be even more difficult than taking Britain out of the EU. This is because it would involve erecting a hard border with Scotland’s main trading partner, with all the trade and regulatory problems that entails. It would also involve Scotland setting up its own currency, a difficult task in itself, and then agreeing to adopt the euro which would be a condition of joining the European Union.
Not that the SNP is united about that course of action. Many in the independence movement think it’s daft to leave one union only to join another. There is no consensus on the currency options either, despite Ash Regan announcing that she could set up a new Scottish currently in a couple of months
Nor of course is there any discussion on the campaign trail about Scotland’s spending deficit and how to get it down to the 3 per cent required by the EU.
Instead, there is the usual talk of liberating Scotland from Westminster control, as if Scots don’t already have full civil rights and their own parliament. There is metooism about the Windsor Framework – why can’t joint the single market like Northern Ireland? – ignoring the fact that Brussels won’t allow it.
Independence post-Brexit is a hard road. The SNP faithful don’t want to hear it. And the candidates don’t want to level with them. It’s a conspiracy of silence on the only issue that counts.