Tuesday 28 November 2023

The Scottish Spring has turned into Winter


From early 2015 to early 2023 it felt like SNP rule was permanent. It felt like that to Nicola Sturgeon too. It didn’t much matter how well or badly SNP politicians behaved. The various scandals were either not reported or else didn’t make any difference. The SNP did not have enough support to really push for independence, but it had enough to stay in power permanently.

In this the SNP was like Labour in the years prior to 2014. It didn’t much matter what Labour did when it ruled Holyrood with the Lib Dems and it didn’t much matter what it’s MPs got up to at Westminster, it could pretty much guarantee that whenever there was an election it would get the most seats. Labour didn’t have enough support to achieve socialism, but it had enough to stay in power permanently.

The prosperity of western Europe rests on three things and wherever these three things are genuinely present there is prosperity. They are democracy, free markets and the rule of law.

The problem with Scottish democracy is tribalism. It means that we have a tendency to vote for the same people no matter how incompetent or corrupt. The key to politicians performing better for any country is to kick them out when they perform poorly. It is for this reason that the Conservatives are likely to lose the next General Election badly. Voters may not be enthusiastic about Labour, but their judgement on the Conservatives since 2011 and especially since 2019 is that they have ruled poorly and should be replaced.

But democracy also depends on responding to voters. We have representative government. MPs don’t need to do everything voters want, but there is a problem when voters think there is a not a realistic choice and a realistic way of using their vote to get the change they want. This happens when all of the parties with a chance of winning meet in the centre and offer the same policies. It also happens when as now the Government promises to tackle an issue such as immigration when it has no intention of doing so and instead deliberately increases it.

There is a problem with free markets in western Europe and it is one of the reasons why we are all poorer. Governments keep thinking that they know better than the market. There are price controls on flats in Scotland. There are minimum prices on beer. There is a minimum wage. Let the market decide. You will be better off in the end.

During the pandemic we paid the wages of vast numbers of people to sit at home, while paying the unemployed their benefits to do exactly the same.

Since 2008 there is a sense that the western financial system is a confidence trick held up by central banks working together. We have lost the idea of money being grounded in the realities of work and trade. Instead, we have a bubble continually blown into, waiting to go pop.

The rule of law is what prevents a country being corrupt. The main difference between prosperous countries and poor countries is corruption. In Scotland it’s still the case that if you are stopped by a blue light you cannot expect to bribe a police officer. You don’t need to pay a backhander to get a job or a medical appointment or for someone to fix something at home. But we do have a problem with corruption and if we are not careful it will spread and make us poorer.

Under Nicola Sturgeon’s rule in particular the Scottish Government became not only secretive but under the control of a tiny number of people. We know almost nothing about what happened behind the scenes.

By contrast we know huge amounts about what went on in Downing Street. Dominic Cummings takes a trip to Durham, we find out about it and he is questioned. There’s a party, we find out about it, there are pictures, people have to resign. How did the Government decide it’s Covid policies? There are WhatsApp messages, there are people being interrogated.

But in Scotland we know nothing. All we had is Sturgeon appearing on TV every day trying to charm the voters. The rest is secret.

I thought it was always going to be this way. But no.

We had a Scottish Spring. Suddenly we got to have a glimpse into the inner workings. Reporters began to report. We read about scandals involving the SNP. People were arrested, although not charged. But then our Spring stretched into Summer and on it stretched into Autumn and by the beginning of Winter it feels as if the Russian tanks have arrived to crush what looked for a brief moment like hope.

The issue is not whether someone wastes £11,000 watching Celtic games in Morocco. The amount of money is trivial in terms of Scotland’s budget. The issue is that such a person doesn’t care about wasting public money and then assumes after wasting it that he will get away with it.

This was the lesson that Nicola Sturgeon told her subordinates. Don’t ask questions. Just keep voting for whatever I tell you to vote for. If things go wrong, I will protect you and no one will ever know.

This sort of thing and worse was commonplace. Waste vast amounts of public money on ferries or foundries, get a free trip here, get some expenses there. No wonder we have SNP politicians treating a job as an MP as a sort of Rotten Borough that gives them access to the good life.

But now we find Michael Matheson hanging on to his job. Now we discover that the Scottish chief of police can get a free ride to Gateshead, and we begin to wonder if it is us that is being taken for a ride again.

No one anymore expects there to be charges due to the SNP’s financial scandal. Vast amounts of public money has been wasted on the investigation, but that will just go alongside the money wasted on the iPad, the ferries and the motorhome.

The danger for Scotland is that like Prague in 1968 we have our moment when we might get real democracy, free markets, and the rule of law, but somehow we miss it because too many people want their free iPads and free taxi rides home to Gateshead.

Don’t rely on Humza Yousaf being useless. I have a feeling someone less useless is influencing events now and doing rather well putting the cover back on the Scottish bed lest someone anyone else of importance has to lie in it.

There is still a chance. We still have a General Election and then a Scottish Parliament election. If the SNP lose half its MPs as a response to corruption and especially if the SNP ceases to be the Scottish Government, there may just be a chance to sack people who abuse their power, convict people who commit crimes and make it absolutely clear that corruption will be punished either by the loss of your job or better still prison.

Democracy above all else is about kicking out the useless and corrupt in the hope of getting something better and if that doesn’t work kicking the next lot out too.

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