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“Last year’s programme for Government set us on a path to address the big challenges faced by Scotland and developed economies and it presented a clear vision of the kind of country we want to be. This programme for Government flows from that vision and builds on the progress of the last year and indeed the last decade.”
That is what First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish parliament last month at the start of the new legislative session. For someone lauding the progress of the last decade it was a strangely “let’s fix it” kind of statement. At times it sounded as if she were pledging to clear up a mess left by some unspecified predecessors.
So, what progress has Scotland made during the past decade under the benevolent rule of frustrated separatists? One thing is clear: Nicola Sturgeon is receiving scant appreciation from her ungrateful subjects. Last year’s Scotland’s People Annual Report showed the number of people “very or fairly” satisfied with the three main public services had fallen to 51.9 per cent. Even the SNP’s apologists are nervously aware such sentiments are damaging.
The Scottish NHS is not exactly a success story. The SNP does not like to talk about it in any depth (“Don’t mention the wards”). Various rotating crises compete for media attention, but the current scandal is the scale of bed blocking. At any given time, one Scottish hospital bed in 13 is occupied by a patient ready for discharge but unable to be moved because care facilities are not yet in place. A FOI request elicited the information that, between March 2015 and November 2017, at least 1,152 patients died in hospital while awaiting discharge to a more appropriate care venue.
Like most NHS problems, this scandal is a consequence of bureaucratic incompetence and in no way the fault of clinicians. Delayed discharge, or “bed blocking”, means that, on average, 1,354 hospital beds are unnecessarily occupied every day in Scotland. It cost the NHS – which means the taxpayer – £125m in 2016-17, the most recent available figures. The SNP promised in 2015 to eliminate this abuse.
If bodily care for patients is unsatisfactory, so is mental health provision: waiting times for young people with mental health problems are the worst on record. Even Nicola Sturgeon was forced to admit that was “not good enough” and she attempted to ward off criticism by allocating an extra £250m in support.
In fairness, Nicola Sturgeon never asked for her national stewardship to be judged on healthcare issues. She did, however, very specifically volunteer to be assessed by her performance in delivering quality education: “Let me be clear – I want to be judged on this. If you are not, as First Minister, prepared to put your neck on the line on the education of our young people then what are you prepared to? It really matters.”
The last triennial figures from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the “league tables” based on assessment of 540,000 pupils from the 35 member nations of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and 37 partner nations, tell an alarming story for Scottish parents, or anyone concerned about the standing and competitiveness of the country.
PISA records that since 2006, on the eve of the SNP’s coming to power, Scotland’s ranking in science has fallen from 10th place to 19th, in reading ability from 11th to 23rd and in maths from 11th to 24th. The percentage of pupils in science rated as “low performance” increased from 12.1 per cent three years previously to 19.5 per cent. The latest PISA survey is being taken this year, for publication in 2019; one can only wait with grim stoicism to learn how much further Scottish education has declined on the SNP’s watch.
The more robust elements of the Scottish left, however, are undismayed. The Scottish teachers’ soviet, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), responded to those alarming revelations by warning that PISA results had previously been misrepresented “by those seeking to make political capital out of talking down education”. It is difficult to imagine how those stark PISA statistics could be misrepresented, but in any case PISA was not the only whistleblower.
Last year the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) found less than half of Scottish 13 and 14-year-olds were performing well in writing ability. Only 49 per cent of S2 pupils showed good performance in writing, compared with 64 per cent in 2012. The ability of P7 pupils in writing competently declined from 72 per cent in 2012 to 65 per cent in 2017. The results in reading ability were less unsatisfactory but still registered a significant decline. The SSLN report on numeracy the previous year had similarly recorded a decline in maths.
The SNP government immediately promised to take action in response to this damning report and, to give it credit, it fulfilled that pledge: it abolished the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy which had exposed those failings. Instead, announced the government: “New statistics on literacy and numeracy performance will be available annually from the teacher professional judgement data collection…”
A dismayed Keir Bloomer, chairman of the Commission on School Reform, lamented that “a high-quality measure of performance that gives valuable, if disturbing, information is being replaced by one that is, at best, unproven and the ability to see whether standards are rising or falling is being thrown away”. Well, that’s the whole point of the change, isn’t it?
Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, however, do have priorities in education policy to which they are energetically committed. Under guidelines due to come into force next year, children as young as five will be told at school to “decide” what “gender” they are. This looks like an educational harmonization process: just as they do not know how to read, write, or count, they will also not know which sex they are.
Education is a one-off experience. Pupils who are being betrayed by the SNP’s callous indifference to what was once Scotland’s cultural totem – education – will not get a second chance at their lost life opportunities.
The SNP is a charade. It is a one-trick pony, interested only in the fetish of “independence”. The latest poll, commissioned by the SNP from Survation, shows support for separatism at 41 per cent and for the Union at 49 per cent.
Although a temporary rise in oil prices increased North Sea revenue to £1.3bn in 2017-18, that is far short of the £11.8bn the SNP notoriously forecast for that year during the independence referendum campaign. By 2022-23 the Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) figures project a total budget deficit of £14.6bn. Independence will never be fiscally viable.
Despite her drum-beating, even Sturgeon does not want a second independence referendum any time soon: she knows that uncertainties attending Brexit – and the spectacle of the EU’s treatment of Britain – will dissuade Scots from entrusting their fate to Barnier et al. The SNP is in a cul-de-sac: its flagship policy is unattainable, already it is a minority administration and, over a decade, it has shown its unfitness for government.