Brian Monteith: ‘Growth scheme’ is another SNP farce

Nicola Sturgeon answering questions from backbench MSPs during First Minister's Question Time. Picture; PA
Nicola Sturgeon answering questions from backbench MSPs during First Minister's Question Time. Picture; PA
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What a shambles! What a bunch of amateurs! Once a year the most important speech of the First Minister is to announce to the Scottish Parliament her Government’s legislative programme.

It is the Scottish equivalent of the Queen’s Speech, only our very own Queen of Everything reads it out herself with all the self-importance and condescension to her opponents she can muster.

A portrait to commemorate Margo MacDonald, by Scottish artist Gerard M. Burns. Picture; contributed

A portrait to commemorate Margo MacDonald, by Scottish artist Gerard M. Burns. Picture; contributed

It is a grand affair, and the first speech after the Holyrood elections is especially important as it sets the tone for the next four years. You might think, therefore, that the flagship policy, the one core initiative that will be briefed to the media and dominate the headlines, will have been thought through, turned inside out and sanity checked to ensure it will prove to be an example of brilliant conception, courageous leadership and practical politics.

Well, you would be wrong, for our accident-prone SNP Government had to admit on Wednesday – only a day after Nicola Sturgeon announced her “Scottish Growth Scheme” – that she and her finance minister, Derek Mackay, had not checked it was del­iverable. The £500 million scheme to give small and medium-sized businesses access to business loans when banks won’t provide them has been temporarily grounded for it doesn’t have wings.

Financial rules about the treatment of providing loans designed to protect the taxpayer from spendthrift politicians means the UK Treasury has to agree to such a proposal – but nobody thought to ask the Chancellor, his ministers or their officials if the scheme would fly.

The policy – the central plank of the Scottish Government’s economic strategy – bears all the hallmarks of an idea cobbled up in a rush to deflect attention away from complaints by businesses that they are being forced to pay more in business rates and other taxes. It sounded good because it looked like the government cared enough to help hard-done by businesses.

Dropping the tax rises would have been easier, benefitted more businesses, and lawful.

This latest episode follows the highly embarrassing defeat in court of the Named Persons legislation forcing a state guardian upon every Scottish “child” up to the age of 18. It also follows the failure in the European Court of the minimum pricing legislation. Both of these laws should never have gotten as far as they did but the SNP refused to listen to warnings they were beyond the powers of government. Then there’s the evidence to Parliament this week that the SNP’s idea of dumbing down the entry criteria for Scottish students from the poorest 20 per cent of households applying to our universities must mean that some of our brighter students will be excluded.

What we are seeing is the SNP’s unjustified reputation for being competent being eradicated in a matter of days – with the possibility of more mistakes to come.

What happens if the Scottish Growth Scheme is found to have technical flaws and has to be denied by the Treasury? It will be no-one’s fault other than the First Minister’s for not checking it out before making the announcement. No doubt such technicalities might be resolved – but she will look a fool having to ask for Downing Street to throw her a lifebelt.

Scottish Growth Scheme? It looks to me like Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers couldn’t look after an allotment, never mind the Scottish economy.

Margo’s portrait brings back many happy memories

I was pleased to be able to attend the unveiling of a portrait of Margo Macdonald in the Scottish Parliament last week.

Portraiture is a very difficult art, for it is not just about capturing the likeness of a person, a good portrait should capture the spirit too.

From the bubbly blonde PE teacher to the daring radio presenter and champion political campaigner, over the years Margo had many attractive sides to her personality and yet without ever meeting her the artist Gerard Burns has managed to capture the warm friendly mischief in her eyes.

It was hard not to be emotional seeing it hanging in the Members’ Room. It certainly brought many happy memories of the kindness Margo showed me – and the laughs we had – in those eight years I shared parliament with her.

What a bunch of hypocrites!

It never fails to amaze me the ironies and hypocrisies of politics that pop up on a daily basis.

Just this week we witnessed a demonstration by the organisation “Black Lives Matter” at London City Airport that caused chaos to travellers. The justification? Apparently people of colour are more affected by man-made climate change, which jet aircraft contribute to. Ironic, then, that the only black people present were among the police officers arresting the white demonstrators.

Then we had Nicola Sturgeon attacking Theresa May for not having clear plans for what Brexit will look like when it happens. Maybe Nicola could tell us all if the Queen will remain head of state and what currency an independent Scotland might have?

Then we had East Lothian MP George Kerevan boasting how he had voted against a cut in the corporation tx in the Finance Bill – when John Swinney had previously told us such a cut would lead to a jobs boom. Both are in the same party – but maybe don’t speak to each other.