Gina Davidosn: Talk to the hand, the SNP ain't listening

IT is a truth universally acknowledged that the Labour Party, particularly in Scotland, lost its way when it stopped listening to the electorate.
Scottish Education Secretary John Swinney. Picture; Phil WilkinsonScottish Education Secretary John Swinney. Picture; Phil Wilkinson
Scottish Education Secretary John Swinney. Picture; Phil Wilkinson

That despite years of success in government, or maybe because of the same, it took its finger from the beating pulse of voters and was no longer attuned to what it wanted.

There was a certain arrogance, a laissez-faire attitude bred from electoral wins, that led to cloth-ear syndrome.

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The affliction appears to be catching.

Last week the Scottish education secretary John Swinney more or less declared that only a few tweaks would be required to the Named Person legislation, as it currently stands, to make it compatible with EU law.

This despite a ruling by the Supreme Court that the legislation was unlawful in regard to people’s right to privacy and breached human rights law.

At no point did he use the opportunity handed to him and his government by this legal ruling to agree that a pause and a rethink was required

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He did not say that he would look again at the legal advice the government received from the Faculty of Advocates - before the legislation was approved in the Parliament - or the Law Society of Scotland, or the Child Law Centre.

Neither did he have the humility to accept that the legitimate criticisms of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council or the Scottish Association of Social Workers should be taken on board.

And he certainly turned a deaf ear to the thousands of parents opposed to the Named Person scheme, worried about its impact on their parental role.

He did not take the opportunity to admit their concerns were valid and that having a differing opinion did not make them all child abusers - as has been readily bandied around on social media.

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Instead, Mr Swinney made it clear that the government would charge on, no matter the criticisms.

The legislation would be rewritten solely to comply with EU law and all Scottish parents would have to suck it up because the aim (though not the scheme as currently planned) is ‘legitimate and benign’.

Already there are concerns among many SNP members and voters that the Named Person could be the party’s undoing. It is certainly a major warning sign that the government doesn’t feel the need to listen to those who take an opposing view and ask why or even how they can be brought on board.

And now we have another sign of the cloth-ear: the APD tax cut.

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Two public consultations on the government’s plan to cut the air passenger duty by 50 per cent - before abolishing it completely - saw the majority of responses opposed to the idea, or having concerns about its impact. We’re not talking 51 per cent - but 83 per cent of respondents raising objections.

Climate change was the main reason, then there was the fact that the idea goes against the government’s own policies for active travel or moving to a low carbon economy.

Just as importantly questions were raised about how the government would raise the £250m that APD annually brings into its coffers.

With the scrapping of this tax, is another likely to be introduced to fill the financial void?

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Despite all of these issues, the finance secretary Derek Mackay says he will push on with the plans to do what the SNP wanted in the first place - making a mockery of the consultation process, but at least delighting Gordon Dewar, Edinburgh Airport’s boss.

The government needs to be wary. If it stops responding to people’s concerns about its policies then it could well find that when it asks voters to listen when elections are in the offing, the cloth ear can work both ways.