This article is about a government in decline. No, not that one. Although as governments go, the UK administration under Theresa May is quite possibly the most shambolic in living memory.
But today I want to focus on the whiff of decay that permeates every corridor of our Government up here in Scotland.
Just days before Parliament rose for the summer recess, Nicola Sturgeon announced the biggest reshuffle of her premiership, and boy was it big. A far cry from the streamlined and focused set of ministerial appointments that Alex Salmond advocated when the SNP took power. Back then he created six cabinet secretaries and ten ministers. Nicola’s front bench team now totals 26. That mammoth increase will see the ministerial wage bill cost the tax payer an additional £275,000 per year. To put it in context that is exactly, pound for pound, the amount of Government funding that the SNP plan to strip from HIV Scotland at the end of July. (A wholly short-sighted and dangerous cut given that HIV is growing and 13 per cent of Scots who have the virus don’t know they do.)
The huge haul of new ministers was not the only thing to raise eyebrows amongst opposition MSPs and the commentariat. The First Minister’s judgement took a pounding too. I’m not going to labour the May-fly longevity of Gillian Martin’s ministerial career but I will say this: governments must reflect the better natures of the society they seek to serve. That the First Minister was aware of Ms Martin’s transphobic blog post, but did not regard it as an impediment to ministerial office, sends a worrying signal not just about her commitment to the rights of trans-gender people but also about her judgement.
Now, everyone makes mistakes – of course they do. But the number of unforced errors by those who currently govern Scotland increases all the time. I’ve written in these pages before about the impact of the Growth Commission on the case for independence. That over-mythologised document was held up by Nicola as the roadmap to the promised land, but it turned out that promised land would cost us a lot more austerity than we have now and that saw guns drawn within the Yes movement. That’s not really my problem as I won’t ever back another Independence vote, but I’m more concerned with the inertia and missteps which characterise government policy on the ground – in the delivery of services we all rely on. I’ll give you some examples:
– We haven’t had a suicide action plan for over 18 months since the old one expired, yet suicide rates have shown an alarming increase over the past two years.
– Three years ago the SNP cut funding to drug services by 23 per cent. They’ve only begun to reverse that cut now, but there is an undeniable link between that decision and the reality that for two years on the bounce Scotland has recorded the highest drug death rates of any country in Europe.
– Only 64 per cent of stroke victims are receiving appropriate care.
– Unnecessary standardised literacy and numeracy tests still reduce pupils as young as five to tears.
The list goes on and on.
The summer reshuffle may have been an outward signal that Ms Sturgeon wants to shake things up and start afresh, but two-thirds of her MSPs have now held ministerial office at some point. The last clutch were found wanting and her talent pool is running dry. When you can’t offer your country the change it’s looking for, the country may start looking to others who can.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western