SNP's 'nodding donkey' MSPs need to be put out to grass if Scottish Government is to focus on real priorities like health and education – Alex Cole-Hamilton

The start of this week saw the resumption of strike action in both primary and secondary schools across Edinburgh.

Former SNP Cabinet minister Alex Neil said party leaders at Holyrood 'just want yes people, they want nodding asses, people who do as they’re told' (Picture: Danny Lawson/PA)
Former SNP Cabinet minister Alex Neil said party leaders at Holyrood 'just want yes people, they want nodding asses, people who do as they’re told' (Picture: Danny Lawson/PA)

It’s significant not only because this is the first industrial action over pay in almost 40 years, but also because it’s happening as healthcare settings across Scotland are sounding the alarm in the face of overwhelming demand, and all the while families continue to open fuel bills with something approaching abject terror. It’s hard to remember a time when life in Scotland was this hard.

Fresh from the Christmas break, my Scottish Liberal Democrat colleagues and I are raring to get stuck into how we address these mounting challenges. Yet would you believe it, the first substantive debate in parliamentary time was not how we meet the pay demands of teachers, or how we ease the pressure on our NHS. Instead, the first afternoon session of parliamentary business scheduled by the Scottish Government was taken up with a debate on breaking up the UK.

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People are furious with this SNP/Green government, and they have a right to be. For all the real and pressing problems that Scotland and her people currently face, the answer to literally none of them is the break-up of our family of nations. Yet the parties of government continue to starve all other issues of oxygen in pursuit of their dream. I find that contemptuous and it says a lot that the SNP/Green government will go to great lengths to talk about anything other than the myriad of warning lights blinking across the dashboard of public policy.

In a move of breathtaking arrogance, the First Minister has stated that the next general election will be a de facto referendum and she will fight it on that issue alone. Now I’ve written before as to why politicians don’t get to tell the electorate what a particular election is about (they tell us) but if this debate is the shape of things to come for very possibly the next two years then I despair.

It was only at the last minute that a short statement on NHS pressures was hastily shoehorned into parliament's proceedings this week, taking place only after Nicola Sturgeon had delivered a Covid-style briefing from her St Andrews House lectern to the press. It must have been pointed out to her that her government is actually accountable to the Scottish Parliament.

The reason they do this is simple. The independence project relies on keeping everybody marching. There are many factions in the independence camp, but they are unified by that one single aim. For the SNP and Greens, the promise of independence acts as a pair of blinkers to the wider movement. The more that government ministers talk about or waste parliamentary time on it, the more they divert the attention of the loyalists away from the crises in our schools and NHS and their woeful record on both.

It diminishes our politics and our parliament. Even former SNP Cabinet minister Alex Neil referred this weekend to many of the current crop of parliamentarians as nodding donkeys incapable of independent thought. We urgently need a reset in our parliament and in our politics and that starts by putting the SNP’s donkeys out to pasture.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western