Sturgeon’s back to show us how spinning is done - Sue Webber
Not that Nicola Sturgeon’s protégé and baton carrier Humza Yousaf hung around to listen, and why would he want to hear her pointed reminder that she’d been involved with every Programme for Government in the previous 17 years.
But it was useful nonetheless, because it pays to look back at the pledges she gave and failed to honour, and in commending her successor’s flimsy outline of his priorities for the coming year the day before, she glossed over a legacy of broken promises.
The ones she came close to delivering have had to be unpicked because they were so monumentally impractical and ruinous.
Some 27 commitments in last year’s Programme for Government have not been fulfilled, but the most notable retreat has been from the repeated promise to provide free school breakfasts and lunches to every primary school pupil in Scotland, which will now not be met until 2026, if it’s ever implemented at all.
Learning from his political mammy, Yousaf tried to spin the line that no date for implementation was ever specified, and as the 2021 SNP manifesto only committed to its introduction in this parliament it wasn’t a broken promise at all.
But wait a minute, the SNP manifesto said, “We will now go further.” In my book now means immediately, not in five years’ time, and it seems Ms Sturgeon made the same mistake because in the 2021-22 Programme for Government, the first after her manifesto was published, spelt out that free lunches for all primary school children would be funded from August 2022.
And it flummoxed ex-Deputy First Minster John Swinney who was just as clear in his budget statement only last December that free meals would be on the table by August 2024. “The next step in fulfilling our commitment to universal provision in primary schools,” he said.
“We haven’t rolled back,” Mr Yousaf told BBC Radio Scotland, as if all our heads button up the back or we all suffer from the kind of amnesia which used to inflict Ms Sturgeon at moments of pressure.
So back to the Chief Mammy’s sermon on Wednesday. “We cannot just wish for the ends of our policy objectives; we must also have the means to deliver,” she said, and at least she could point to a host of policy announcements her administration had made without the foggiest idea of how they would be put into action, even if, like those ferries, they threw millions of pounds at them.
“We need mature debate on how we pay for our policy priorities,” she added. But “mature debate” can only be had if the government spends the money wisely, if minsters are honest about the problems they face and come clean when promises aren’t being kept and targets missed.
And that’s the problem. Nicola Sturgeon’s administration turned the twisting of language and evasion of responsibility into an artform, and little has changed. By continuing with attempts to mislead and patronise the public, Humza Yousaf is just doing what his mammy taught him to do.
He wants to be known as First Activist, but he’s still Chief Mammy’s boy at heart.
Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative Lothian MSP