Willie Rennie: How the SNP have spent three years making case against independence

The SNP wants to stop Brexit but then plunge Scotland into the even more calamitous break-up of the UK. We need to stick together and tackle pressing problems like education, climate change and mental health services for children, writes Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie.

Wednesday, 11th December 2019, 6:00 am
Willie Rennie is leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)

The SNP’s performance on the public services it runs should affect their performance in the general election. They are in no position to lecture anyone else on track records when theirs is so shocking.

Last week the SNP had three bouts of bad news.

International statistics revealed Scotland had recorded its worst-ever results for science and maths - a hugely embarrassing slump in scores when the First Minister declared education was her top priority. Judge me on my record, she said. Well people will do exactly that on Thursday.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Then new health data showed the Scottish Government had hit its worst-ever performance on child mental health waits, with 806 children and young people left waiting over a year for treatment. That’s up from 300 when the SNP promised they were getting on top of long waits.

Finally, the head of the Scottish Police Authority quit because accountability structures were “fundamentally flawed”.

All in all, a grand failing on the home front. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The head of the civil service warned the First Minister that focusing on referendum planning would mean other policy areas were de-prioritised. Collecting two ‘worst evers’ in a week proves that’s already happening. The SNP’s domestic credibility is crumbling in front of their eyes.

Brexit is looming and we know it would devastate budgets and repel desperately precious staff. That will hit already struggling public services. Independence would only add to this woe.

By the SNP’s own calculations, as a solo state we’d be plunged into yet more austerity. By the Institute of Fiscal Studies projections those cuts would be worse than under the Conservatives.

What’s glaringly obvious to the public is that when it comes to independence the SNP has spent three years presenting the arguments against themselves.

Brexit means job losses, economic strain, splitting up common markets, trampling over well-working trade relations and putting up barriers. So does independence.

This election was called because of Brexit, but in every seat in Scotland a battle rages over the UK’s future as a single entity as well.

The Liberal Democrats want to stop Brexit so we can get on with investing in our public services and can start paying attention again to the things that really matter – our education system, people’s mental health and the climate crisis. We can keep the UK in both unions and invest in these priorities.

In contrast, the SNP wants to stop Brexit by embarking on a process that will be even more calamitous, divisive and painful for years to come with independence.

It hasn’t escaped voters’ attention that in key battlegrounds independence goes unmentioned. That’s because a future full of more fights about borders and breaking up partnerships is not appealing. People have had enough.

As a planet we face many problems. The environment, wars, jostling superpowers, disease and tight resource supplies. Liberal Democrats believe we are better equipped to tackle these problems in partnership with our neighbours. Dividing up nations and blocs is a time-consuming, small-minded and backwards endeavour. We deserve better and we want to stay in the UK and in the EU.