Scottish independence carrot keeps SNP voters blind to Government’s failures – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

Drug deaths in Scotland are now the worst in the whole of the developed world (Picture: Sean Bell)
Drug deaths in Scotland are now the worst in the whole of the developed world (Picture: Sean Bell)

For the SNP’s core vote, the unifying goal of independence seems to absolve the Scottish Government of any transgression in their domestic policy record – and that’s bad for the country, writes Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP.

Before last week, there hadn’t been a parliamentary debate on Scotland’s drug-death crisis in Government time for seven years.

Seven years.

Over that period, this SNP Government cut funding to drugs services between 2015 and 2017 by nearly a quarter. That was £2.6 million lost to drugs services in Edinburgh alone. Drug mortality skyrocketed.

Drug deaths in Scotland are now the worst, not just in of all of Europe, but in the whole of the developed world and twice as bad as they are in England. This isn’t something the nationalist base can blame on “Westmonster” – this human catastrophe is entirely home-grown.

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The lack of addiction support services has led to an HIV outbreak in Glasgow, amongst intravenous drug users which started in 2015 and is still ongoing. Perhaps most tragically of all, some bereaved families are waiting over a year for toxicology reports from forensic units at Glasgow University. These reports will offer families answers and closure around the death of their loved ones, yet they are still, painfully out of reach.

Taking pelters

Despite all of this, the Government still prioritised a debate about flags and a theatrical vote over indyref2 before it finally got to the drug-mortality debate in the fag-end of last week’s parliamentary business.

The Minister for Public Health refused to take any interventions from opposition MSPs in his opening remarks and machine gunned out a speech that appeared to have been written for him.

Pick a policy area in which the Government is failing (and there are many) and you will notice its conspicuous absence from governmental debating time. That is because there is a direct correlation between how well the Government is doing in an area and how much time it gets in the chamber. It’s practically a barometer for how the bad things are. Take education. The Government has been taking pelters from all sides over falling exam results, a reduction in subject choice and a widening attainment gap. The last time we had a parliamentary debate on these issues in Government time? Two years ago.

The SNP gets roughly two-thirds of all chamber time for business of their choosing. So if they are dodging the glaring failures of their own administration in that time, what are they asking us to debate? Well, the debates around flags and indyref2 should give you some idea and the reason for that is as cynical as it is obvious.

Blame the Tories

Debates that allow SNP backbenchers to beat the drum for separation are red meat to a nationalist base that is growing impatient. That one unifying goal of independence is entirely transcendent for the SNP’s core vote. It absolves the Government of any transgression in their domestic policy record. Furthermore, the SNP channel that ardent hatred of London and Westminster to deflect blame for their terrible performance. Drug deaths? That’s London austerity for you. Police stations falling down? Blame the Tory cuts.

Donald Trump once said that he could “shoot someone in the face on 5th Avenue and not lose one voter”. Allegiance to the SNP is starting to feel a bit that. I’m not suggesting that Sturgeon is like Trump or that she would ever say anything so appalling, but she could roll out just about any Draconian policy or confess to any disaster in her administration and her base would swallow it if they believed it to be a staging post to independence. This has to be the worst year yet for government performance after 13 years of power, yet a poll at the start of the week saw the SNP cresting 51 per cent.

The cold irony in all of this is that the people suffering the most under the SNP are also the communities of voters they have come to rely on the most. This Government is harming the very people they are deluding to vote for them.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western