WHY SOMETHING IS SERIOUSLY WRONG ABOUT SCOTTISH POLITICS

BILL JAMIESON

 We have fifteen universities; a purpose-built parliament building with impressive research facilities; a well-staffed civil service; devolved responsibilities over health, education, transport and policing – and now substantial new powers over tax and spending.

We have all the trappings of a mature and serious democracy. But when it comes to political debate this picture falls to pieces. We end up with a cacophonous, barely distinct, ear-splitting and simplistic shouting match.

The heavily-trailed BBC TV Scotland Leaders’ hustings on Sunday night – the latest in a dispiriting series – was meant to be an informed debate on Scotland’s problems and where we go from here.

But for much of the time it barely rose above a pub rammy.

Political debate has sunk to a dispiriting level. Contenders interrupting, all talking at once, and high-pitched shouting at each other in a desperate bid to score points – and often impossible to hear as the volume rose: an enlightening exchange of views? Or a viewer switch off?

Eighteen years into a devolution process intended to enhance our parliament and empower our politicians and we struggle to sustain public discussion above sloganeering and worn-out cliché.

Claim and counter claim on the NHS; lofty claims to tackle inequality; a baffling exchange of statistical fire on who can spend most and who can spend fastest.

Was there any viewer in Scotland who felt better informed? Or inspired? Or even just engaged?

Scottish Labour’s Kezia Dugdale has taken what’s left of the party into a 1970s time warp. The rhetoric is tired, banal and devoid of any originality and inspiration. Little wonder her party is heading for a thumping defeat.

This depressing state of affairs could be put down to a failure of leadership. But it runs deeper. Kenneth Roy, editor of the outstanding Scottish Review, studied the candidates list and mounted an excoriating attack on the dismal state of Scottish politics.

“The parliament of new powers”, he wrote, “will not be a parliament with much ability in depth – or a great deal of political charisma.

“A rampant SNP packed with pliable nonentities facing a diminished and, in the case of Labour, demoralised opposition: it’s not the most enticing prospect as we stumble towards the promised land.

“Whatever happened to the notion that Scotland’s parliament would be a genuine forum of all the talents?”

Whatever indeed?

On the broader ambitions of Scotland on the world stage there has been barely a mention in this campaign. On the economy, near silence reigns.  

On measures to boost growth, enterprise and investment, little is heard.

Yet it is our economic performance and its tax revenues that will have a greater impact on our well-being and livelihoods than the wearisome spats on health provision, education policy and welfare spending.

I cannot recall an election campaign where our economic state has been so absent from public discussion.

For anyone in business – from the tens of thousands of small firm entrepreneurs to the FTSE big hitters, this campaign has given them a massive bypass, as if the health of the enterprise heart of Scotland has ceased to matter.

And it’s not as if the economy here is without problems. Liz Cameron of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce warned last month that the economy in Scotland is now on a knife-edge.

April alone has seen the announced closure of the iconic Carron Phoenix ironworks in Falkirk, with 200 job losses; the threatened closure of two Muller Milk plants in Aberdeen and East Kilbride, with up to 230 job losses; upmarket retailer McEwans of Perth, going into administration, and more job losses in the North Sea oil industry.

The overall monthly index readings have also been disappointing, with the Bank of Scotland’s latest Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) falling further below 50, implying economic contraction.

Our unemployment rate is now running above the UK level, with the wider measure at 6.2 per cent (UK figure: 5.1 per cent)

And our latest annual growth rate at 1.7 per cent is below the average forecast of two per cent (and falling) for the UK

From the giant Scottish behemoths of the FTSE100 last week came warnings of increasingly difficult trading. Engineering giant Weir Group reported a 47 per cent year-on-year drop in orders for its oil and gas division. Original equipment orders were down 40 per cent and aftermarket orders were 49 per cent lower.

And temporary power supplier Aggreko reported underlying revenue for the quarter 14 per cent behind last year. It warned that some of its markets continued to be “challenging”.

Against this background five of Scotland’s leading business figures have voiced concern over the additional business rates supplement now being levied on firms with medium-sized and larger commercial premises. This breaks with the previous level playing field with the rest of the UK.

The doubling of this supplement is expected to add an extra £60 million a year to these firms’ rates bills, and affect one in eight commercial premises in Scotland – all this while politicians wring their hands over “the death of the high street”.

The five business groups – Scottish Chambers of Commerce, Scottish Engineering, Scottish Tourism Alliance, Scottish Property Federation and the Scottish Retail Consortium – have spoken out following the First Minister’s remarks at the SNP manifesto launch suggesting that the £60 million annual rates surcharge would remain in place through the next Parliament.

The SCC’s Liz Cameron warns that the decision to double the large business supplement “puts many Scottish businesses at a competitive disadvantage to their counterparts in England at a time when the Scottish economy is underperforming that of the UK as a whole”.

With just two days to go to the poll, could anyone in Scottish politics please say something? Come to that, say anything worthwhile at all?

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  Comments: 3


  1. Bill, an excellent piece and absolutely on the button. The silence on the state of the economy and its prospects is deafening. Where is the debate on whether we want to have a heavy industry in this country, and what might we need to make it competitive, whether it is steel, chemicals, ship building, not to mention oil and gas. or manufacturing. Well said


  2. I’m surprised you still think any politicians care about creating real jobs and encouraging enterprise. I go along with the former Greek Finance Minister, Whatsisnameopolis, who said last year that anybody who wants to become a politician should be barred from being one.


  3. Oil was a central part of the independence case but the collapse of the price elicited no serious debate.
    Spend spend spend came from all the participants together with breathtaking denials that the Scots had in any real sense voted down independence.
    No entrepreneur or skilled white collar worker ( eg doctors) should want to prefer socialist high tax Scotland over rUK.

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