Time for Holyrood’s hands to get back on the tiller

KEN HOUSTON says the election of the Westminster MP, Stewart Hosie, as deputy leader of the Scottish National Party has produced a sense of déjà vu given that the vote in his favour over Keith Brown (55pc to 45pc) was similar to the margin by which Scottish voters rejected independence in the recent Referendum.

So should Messrs Hosie and Brown take part in a re-run?

The question seems logical given that many ‘Yess’ies seem to believe that the 55/45 result in favour of ‘No’ was indecisive enough to warrant another referendum – and at the earliest opportunity.

Their case is based on one or more of the following reasons: the count was fixed; thousands were persuaded to vote ‘No’ only by the last-minute pledge of devo-max, which the Tories and Labour now show signs of reneging on; the result was improperly skewed by the ‘No’ votes of ‘auldies and fearties’ for whom there will clearly be no place in a ‘smart, successful’ independent Scotland.

But hold on a moment.

‘Yes’ voters comprised 45 per cent of the turnout, which made up 85 per cent of those entitled to vote. This means that only circa 37 per cent gave an affirmative answer to the question on the ballot paper, i.e. “Do you believe Scotland should be an independent country?”

In addition, the franchise on this occasion was extended to 100,000 16- and 17-year-olds who, according to a poll commissioned by Lord Ashcroft, voted 71 per cent in favour of independence.

Consequently, ‘Yes’ voters probably accounted for around one-third of the ‘normal’ adult electorate (i.e. those aged 18 and over), reflecting consistent returns from polls taken before the Referendum campaign began and which showed independence was favoured by between 27 and 33 per cent of adults in Scotland.

True, the major players in the ‘Yes’ campaign do seem to have accepted the letter of the Referendum outcome but there is a rather more ambivalent reaction to the spirt of the result.

Consider the fatuous (and mendacious) suggestion by our new First Minister, Lady Prestwick, that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should have a veto on the UK leaving the EU should England alone vote to do so.

She knew that such a proposal does not have a cat in hell’s chance of becoming reality and it is dispiriting that an FM-elect (with a duty to represent all Scots) should be focused on trying to gain political capital at such a crucial time.

The remark was reflective of the present Scottish Government having had one eye off the ball over the past two years. Heaven help us if Lady Prestwick’s comment is a precursor of what’s in store – i.e. that government strategy will be part-based on the prospect of another referendum two, five of ten years hence.

Let’s hope not.

The SNP would do itself and the rest of us a service by using the remainder of its mandate (and the next if granted) to carry out its statutory duty of governing the country with due diligence. That means developing a caring society but a welfare system that does not stifle initiative; properly funding public services while insisting they become more efficient; helping businesses to grow through a fair taxation and regulation system; encouraging personal savings while discouraging excessive household debt.

Should they achieve this then a later-generation ‘Yes’ campaign might just win next time by appealing across the spectrum of Scottish society (auldies and fearties included)

SPACED OUT ECONOMICS

Nicola Sturgeon has rightly received a lot of stick for pumping public funds worth millions of pounds into a moribund Prestwick Airport with no tangible prospect of a return on capital or even of getting back a penny of the taxpayer money “loaned at commercial rates” (aye, right).

However aiming all the guns at the new First Minister is unfair. Consider the reaction of the Labour opposition and the Scottish Conservatives whose criticism has been based on the way the government has handled the issue – not the principle of pouring public money into a consumer product whose fate has already been decided by the Scottish public deciding superior flying options can be found elsewhere.

Intervention is in Labour’s blood so no surprise there but what of the Tories and their supposed commitment to free market economics?

For better or worse Ayr is a Conservative-held marginal in the Scottish Parliament and until 1997 the same applied to the Westminster seat, which led to respective Scottish Secretaries of State uncomfortably defending Prestwick’s monopoly on transatlantic flights in and out of Scotland while their boss, Mrs Thatcher, was opening up the airline industry to competition across the rest of Britain. A generation further on, Prestwick remains as contradictory as ever for the Scottish Tories.

Understandably, the ‘investment’ has been warmly welcomed in South Ayrshire but perhaps the good folk of that region should beware of what they wish for.

The report commissioned by the Scottish Government says Prestwick’s future is based not only on a revival in passenger and cargo services but – keeping a straight face – also on development as a spaceport. OK, while I’m not exactly keyed up on the subject, doesn’t a spaceport involve launching real rockets, a process that makes a 747 airliner comparable to the type of rocket found in a twenty quid box of fireworks?

Perhaps scientists will, in time, develop a means of launching a rocket without burning thousands of tons of fuel and producing noise levels that, without adequate protection, could burst the eardrums. But until that happens, who is going to buy a house within a 20- mile radius of Prestwick Spaceport?

TIME FOR NATS TO RIDE THE BLACKPOOL TRAM?

I am indebted to Mike Wade of The Times for delving into the mind-set of the ordinary SNP delegate following a remarkably upbeat annual conference (heaven knows what the atmosphere would have been like had the Yessies actually won).

One 40-year-old delegate, a member only since January, revealed herself to be studying anthropology at Edinburgh University. So, life can’t be too bad as a UK citizen if someone of that vintage can take a course at one of Europe’s top seats of learning and, with a 14-year-old daughter, afford to do so.

Another delegate, who sold insurance for a living, had recently dabbled with the Scottish Socialist Party before joining the SNP. Isn’t insurance sales akin to sleeping with the enemy? Presumably in a Scotland run along SSP lines, the insurance companies (along with the banks) will be nationalised, with all types of insurance a state-controlled matter of compulsion rather than choice. Still, I suppose we all have to keep a roof over our heads.

Looking ahead, another delegate predicted that demand for a place at the next conference would be so great the party would “need to book Blackpool”.

While this comment was no doubt tongue in check, the concept may not be outlandish.
During the Referendum campaign, Alex Salmond took great pains to claim that the United Kingdom’s “social union” would not be damaged by political disunion. Therefore, to reemphasise this point, and to accommodate every delegate wishing to attend, the party might eschew the usual venues for next year or the one after in favour of an English resort which, until the advent of cheap package holidays, became a Scottish enclave during the Glasgow Fair fortnight.

Having lost both Conservative and Labour party conferences, the Blackpool Corporation and those indefatigable land-ladies – steely as the famous Tower – would no doubt welcome the SNP with open arms

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