All public media in Scotland agree that the story of the Scottish Government’s handling of accusations against its former leader, Alex Salmond, have reduced its popularity and that of its leader, the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. I am by no means expert in this matter, but I’m sure, as most people seem to be, that the government has not been frank with the public about its own actions and omissions. That being so, the obvious question is why they have been so incompetent. Were they indeed engaged in a plot against Salmond? Does Salmond know something to the discredit of the government or its leader, that led to a desperate attempt to silence him?
As all conceivable reasons seem unlikely, I am forced to consider that the real reason for their incompetence is that as a government they are incompetent; lazy, arrogant and purposeless.
Now of course many will say that they have a firm and overriding purpose of gaining independence from the U.K. I doubt that. True, a repeated pretence of advancing towards that has been a mark of their governance. But surely any real march towards independence would have by this time led to some characterisation of the nation they hoped we could become? As it is, aside from vacuous boasts about a new Scotland, which are as full of substance as Boris Johnson’s riffs on global UK, together with anodyne promises that it will be progressive and democratic, there is not much to influence the voters. I guess any significant detail, for example on taxation and public services in the new Scotland, might upset the coalition of left and right wing voters which is thought necessary to achieve independence. But preference for mere independence in itself, does not suggest a burning, radical desire to remake a nation.
I think the SNP has no real intention of gaining independence but rather a desire to remain as the not very progressive government of Scotland it is, possibly with a few further spoonfuls of devolution. And it’s not very good at it: an educational policy which has led to a reduction in the reading age of pupils at the end of primary school; grossly inefficient handling of vast contracts for passenger ships and hospitals; delay after delay in establishing a humane policy on drug addiction: words but little action on the scandal of residential care and the pay of carers; lack of attention to the issue of robust local democracy. No, this is not a great reforming government with its eyes on the future, but rather a well-meaning, decent, lazy government hoping that things will stay more or less as they are. In their defence, I can see that the limits of present devolution are likely to encourage this mindset.
Given the appalling levels of poverty in Scotland, created by poor housing, exploitative employment and deliberately inadequate levels of benefit, it is clear that at least a quarter of its population lives without the resources for a decent life. More than a million men, women and children live without a serious expectation of security, health, creativity and joy. The existence of these deprived groups provides an easy target for further exploitation by money lenders, drug dealers, petty criminals and other scum.
Of course, there is global warming in all its aspects to be tackled in Scotland also, but I am convinced that attention to poverty cannot wait. As the Green Party keeps pointing out, policies for the elimination of poverty and of global warming can go hand in hand. The great texts of the Hebrew prophets, which express the anger of God at the oppression of the poor, remain a non-sectarian source of encouragement to churches, mosques, synagogues and temples, to demand governance that is for all Scots, with a determination to eradicate poverty. An alliance of people of faith ready to make specific demands in the name of the poor of Scotland, might make our desultory politics a little livelier.