Indyref2 and the art of burying bad news

Soon after Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that she will be seeking a second Independence referendum, a wag on twitter commented that it was a fine way to bury the bad news about education in John Swinney’s constituency. The Courier reported today that the principal of Blairgowrie High School has written to parents to ask if any can step in to provide cover for missing maths teachers.

Of course the tweeter was joking. After all these days every day is a bad news day for the SNP.  No day passes without some damning statistic or story about the SNP’s failure to improve, or even halt the decline in, public services in health, education, policing etc and the corresponding growth in inequality in Scotland.

But the serious point is that the SNP have always used the issue of independence and the grievance agenda to distract everyone, including themselves, from the everyday business of government – the creation and implementation of policies which will improve people’s lives.

Now Nicola Sturgeon has blasted Indyref2 to the top of the political agenda at Holyrood and Westminster, supercharging the distraction until autumn 2018 or spring 2019 or even later – of course the First Minister will not allow herself to be tied down to a specific date.

On the doorsteps and at street stalls, people have been vehement that they don’t want a second referendum. They’ve had enough of referenda, enough of the uncertainty and division they engender and enough of the SNP “neglecting the day job”. Even nationalists are telling me this now.

Of course May’s local government elections are now going to be dominated by Indyref2. The SNP are already treating the chance to vote SNP in the council elections as an opportunity to support an Independence referendum. It’s no such thing, of course. Rather it’s the opportunity to select councillors whose sole job is to represent the residents of their wards in local government. Put another way, it’s the job of councillors to create and implement policies which will improve people’s lives (within the limitations of local government power of course). Real success at that job is likely to elude those obsessed with agitating for independence.

The SNP have been notoriously slow in selecting their local government candidates, and are known to discourage too much involvement in local issues on the grounds that it could damage a vote based on nationalist grounds alone. Certainly the poor attendance record at Fife Council meetings and community councils, and sparse engagement in local issues, by some SNP councillors in Fife bears this out.

Teacher recruitment isn’t just a serious problem in Mr Swinney’s constituency. It affects schools across Scotland. In Fife I was shocked to discover that subjects like Art and Geography could not be offered at Higher level at one school because it couldn’t find anyone to teach them. Resource constraints meant the same school could also only offer one foreign language, French. Some people may feel this doesn’t matter much, but if your child is a budding linguist or wants to pursue art as a career or geography as a degree, it’s grim. And it’s certainly not acceptable for a state education system in an advanced economy in the 21st century.

How long can SNP politicians postpone getting to grips with the problems in our schools and hospitals, in our police and transport services, in our businesses and our economy? The answer, of course, is until the magic day when Independence arrives. It’s not much consolation for those whose children’s life-chances are blighted, whose businesses fail or whose old age is made miserable because they can’t get GP or hospital appointments.

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