If it matters to Scotland it matters to us
THE SNP has abandoned any attempt at helping the poor in Scotland – now over a fifth of the population. The SNP Government has failed to put any meaningful effort into addressing the underlying causes of poverty and as a result has a shameful record of rising poverty across all measures.
Scottish Government data demonstrates clearly that poverty has increased substantially in Scotland since the SNP came to power, whereas previously it was in decline. Latest figures show that 20 per cent of Scotland’s population (1.03 million people each year) were living in relative poverty after housing costs in 2019-20. This is a substantial increase over the 16 per cent recorded in 2010/11.
Child poverty in particular has shot up, with 30,000 more kids in poverty in the last pre-covid year as the child poverty rate shot up from 23 to 26 per cent. Food insecurity is rising too, reaching 9 per cent of the population in 2019.
It’s the poorest areas that are doing the worst under SNP rule. Live there and you will likely die 13 years earlier than Scots living in better-off areas. Moreover you will have 25 years less of good health.
Those with drug issues or who become homeless are particularly vulnerable. Scotland has achieved infamy as the drug deaths capital of Europe, with a drug deaths rate three times higher than the rest of the UK. Similarly homeless deaths are three times higher than the rest of the UK and as with drug deaths have been steadily increasing over recent years.
In education again the poor have been betrayed. Closing the notorious poverty-related attainment gap, whereby poorer kids are more likely to fail to make it to university, was said by the SNP to be one of its major goals. But after 14 years no progress has been made, with only 26 per cent of kids from deprived areas going to university compared to the 60 per cent who succeed from the better-off areas. In some respects it is getting worse. A March 2021 Audit Scotland Report highlighted the fact that now the “gap is wider at higher levels of award.”
Where then does the SNP direct the Scottish taxpayers’ resources? Not towards to the poor but rather to help its own supporters in the wealthy bureaucratic elite that runs Scotland and amongst younger members of the middle class.
This is demonstrated by the extensive £6 billion range of election bribes offered by the SNP at the current election. You don’t help the poor by financing fee dental care for all – those on low incomes already get free dental care anyway. You don’t help poor kids by handing free bikes and laptops to all schoolchildren. You help them by improving the quality of education poorer kids receive. We used to be good at this in Scotland, education was once a key route out of poverty.
The full range of election bribes are not, in any case, affordable. Money to pay for them has been pulled together by skimping on or cutting other areas. For example by the SNP is not distributing all the Covid relief money received from the UK Treasury, £2.7 billion of which is unaccounted for, according to the Scottish Auditor General.
The SNP has also spent less on health. As the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has explained, “the NHS has been prioritised to a lesser extent than in England. As a result, Scottish health spending per person is now just 3 per cent higher than in England, versus 22 per cent at the start of the devolution”.
Lower spending on health has been accompanied by harsh cuts elsewhere. For example when the SNP came to power there were 352 rehab beds and 455 annual drug deaths but – after SNP funding cuts by 2018 the rehab beds had dropped to 70 and the annual drug deaths had risen to 1187. Other funds have been raised by brutal cuts to local government services. Cuts since 2014 have amounted to £1,544 per household and many services have worsened significantly. Further cuts are being made. For example, the SNP-run Glasgow council has announced that an extraordinary 40 sports venues or pitches, five libraries, and 11 community centres are being permanently closed.
The need for cuts to enable the SNP to afford its election bribes is derived from SNP failure on the economy. Growth is a third less than the rest of the UK and there is both lower investment and lower productivity. This not only means fewer good jobs but also lower tax revenues.
Failing to help the poor in order to provide election bribes to younger voters is not a sensible long-term strategy that has the interests of Scotland to heart.
THE SCOTTISH ECONOMY is in a desperate state. It has long been lagging behind the UK economy but now the prognosis must be considered as dire. In 2019 Scotland’s GDP was 8 per cent lower that of the UK as a whole. While GDP in the UK grew at a rate of 1.7 per cent between 2000 and 2019, in Scotland it grew at a much smaller 1.3 per cent. Employment from 2000 to 2019 grew at 0.9 per cent in the UK as a whole, but only at 0.6 per cent in Scotland.
People might think this is small beer, that the economy will naturally pick up or there are other issues that must take priority – such as secession from the UK – but whatever one’s political views the hard fact is it is only a growing economy that makes it possible for public services to help the disadvantaged – while a shrinking economy must result in belt-tightening austerity.
Tightening the belt around your waistline might be uncomfortable in the belief you might adjust or be able to loosen it in time, but tightening a straitjacket that restricts your ability to exist is beyond sense. The economic statistics now tell us we have moved from the former to the latter.
WHEN NICOLA STURGEON delivered her 2016 ‘Priorities for Government’ speech, the tone was optimistic. She spoke professionally about the sort of Scotland she was pledging to usher in. Speaking of the importance of greater equality of opportunity she said, “it will boost our economy, and enhance the equality of life of all of us. It will help to create not just a fairer nation, but one that is wealthier, healthier and happier.”
But her rhetoric on health has not matched reality. If we take a detailed walk through the data, it is impossible to conclude the First Minister has created a ‘wealthier’, ‘healthier’, or ‘happier’ never mind ‘fairer’ nation.
Even a cursory glance indicates the appalling state of health in Scotland. A Glaswegian man has a healthy life expectancy of just 54.6 years. (Healthy life expectancy (HLE) is an estimate of the number of years lived in ‘very good’ or ‘good’ general health, whereas life expectancy is the number of years an individual is expected to live). There is a huge gap in healthy life expectancy at birth between the most and least deprived areas of a staggering 25.1 years for males and 21.5 years for females.
Healthy life expectancy in Scotland is the lowest in Europe. National Records of Scotland states that “it is estimated that a baby boy expects to live 61.7 years in good health and a baby girl 61.9 years in good health”. By contrast, according to WHO data, the average healthy life expectancy in Europe is 68.3 years with all other European countries having higher HLE than Scotland. At 69.1 years even Albania has considerably higher healthy life expectancy. Scotland fully qualifies for the sad title of ‘Sick Man of Europe.’
And be under no illusions, the SNP carries the can for this situation.
Life expectancy itself in Scotland had been increasing since the early 1980s until 2012-2014. Since the 2012-14 period, Scottish council areas have experienced slowing or stalling improvements in life expectancy. Data also indicates that many areas are now witnessing decreasing life expectancy.
Julie Ramsay, Head of Vital Event Statistics at National Records Scotland (NRS) said in January this year, “The decrease in healthy life expectancy coincides with a stalling of growth in life expectancy in recent years, and has resulted in a lower proportion of life being spent in good health”
Need I remind anyone that the SNP has held power since 2007, and health is a devolved competency? The first SNP Health Minister was none other than Nicola Sturgeon.
We do not need to look far to begin to understand how this situation has occurred under the nationalist administration. If we examine ScotGov’s own data on childhood diet and health, getting boys to eat healthier is even harder than before.
Fewer boys eat the recommended five a day now as compared to the second year of SNP rule. If you look at figure 1, you see the mean portions of fruit & vegetables per day eaten by boys was 2.7 in 2008; and in 2019 a lower 2.6. Not merely no progress, in fact outcomes have deteriorated.
Overall obesity levels in Scotland also reveals a picture of deteriorating individual health throughout the life of this nationalist administration. Figure 2 shows that two in three adults were obese or overweight including obesity in 2019. This is the highest prevalence in the Scottish Health Survey time series since 2003. Also shown is the rise in obesity, up from 27% in 2008 to 29% in 2019. That entire time-period is within the life of the current nationalist administration.
FAILING AND DELAYED procurement projects are burning a very big hole in Scottish taxpayers’ pockets – SNP ministers can’t seem to stop themselves from scuppering contracts they oversee themselves.
The scandal of the CalMac ferry contract is a good example. In 2015 the SNP chose the highest bidder, the shipyard Ferguson Marine, to build two ferries. Constriction began before design was completed and six years later the ferries are still not complete and a £97 million contract is now expected to cost at least £230 million.
The £840 million Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, which eventually opened in 2015, was another SNP procurement disaster, with sewage leaking into operating theatres and a series of other dangerous contamination problems. At least four people died as a consequence. Infections caused by pigeon droppings spreading through contaminated air vents caused the deaths of two patients. Staff had raised concerns about safety but were ignored. For example, in 2014, before the hospital opened, a consultant microbiologist raised issues in writing but was told, “you’re new to Glasgow, but here we don’t put things in writing because of inquiries and things.” The SNP has since been forced to appoint a public inquiry but these take time and will not report until well after the May 2021 elections.
Other procurement disasters include the saga of the sick children’s hospital in Little France, Edinburgh, which was originally due to open in 2012, but only opened at the end of March after incessant delays over the last decade. It was originally meant to cost £150 million, but faults in the air conditioning and drainage systems not only delayed opening, but added a further £90 million to the bill while it lay empty. An inquiry into the repeated failure of the Edinburgh hospital is due to begin in September 2021.
THE SNP ARGUES CONSTANTLY that Tory austerity imposed by an overbearing Westminster government is an evil that strongly affects Scotland. The reality is the SNP leadership has imposed more widespread and extremely damaging cuts than ever considered in Westminster.
Local councils are amongst the worst-affected by a slew of cuts inflicted by the SNP since its politicians came to power. Glasgow has suffered a real-term reduction in local authority spending of £233 per Glaswegian resident from 2014-2019, a fall of 11 per cent. Glasgow City Council has reported a funding gap of £12.2 million for next year. South Lanarkshire Council will in 2021 miss out on £53 million.
Unfortunately, SNP-controlled councils refuse to fight back. They instead toe the party line, endorse every new cut from Sturgeon in Edinburgh, and endlessly express gratitude for any small funds that are promised by central government.
Due to the impact of the pandemic, the deficit is likely to reach 25 per cent of GDP this year and remain around 10 per cent until at least the middle of this decade. North Sea Oil revenues will not provide a silver bullet, despite the claims of some nationalists. Scotland ran a fiscal deficit even when oil prices exceeded $100 per barrel, and the oil fields are fast depleting, with those being decommissioned attracting tax relief rather than delivering tax revenues.
But this should not come as a shock. Although Scotland’s deficit is more akin to a southern European country, Scotland’s politicians have long expressed a desire to follow the Scandinavian model for high state spending – including if the country went independent