The Scottish National Party's eight years in power in Scotland show it is not a party of governmentby John McDermott / June 18, 2015 / Leave a comment
Two months before the Scottish National Party won 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats at the general election, I watched its leader give a speech at the London School of Economics. Nicola Sturgeon told the audience that policy made by the government of the United Kingdom amounted to “simplistic measures to deal with complex problems.” The Holyrood parliament in Edinburgh has much to teach Westminster, where “short-term posturing can often trump strategic thinking,” added Scotland’s First Minister. Sturgeon called for transparency in writing budgets and for the UK government’s record to be “opened up to proper scrutiny.”
The same should be done for the SNP. The party has been in power in Scotland for eight years, as a minority administration from 2007 to May 2011, and thereafter as a majority government. None of the questions to Sturgeon from the media at LSE, however, concerned her party’s record in Edinburgh. Not for the first time, it was able to take advantage of an imbalance between what Scotland knows about the rest of the UK and what the rest of the UK knows about Scotland. Here was a microcosm of a bigger problem. For contrary to Sturgeon’s claim, it is not policymaking in Westminster that wants for scrutiny; it is that by the SNP government north of the border.
Since the SNP’s Holyrood victory in 2011, constitutional issues have dominated public life in Scotland. The plot-setting negotiations, the drama of the two-year referendum campaign and the astonishing denouement after the No vote in 2014 have diverted attention from the SNP’s main stage: government. Having smashed the Labour Party in Scotland, there is no doubt that the SNP is a phenomenal political force. But ahead of the election to Holyrood next year, it is essential for Scots to ask: what has the SNP actually done for Scotland?
What any government in Edinburgh can do for Scotland is determined by the Scotland Act 1998 and its subsequent amendments, most importantly the Scotland Act 2012. Scotland has far more control over its own affairs than many realise, though Sturgeon is inevitably calling for more. The 1998 legislation established the devolved parliament and laid out the powers that would be reserved for Westminster. In many cases, it built on the autonomy that Scottish institutions already enjoyed within the UK. Today, Scotland makes policy for its health service, nurseries, schools, colleges, universities, police, prisons, courts, councils, cultural institutions and in some areas of economic development.