Opposition parties’ attacks on the SNP’s record in office are set to dramatically increase ahead of the 2021 Holyrood election – helped by pesky facts that, as Robert Burns wrote, are “chiels that winna ding”, writes Gina Davidson.
“Delusional” is a word often heard in the Holyrood corridors these days in reference to the constant refrain of the First Minister that at some point this year there will be a second independence referendum.
Nicola Sturgeon’s “next steps” statement is expected to be delivered to MSPs in Holyrood next week, with the Government fully committed to ploughing ahead with what it pledged in its manifesto. In there, the SNP said it would “demand that the UK Government transfers the necessary powers under The Scotland Act to ensure the decisions about the referendum can be taken by the Scottish Parliament”. It has already ticked that box, but it also said it would “offer the people of Scotland a choice over their future” this year – and ministers have said it is now “incumbent” on them to “deliver what people have voted for”.
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The big question is how? Boris Johnson has been crystal clear that he will not grant a Section 30 Order, and Ms Sturgeon has been similarly clear that she will not countenance any kind of advisory, or “wildcat”, referendum. Unless the First Minister takes the highly unlikely step of resigning, triggering an election this year, and one that becomes fought solely on the issue of a second independence referendum, then Scotland’s governments are at an impasse.
Facts are chiels that winna ding
Stranger things have happened, but what is more likely is a war of attrition with the SNP continuing to declare the UK Government’s actions as undemocratic, while in turn, the Conservatives focus more acutely on the SNP’s running of Scotland – especially when the budget is announced in March, and the expected Barnett consequentials, predicted to be around £1.2bn, land in Edinburgh.
It is almost inevitable then that next year’s Holyrood elections will be a referendum on a referendum. But that is where things could get sticky for the SNP. All opposition parties – including the Scottish Greens who also want a second referendum – are ramping up the rhetoric around the SNP’s administration of Scotland. And they are being helped by the facts – those pesky chiels that winna ding.
Just this week, we saw rising student debts (which the SNP said they’d abolish) laid bare by Audit Scotland; reports of police stations falling apart that were dismissed by the Justice Secretary just hours before the roof collapsed in his home town station; Cosla again warning of councils being at “breaking point” because of continual cuts to local government budgets; and problems around the new child support payment with a cliff-edge for the poorest parents.
‘Get on with the day job’
It was also revealed that Scotland had slid into the bottom half of an international index of social and economic well-being; a study found that a flagship policy, minimum unit pricing on alcohol, had failed to have had any impact on underage drinking; and there is the running sore for the government on how it’s handling its proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act.
All that’s before we get on to longer running sagas such as the new ferries £100m over budget and three years late, the infection control crisis at the Queen Margaret University Hospital and the fact that the new Sick Kids hospital in Edinburgh can’t open its doors.
The mantra from opposition MSPs has long been that Nicola Sturgeon should forget the constitution and “get on with the day job”. Expect to see and hear much more of that, as the SNP continues to demand “indyref2”, while Ms Sturgeon’s own words of “redefining the meaning of a successful nation” perhaps come back to haunt her.