Common sense has taken flight under the SNP’s lazy regime

Everywhere you look, potential successors are distancing themselves from the declining flagships. It remains debatable whether any of them will be able to endure lessons beyond arbitrary promises to drop laws or rearrange deckchairs.

The fundamentals of devolved government are in dire need of overhaul to save it from the legacy Ms Sturgeon will bequeath. Regardless of the political standpoint, we have a right to expect that challenges will be addressed on their own merits and not as appendages to an ongoing constitutional debate. We can expect competence.

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For example, where I live, immediate concern is quite decentered and has nothing to do with the constitution. It is that ferry services are constantly in jeopardy, while vital air services are now also in chaos. Examine the guts of these issues and you find a pathetic failure to govern competently or caringly, regardless of one’s political perspective. That needs to be fixed.

Decentralized governments offered tremendous opportunities to do things well at both the micro and macro levels. It should bring government closer to the people, recognize diversity within Scotland and be flexible and innovative in its approaches.

It needs ministers with passion and enthusiasm for what they do. It needs close contact with the communities where political interventions could make the biggest difference. It needs to recognize that Scotland is a diverse country that needs to draw on all the diverse expertise within it.

Instead, Scotland’s decentralized government has narrowed into a centralized, self-serving bureaucracy that hoards power and ruthlessly uses patronage and generosity to shut down challenges. In this crippling environment, success is counted in headlines rather than results. Money is wasted while asking for more.

The potential is hampered by the fact that the only real interest of the current incumbents is their constitutional ambition. If you doubt that, listen to the roadshows where the three candidates sell their wares to SNP audiences. Each answer comes back to either “referendum” or “independence.” Nothing else is an end in itself.

A new First Minister should be able to ask why so little of what is boasted actually comes to fruition; why every target by which their predecessors wished to be measured was land miles short of; why so little has changed in aspects of Scottish life where change is most needed.

The failure to govern well for its own sake has consequences that are reflected not only in health and education statistics, but also in more immediate impacts on people and communities. Let me address the actual example I was referring to.

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Highlands and Islands Airports Limited, a Scottish Government quango, and unions have been deadlocked for five months. HIAL management claims it has no flexibility beyond the five per cent Edinburgh was allowed to offer them, although that limit was eventually exceeded in all other disputes.

Gradually this escalated into strikes and work-to-rule. Amid growing calls for action, Secretary of Transportation Jenny Gilruth stayed away. The last time she met the HIAL unions was before the industrial action began. It was out of the question that her boss, Michael Matheson, would play a role. Why not?

HIAL’s board follows the standard SNP pattern. None of the directors appointed by ministers live in the Highlands, let alone on islands. Individually and collectively, they were completely unaffected by the effects of mounting flight cancellations and the disruption created on their behalf.

Late last week, Loganair – the only scheduled operator – upped the ante and announced it would be canceling flights between Inverness and Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles for at least six weeks. The impact would include the loss of hundreds of mainland hospital appointments and the inability of visiting consultants to fly in and out.

HeraldScotland: Loganair flights have been disrupted in a wage dispute in which Highlands and Islands Airports Limited says its hands are tiedLoganair flights have been disrupted in a wage dispute that Highlands and Islands Airports Limited says its hands are tied (Image: Newsquest)

hey presto! Mrs. Gilruth has emerged from her hiding place. The results will be visible over the next few days and it seems likely that something will be done to reach an agreement to stave off the Loganair threat. It could have happened long before that and the messages sent tell us a lot about how Scotland is governed.

The refusal to negotiate was decided in Edinburgh, unaware of the consequences in Scotland’s most distant communities. A minister who was said to be in the process of finding a solution has been reported missing. Nobody – I repeat nobody – in the HIAL Quango showed even the slightest sign of contradiction or urgency. In other words, in this case, as in many others, devolution was a nonexistent failure.

What specific conclusions should a candidate for the post of First Minister draw? First, it must be acknowledged that it is an absolute disgrace that this dispute was not resolved months ago. Second, Transport Scotland is a particularly inept branch of the Scottish Government which was at the center of the ferry scandal and continues to show disrespect for far-flung communities. So dismantle and start again.

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The third is that the quango system is Scotland’s largest lazy burgh, designed to produce docile boards consisting of tame trustees who hop from one quango to the next depending only on their silent, wide-ranging approval of previous roles.

Those would be three big, bold statements coming from just one case study. Then repeat the process. None of them have anything to do directly with the constitution – only with the improvement of an open, competent and decentralized government. Is it conceivable that one of the leadership candidates will recognize this award? I did not think.

Incidentally, I heard Joanna Cherry speak prominently on the radio yesterday in her role as Chair of the All-Party Committee on Human Rights at Westminster. It wasn’t hard to see why the SNP’s ruling cabal changed the rules to keep them out of Holyrood and a potential leadership challenge. She would have walked.

Brian Wilson is a former Labor Party politician. He was MP for Cunninghame North from 1987 to 2005 and Secretary of State from 1997 to 2003 Common sense has taken flight under the SNP’s lazy regime

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