Health, education and the police.
Expect to hear a lot of misery about this little troika of domestic issues from our unionist friends in the course of the next few months. Unable to move the Scottish people on from the many unresolved constitutional issues that still consume our national debate the UK parties are desperately looking for anything that will breathe life into moribund campaigns.
Their mission now is to ‘prove’ and ‘convince’ the Scottish people that SNP stewardship of public services has been poor and that as a Government we have ‘failed’. With the Scottish General election coming up they believe (with assistance from an ever eager and compliant press) that if they say that things are bad, often and loud enough, they will be believed and their case will become an orthodoxy and truth
Unfortunately for my unionist friends these attacks are as unlikely to have any more success than the efforts they have put into trying to get the Scots weaned off constitutional politics.
There’s a couple of ground rules in politics that have to be in place before any sort of political attack will work. This is particularly true of public services that people use all the time. Most importantly any attack must resonate with the public. If an attack on public services is to hit its mark it must be able to chime with the experience of those in receipt of those said public services.
And this is the problem for the unionist parties. Most of the Scottish people remain satisfied with the performance of Scottish public services and SNP stewardship of them. In health, education and policing most people are happy with what they secure – almost extraordinary when budgets are having to be cut right across the board. On health, education and the stewardship of the economy less than 30% of Scots believe that the SNP stewardship is poor, education is actually below 20% the rest either satisfied or believing that our stewardship is good. Only in policing is there more people who believe that SNP stewardship is ‘poor’ as opposed to ‘good’ and that is only by a small margin. People therefore look on at all these unionist attacks with bewilderment. It also seems like that they are talking down the services that they enjoy and the overt negativism then becomes counter productive.
And let’s take the example of policing. This should be the easiest hit for our unionist friends and even they are not so dim as to realise that. This is why there has been the constant (almost beyond distraction) attacks on the police. Police Scotland is perhaps the biggest piece of public sector reform undertaken in recent years so the possibility of a variety of issues and problems emerging was always likely.
Police Scotland is certainly having almost predictable problems but here’s the thing. Recorded crime is falling, more police are on the street, detection rates are up and people feel safer in their communities. All of this is a disaster for politicians who need to demonstrate that something is fundamentally wrong with Government stewardship of the police. People just don’t see it or feel it the way that those unionist politicians want them to.
This is the same in health and education where the Scottish people are seeing falling waiting times, new schools, record exam passes and a health service remaining true to its founding principles. That’s before we get on to free tuition and prescriptions. Yes, there are problems with public services and problems will inevitably continue to emerge but there is nothing to suggest that the Scottish public believe that the Scottish Government won’t be able to deal with them.
The other just as important ground rule in attacking the record of a Government is that those on the attack must have an attractive and convincing alternative vision of their own. This is where our unionist friends fall down spectacularly. Very few people in Scotland believe for a minute that either Labour or the Tories would do any better. With the Tories we only have to have a cursory glance beyond the border to see what would happen if they were ever trusted with our public services. Whereas Labour in its current diminished and chaotic condition is observed with nothing other than something approaching pity.
And you don’t have to take my word for any of this. You only have to look at the opinion polls to see the continuing trust in the SNP. Support for the SNP is just shy of 60% in the latest opinion poll with Labour languishing in the mid 20s and the Tories on another historic low at 12%.
If the unionist parties think that they will secure some sort of solace in targeting our stewardship of public services then they have not counted on the real experience of real Scots and their trust in us to manage the services they enjoy. Attacking us on our stewardship of public services is as likely to end up as successful as attacking us on the constitution. Forlorn and ultimately self-defeating.