A guest post by Samuel Miller
Y’know, you’d be forgiven for wondering what you have to do to get a balanced interview on any current issue were you a member of the Scottish government. Yesterday’s Andrew Marr show provided a perfect example as Scotland’s First Minister, ostensibly invited on to presumably answer questions on the upcoming general election, spent a fair chunk of the interview discussing the devolved issue of education in Scotland. Again, you’d be forgiven for expecting the issues of Brexit, the constitutional question and perhaps the performance of SNP MPs over the past two years may have been on point, but hey ho, different strokes for different folks.
No question, the fall in standards in literacy and numeracy within the P4, P7 and S2 are poor over the period specified. No one should take a drop in educational or child performance standards lightly. Quite rightly, the First Minister held her hands up right away and said exactly the same thing, not once, but a number of times throughout the interview. The buck does indeed stop with those responsible for budget oversight and curriculum. Mr Marr was expecting what precisely after the second and third repetition of the same question? I’m not entirely sure he was used to a politician coming back with an honest answer and accepting responsibilty.
Still, if we’re going to be picking facts out of performances it’s surely also worth taking these on board. Attainment for school leavers over the same period has also markedly risen. It may also be worth noting that there are some things both the Scottish government and even the local authorities, (tasked with maintaining and staffing of the schools within their communities), may find beyond their ability to alter. Poverty for instance, has long been linked closely with educational attainment or lack thereof.
You know it’s true enough that if you throw enough money, manpower and resources at a situation, you can solve almost any problem. What happens though, when you can’t? What happens if you don’t have the money, the manpower, or the resources? What happens when you can’t generate the things you need, make the alterations you want, provide what you desperately want to provide, because you don’t have the latitude you require with your own economy? Because… you don’t run your own economy?
Bit of a rule of thumb, but there’s never an easy single answer to highly complex questions. Just a thought.
Still, not to be deterred from all things devolved, Ruth Davidson stuck her own oar into the paddling pool on this self same issue recently, with the broad claim that “The SNP has been in sole charge of education for a decade, and these failings are inexcusable. One in five children leave school functionally illiterate.” So how did that truly stack up then? Well, according to Ferret Fact Service, not so much as it turns out. This IS an election period. If something has a poor result or record, you better believe that by the time a party politician has finished spinning it, that poor result will be released as a biblical catastrophy beyond endurance.
(Keep an open mind. Do a little digging and decide for yourself whether a headline or a soundbite has gone a bit too far. Don’t let the meeja and the spin doctors lead you by the nose.)
Not content with merely the one tack on devolved issues, Ms Davidson then moves smoothly (cough), on to the subject of ‘free prescriptions’. Forgetting for a moment that this is one of the most colossal U turns by any Scottish Conservative ever, there is the teeny matter of competency involved here. Once more this would fall into an area of devolved government. On a few counts this may be a tad problematic. Firstly, she’d clearly have to go and ask the PM, (very nicely), if this is okay to pledge as a general rule and secondly she is NOT Scotland’s First Minister. The next Holyrood elections are a wee bit far off at this point and let’s face it, there’s also the small issue of trust involved here. Neither Conservative government as a rule, or Ms Davidon in particular, has proven the most trustworthy of individuals on pretty much anything in terms of policy.
Worth listening to this recent radio interview to get a taste of how Ms Davidson’s views, on any given subject, change according to the weather. (LINK)
Then we get to it. THE question. Why aren’t we talking about general election matters? Why aren’t we discussing the issues generated by Westminster legislation and Conservative government? Could Ruth’s widely publicised support of the Rape Clause have anything to do with it? Or could it be the recently publicised revelations over the improper and abusive social media behaviour of some of her party support and indeed new local authority councillors? It must seem to the casual observer, when watching or listening to Ruth these days, if someone so much as mentions the ‘R’ word or Brexit, the subject changes faster than you can say ‘delete history’.
The gaffs on devolved issues are bad and bad enough, but having the media or the public look more closely at the legislation and nature of Conservative government and Conservative support in Scotland? Drawing people’s attention to what lies beneath the spin, the photo op and the soundbite? Don’t look over here, look over there springs to mind. Manipulation by media and soundbite. A time honoured sport in political circles.
Some say a week is a long time in politics. In a little over a week Ms Davidson has come dangerously close to proving that adage accurate beyond all reasonable doubt.
The Tory party aren’t the nasty party. That’s the message Ruth wants to send. That’s the face we are to be presented with. If there isn’t a convenient photo op to hand, then the focus is to be upon devolved issues and a shouty, pointy fingered and pure dead serious Ruth being all concerned about folks welfare.
As far as yer average policy wonk is concerned, people having short memories? They’ll never be any the wiser… etc.
In my opinion ‘nasty’ seems somehow a little weak and inadequate. Conservatism to me, through words and policy, unreservedly stands full square behind societal division along lines of whom they deem worthy. In fact I’m pretty certain that their idea of unity may not exactly conform to the norm (sarky).
What we in Scotland experience today? I reckon this IS their idea of better togetherness. This IS their idea of union and unity. Their UK, their Britain, is a ‘know your place’ Britain. It is a deference Britain, a dog eat dog Britain, an isolationist Britain, but y’know, proud for all that.
Near as I can see, the defining traits appear to be fear, suspicion, envy and intolerance. Intolerance of anything that doesn’t fit, ain’t from around here, doesn’t conform. Under those terms I’m afraid I simply don’t qualify and for that I am profoundly and eternally grateful. I refuse to live constantly with fear and suspicion of our neighbours and friends. It’s not in me to feel envy or intolerance simply because I don’t or won’t understand.
I personally never have and never will vote Tory. They are the party of deference and exclusion, of ignorance and arrogance. They are the party of self. Don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve never been one for conformity or ‘knowing my place’ and today I mainly feel like standing on my feet and holding out my hand to new friends.