Sunday 24th April 2016
Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Home Affairs and MP for Orkney and Shetland
I am never keen to offer predictions but it would be nice to see our politics move on from a constitutional debate that was supposed to have been settled in September of 2014 and to see the Scottish Government focus, instead, on growing our economy and restoring our failing public services.
Consider the facts.
Unemployment in Scotland is 6.1 per cent, compared to the rate of 5.1 per cent for rest of the UK.
Last year, Scotland had a public spending deficit of £15 billion – 9.7 per cent of GDP, compared with 4.9 per cent for the rest of the UK.
The creation of a single Scottish Police force has been an even bigger failure than those of us who opposed it feared it would be. Unaccountable to anyone other than itself, we have seen record numbers of children being stopped and searched, while routinely armed police appear on the streets of Scottish towns with no debate at all.
Scotland’s farmers and rural communities have been left swinging in the wind because the government has been unable to pay the farming subsidies that they are due.
In education, the number of children from poorer backgrounds going to university in Scotland stands at 9.7 per cent, compared to 17 per cent for England, 13.9 per cent for Northern Ireland and 15.5 per cent for Wales. The number of college places has been cut by 152,000.
Those facts do not happen by accident. It is what happens when you have a government that spends its day dreaming of independence, rather than accepting the referendum result and getting on with the day job.
Is that likely to change? Not if the SNP have their way. When you consider what they have achieved after nine years in government, you can see why they are keen to keep the debate on independence, rather than on public services and the economy.
How much longer can it last?
Nicola Sturgeon told the recent SNP conference that the party would renew its campaign for independence in the summer so it is clear where her priorities lie.
The problem for the SNP, however, is that change is coming. For years now, they have played a clever game of blaming the UK Government for anything bad, while taking all the credit for anything good. It may not be subtle but there is no denying that it has been effective.
Now, however, with the passing of the Scotland Act, the Scottish Parliament will become one of the most powerful devolved legislatures anywhere in the world. When people open their wage packets at the end of each week, they will look not to Westminster but to Holyrood to account for the income tax deducted.
Eighteen months on from the referendum, Scotland is still a divided nation. Those divisions are not helping us tackle what are the most pressing day-to-day issues in Scottish society.
The nationalists tell us that the dream will never die. That, of course, is their right but government has to be more about the dream. Scotland does not need to go through the uncertain and unstable process of another referendum on independence. It needs a government in Holyrood who will roll up their sleeves, get on with the hard tasks and present a clear plan for how the new tax, welfare and spending powers will be used to benefit all in Scotland – not just subsidise the middle class or ignore those living in rural and island communities.