Scotland: a Rising Star in the North

Opinion Piece by Jeffrey Adams

“There shall be a Scottish Parliament”  Donald Dewar, First Minister at the opening of Scotland’s Parliament, 1999. 

Post Brexit referendum, the capabilities of Scottish political party leaders has risen up to global eye level. In sharp contrast to the confused signals sent out by Westminster, agile and pragmatic leadership in Scotland has shone like a beacon. Abilities perhaps forged from Scotland’s struggle to establish its own parliament and the hard fought heart and soul debates ever since. As Roosevelt said ‘A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor’.

Westminster counterparts by contrast have languished in a 2 party political system, secure in the knowledge that at some point the wheel would be returned to their side. The UK Government’s internal culture of complacency set the conditions for the political disarray we now see.

Brexit was an outcry from people who felt the Government out of touch with everyday problems. Had the Westminster Government more talented leaders, UKIP may never have found a climate in which to grow Brexit momentum. The distance the UK Government purposely placed between itself and voters, personified by May’s reluctance to meet the public (her discomfort when she did) and her absence from major debates combined with austerity policies, put a painful wedge between citizens.

When Theresa May was Home Secretary she headed up a committee whose objective was to “create a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants in the UK”.

The  hostile environment she planned didn’t contain itself to the target group, but spread in ways it never should have: between UK and Non UK nationals, between religious groups, between men and women over pension issues, between the countries that make up the UK and between the wealthy and the poor. The Tories have carved out deep pockets of resentment in British society worsened by citizens struggling with a pay check to pay check existence and record numbers of people using foodbanks. Resentment soon turned into a distaste for politics as usual. UKIP were happy to exploit the unhappiness, using lies and false promises of a return to former glory as a propeller for Brexit.

Much of the UK’s current predicament could have been avoided had leaders chosen a different strategy. May as Home Secretary is every bit as responsible as Cameron and his supporters, in creating the mess we have today.

Scotland, by contrast, is emerging as a bright light on the UK landscape. Success stories for the Scottish  Government keep coming. Data published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) on 29th June 2017  show that  95.2% of full-time graduates in Scotland who finished their degree last year went on to full employment of further study.(Compared to 94.2% of graduates in England, 94.7% in Wales and 94.4% in Northern Ireland.)

The Nuffield Trust report about Healthcare calls on the rest of the UK to look north for inspiration. The report describes “Scotland’s unique healthcare system” and suggests “others could learn from it”.

The Nuffield report also points out that healthcare challenges were made worse by the current political climate: “Polarised hostile political context made an honest national debate difficult…there is also a risk that they (NHS Scotland) are undermined by intense financial squeeze”.

Responsibility for the “hostile  political context” and “financial squeeze” rests  firmly with Westminster. The estimated cost of the Brexit referendum, according to a statement to the UK Parliament by the Cabinet Office, was £142.4m. It is estimated the snap election cost the taxpayer even more. Add the £1 billion DUP deal the Tories have made and  the controversial Brexit bill and it seems the only talent the UK Government has is for spending money like it is going out of fashion, which is ironically what is happening to the pound. This same Government justifies their strategy by simply saying the ‘UK must live within its means’.  Despite needing to live within ones means there is money available for the Tories when they need to hold onto power.

Nevertheless, Scotland has pressed on and continues to deliver with economic growth of 0.8 % in Q1. Scotland has outperformed

Germany, France, UK and the US. Scotland’s exports are continuing their upward trend and are now valued at £28. 7 billion in 2017 (up 41% under the SNP). If Scotland can achieve this during such turbulence with a skittish PM in Westminster, it has a bright future ahead of it.  The message Scots needs to hear is simple –a northern star is on the rise.

Yet, were you to read the BBC coverage, the go to reference point for the Continental press, you would think Scotland is on the cusp of disaster.

Labour’s economy spokeswoman Jackie Baillie was quoted as saying: “It is a huge relief that Scotland has avoided recession, but this was a narrow escape for our fragile economy”.

Narrow escape and fragile? Not the words used to describe Germany’s Q1 0.6 % growth (smaller growth than Scotland) The  headline the Financial Times used was “Germany races ahead of its rivals in Q1″.

It is precisely this back to front, topsy turvy communication and planning from the UK Government promoted via their press outlets that is damaging democracy and frustrating voters. A communication style where success is presented in such a way as to resemble failure and austerity planning leads to huge sums of money being spent with little benefit. Make sense to you ? nope, me neither.

That is why it has never been more important for the Scottish Government  to get their messaging correct. It has become easy for the risks attached to an Independent Scotland to be overstated and the progress the Scottish Government  has made to be downplayed. Scots will make their future decisions based on the information they receive, that  information needs be represented truthfully, but that is not going to be easy.

The social media space has become politically noisy making it harder to pick out a truthful message from a construed one.

There are now many reports about how Facebook collects data from its’users, and how this played a role in the US election and Brexit.  Facebook’s categorised data can be sold to advertisers and in the case of the UK and US it was used for targeted political messaging. The bigger the budget the more of this data you can buy, and for the time being this is unregulated.

If the Tory Party is willing to spend £1 billion  on a DUP deal to stick around for another 4 years, what would they be willing to spend on gathering data and targeting voters to save the Union ? Such expenditure levels could also only be bad news for England, Northern Ireland and Wales too.

The Scottish Government, people living in Scotland, and Scots around the globe have to become advocates for Scotland. Doing so will help prevent Scotland’s success being conveniently airbrushed out of the global press. The global  press are already preoccupied by documenting a Trump Presidency and Scotland will be overlooked unless people become more engaged.

To  remain silent will  allow Scotland to be returned to the shortbread tin caricature it has fought so hard to throw off. A nice place for tourists to visit as part of their whistle stop tour of the UK- but not  more. This would be a regressive move for Scotland. Scots need to speak about, and take ownership of,  their success and not accept the counter narrative that explains success away, describes it as a close call or  a one off fluke

Scotland should continue to engage in the meaningful dialogue  that lead to it’s  own Parliament in 1999 and all the political progress since.

Scotland is a worthy success story. That message should be heard throughout the Brexit talks and beyond,  to whatever future it chooses.

scottish-parliamentJeffrey Adams is an occasional contributor to The Orkney News.

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