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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain


A Scratched Record

by our Scottish political affairs correspondent

NOT MUCH has been happening on the Holyrood election trial due to the campaign being rudely interrupted last Friday lunchtime when seemingly more pressing matters started to dominate the airwaves.

We will therefore take the opportunity to reflect on the glorious achievements of the SNP Government since it first formed a minority government in 2007. This was with the de facto backing from the Tories, a fact the SNP are very discreet about.

We first turn our attention to health, which was First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s earliest cabinet responsibility. Repeated boasts that the SNP are delivering a “healthier Scotland” are pie in the sky.

Regular readers will not need reminding of the two major hospital building projects under the SNP that have seen the new Edinburgh children’s hospital delayed for years because of bad project management and the flagship Glasgow hospital whose air conditioning system killed cancer patients.

One measure of the outcomes of the SNP’s NHS can be seen in the statement from the National Records of Scotland that states that: “It is estimated that a baby boy expects to live 61.7 years in good health and a baby girl 61.9 years in good health.” The World Health Organisation (WHO) figures show that Healthy Life Expectancy (HLE) in Europe averages 68.3 years. Not a single European country is below the Scottish level, making SNP-run Scotland truly the ‘Sick Man of Europe’. Formerly Socialist Albania does much better at 69.1 years.

Scottish life expectancy increased since the early 1980s until 2012–2014. Many council areas have now seen a slowdown and many poorer areas are now witnessing decreasing life expectancy.

As one might expect the poorer areas do worse, but the gap between the most and least deprived areas of Glasgow is 25.1 years for both females and males.

The mortality statistics for Glasgow in comparison with the similar cities of Liverpool and Manchester are grim. The {New Statesman} has reported that: “Deaths caused by lung cancer amongst Glaswegians were 27 per cent higher, by suicide 70 per cent higher, by alcohol-related causes 130 per cent higher, and by drug-related poisonings 250 per cent higher.” So much for the much-vaunted SNP minimum price for alcohol.

Catriona Morton, Deputy Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners in Scotland (RCGP) and who also works as a GP in the Edinburgh housing estate of Craigmillar, said “health inequalities are stark in Scotland and about the worst in Europe”, adding that long-term problems had only been made more obvious by COVID-19: “The poorest Scots are twice as likely to die from the infection than the wealthiest, and more likely to suffer from ongoing symptoms, such as post-COVID syndrome (Long-Covid), after the infection, too.”

A curious feature of Scottish health is a combination of growing levels of obesity with growing levels of food insecurity and dependency on foodbanks.

Those feeling the pinch tend to be the young. According to a recent Scottish Health Survey, 13 per cent of 16–44-year-olds experienced food poverty whilst it declined to eight per cent of those aged 45-66 and two per cent over 65. Scottish Government forecasts are that child poverty will increase from just under 31 per cent in 2017–18 to 35.5 per cent by 2030–31.

In Nicola Sturgeon’s own constituency of Glasgow Southside, the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) puts Govanhill amongst the worst 10 per cent “most deprived areas” in income, education, housing and crime, and the second most deprived in employment and health. No wonder she abandoned a constituency office there.

Last week outgoing Health Minister Jeane Freeman confirmed that SNP handling of the pandemic had been just as bad as Boris Johnson’s when she finally conceded that the SNP Government had wanted people who no longer needed to be in hospital to be discharged quickly to free up beds, resulting in a huge number of deaths when people with COVID-19 spread the disease amongst care-home residents. She said they “didn’t take the right precautions” and this was a “mistake”, but that “lessons had been learned” so it was alright now. This comes after her October claim that there was no evidence linking NHS bed-clearing to outbreaks in Scottish care homes where 3,000 residents have died.

Education

Declining educational standards have featured frequently in this column.

Recently figures have been issued which show that inspections of Scottish schools have been neglected. Of the 2,500 schools in Scotland, 1,685 have not been inspected for between five and seven years whilst another 558 have not been inspected for eight to 10 years, and 704 have waited more than 10 years before one of HM Inspectors has darkened a school door.

Labour’s Education spokesman, Michael Marra, said: “Nicola Sturgeon must rue the day she told us to judge her on her record on education, as her failures keep stacking up. “Parents will be shocked to discover that a quarter of schools haven’t been inspected in a decade. How many pupils have missed out on a better learning experience in that time?

Apart from the inspections issue, the SNP has successfully delayed a report into Scottish education that was expected to be published in February but will not be released until safely after the election – despite one of the authors saying it could be published.

One might think that the SNP did not want schools inspected because it might confirm a few suspicions about their stewardship.

Shipbuilding

To conclude, we look at the SNP’s industrial record, particularly at their brilliant handling of the long-running ferries saga that began with the SNP Government accepting the highest of six bids for two ferries.

When a Holyrood committee asked why this should be, Roy Pedersen, a member of the Scottish Government’s Ferry Industry Advisory Group, said: “I don’t know the answer but three things spring to mind – one is incompetence, the other is vested interest and the other is corruption.” In fact, it is obviously a bit of all three.

Another member of same committee condemned the whole project, saying the contract “is in effect a mini-cruise vessel to run a utilitarian shuttle ferry which is basically a bus”.

The unnecessarily complicated design is not even efficient, a simpler design could serve many other routes without building new harbours. Orkney, which has stormier waters than the Clyde and inner Hebrides, has a reliable service provided by much more basic ships.

But that is not the point. The contract had to go to an SNP-supporting businessman. It did not matter in the slightest that a contract for two ships went to a yard with space for one. The main thing was that it was more important to grab the headlines with a £97 million contract, especially as the Tories had announced a huge investment in the nearby nuclear submarine base at Faslane.

War broke out between the yard’s owners and the SNP Government over who was to blame for the lengthy delays and rising costs caused by numerous changes. One ship was launched half built to pretend all was well. Nationalisation followed to rescue the yard from bankruptcy.

The latest prediction is that the two ferries will cost at least £258 million and will not be in service until 2023, five years late.