Another week, another set of stories which reveal how just how badly the Scottish National Party is fairing as an actual government without the white heat of an independence campaign to distract everybody.
First, Nicola Sturgeon has been forced to deny that her administration has engaged in a cover-up after admitting that it had misplaced key documents regarding the awarding of a disastrous ferry contract, according to the Herald.
Glasgow-based Ferguson Marine, tasked with delivering two new vessels to serve Scotland’s island communities, has both wildly overshot its deadline – they were due in 2018 and are expected in 2023 – and seen the overall cost of the project rise by over 150 per cent.
The Scottish Government has also had to save it from administration. Stephen Daisley has a good account of the scandal, including the mind-boggling detail that the First Minister actually ‘launched’ one of these (still-unfinished) ships way back in 2017.
Now the Scottish Daily Express reports that the police could be called in after Jack McConnell, a former First Minister, suggested the ministers may have broken freedom of information laws.
And in the meantime, residents of the Scottish isles will continue to be lumbered with substandard connexions to the mainland – not that their Nationalist MPs will have anything to say about it.
It also means the Scottish Government has to send ferry contracts overseas, opening it up to fresh attacks from the breathtakingly shameless Alex Salmond.
Connoisseurs of SNP scandals will likely be put in mind of the Alex Salmond scandal, where time and again the Scottish Government claimed to have provided all relevant documents before having more dragged out of it (if you want more detail, I recommend the very readable Break-Up).
And this isn’t even the only business scandal to beset Sturgeon and her ministers this week. According to the Scotsman, the Scottish Government may have breached state aid rules after offering a company a £586m guarantee in exchange for just £162m in securities. (If you don’t have a subscription, Conor Matchett has the top lines here.)
Just as with Ferguson Marine, this venture was undertaken to prop up one of the remnants of Scotland’s heavy-industrial heyday, in this case the Lochaber smelter; the latest revelations apparently come on the day Liberty Steel’s offices, in Scotland and elsewhere, were raided by the Serious Fraud Office.
There was also another defeat over documents after the Scottish Government lost a freedom-of-information battle over the legal advice it has received on the question of a second referendum on independence.
And we must not forget that this morning, the Nationalists had to abandon the deadline for the census in Scotland after hundreds of thousands of people had not filled it in. There seem to be a lot of potential reasons for this (none good), but either way it will have serious consequences for state policy which uses the data.
The Telegraph points out that this fiasco also calls into question the wisdom of the SNP’s decision to delay conducting the census by a year (apart from the obvious reason of furthering their strategy of ‘data divergence’ by breaking up a vital UK-wide dataset, of course).
Anything else… oh yes: the Scottish Sun reports that the SNP are under renewed pressure over their care homes scandal after the policy of discharging untested or Covid-positive patients into care homes was ruled unlawful in England. I think that’s it for this week.
This litany of failures raises once again the question of when the Government will accept that Westminster should play a stronger role in ensuring accountability and upholding good government in every part of the country.
One doesn’t have to be a die-hard devosceptic to see that there is a very strong case for the census, the foundation stone of any country’s national statistics and a vital basis for policy, should be conducted on a national basis. Even in countries such as Canada, where the provinces actually have their own statistical authorities, there aren’t multiple censuses.
Perhaps this will be a deviation from the historic way of doing things; certainly that is what those who keep insisting the United Kingdom is a ‘Union state’ will claim.
But even so, there is a very clear difference between a harmless bureaucratic oddity in a system overseen by one government and having a devolved government controlled by separatists actively determining the timing and the wording.
Likewise, given that British money is redistributed round the UK via the Barnett Formula, why shouldn’t the Government be prepared to step in when it is grossly misspent – at the very least, to set up a proper, independent inquiry into what happened with those ferry contracts?
And given all these disasters in areas for which the Scottish Government is actually responsible, it might well give proper consideration to a Bill being drafted by a Labour peer which would give the Treasury a veto over devolved spending in non-devolved areas.
…oh and before you go, there was one fun little example of SNP incompetence I missed: here’s Euan McColm describing the unfortunate moment a Nationalist politician was required to think on his feet after the MSP meant to open a debate didn’t turn up:
“What followed was excruciatingly embarrassing. Coffey stood and, displaying a breathtaking inability to think on his feet, proceeded to deliver his closing speech. He giggled as he described a debate that had not yet taken place.”
I mean Jesus.