Strangers on a train – can be strangers to the truth

Strangers on a train – can be strangers to the truth

by Liam Kerr
article from Friday 3, November, 2017

RECENTLY I took a train from Aberdeen to Glasgow. Behind me sat a gentlemen engrossed in the “Nat onal”. Across the aisle from him, a woman with children who, on seeing his comic struck up conversation. Loudly. The packed carriage cringed as they pontificated about various ills that have befallen Scotland as a result of “evil Tories”. For around two hours.

Breaking only occasionally to explain key terms like “Tooaary”, “Thatcher” and “oil bonanza” to her pre-teens, I heard how “Tory austerity” was responsible for, in no particular order, NHS cuts and waiting times; the attainment gap; the police; and the closure of public libraries… in Scotland.

Yes, everything was the fault of “Tories” and “Westminster” (and occasionally the “Hard, Tory, Brexit” whatever that is). So, just to assist anyone who is unsure or unwilling to discover the distinction, here is a list of some matters which are the responsibility of the Scottish Government:

The Economy

According to the Scottish Government’s October 2017 figures, the Scottish economy grew at a quarter of the rate of the UK last year. Business growth in Scotland in 2016 was the lowest for any region of the UK.

Scotland is the highest taxed part of the UK. Last year the Scottish Government failed to pass on a tax cut from the UK Government when it froze the 40p higher rate threshold at £43,000, whilst the UK Government increased the threshold to £45,000. And if you are a middle earner, watch this year’s budget carefully as it looks like they’ll hike taxes further.

Then there is the Land & Buildings Transaction Tax that has raised 10 per cent less than expected, a shortfall of £55 million. Homes for Scotland, the voice of the Scottish home building industry, have said that there has been a ‘considerable drop’ in activity as buyers are deciding not to move because of the new bands, or simply deem it to be too expensive. Just try and sell a family home in Aberdeen right now and feel the impact that the LBTT hike has had!

The Cabinet Secretary, Keith Brown, will immediately argue that “there are two Governments involved in the economy of Scotland” and indeed there are. But crucially, the differentiator appears to be… the Scottish Government.

Education

Education was devolved to the Scottish Government in 1999.

Under the SNP’s watch, Scottish schools have fallen in international rankings with STEM subjects particularly badly impacted. England and Northern Ireland now outperform Scotland in every category, as do Republic of Ireland, Estonia and Poland.

The SNP has cut 152,000 college places. Overall student numbers have declined by 158,320, from 379,000 in 2007/08 to 220,680 in 2016/17, following the Scottish Government's decision to prioritise full-time study. Ministers were repeatedly warned that this policy would impact women, disabled and mature students most, but ignored all warnings. In a screeching U-turn last week, the Government reversed its approach but not before over 100,000 prospective students were denied a place.

But, but, but, TORIES! UNIVERSITY FEES! Sure, Scottish and European students don’t pay tuition fees to attend Scottish Universities.

No, in Scotland, you, the taxpayer, cover those fees, whether you or your offspring attend University or not. Along with those English and non-European students who have to pay fees.

Yet in Scotland, students from a deprived background are less likely to go to university compared to elsewhere in the UK.  Just 12.5 per cent of the poorest 20 per cent of Scots go to university – versus 20.2 per cent in England, 17.9 per cent in Wales and 16.3 per cent in Northern Ireland.

And of course there are only so many Scottish students who can attend before the University needs to cover its costs with English and international students. So well done Scottish kid on getting 5 A’s – but if you ain’t quick, you ain’t going.

The NHS

Responsibility for the entire running of the NHS was devolved in 1999.

Stronger for the Scottish NHS? Well, NHS Scotland met just one major waiting time target in 2016/17. The NHS failed to meet the waiting time targets for A&E, cancer treatment and child and adolescent mental health services amongst others.

According to the latest figures, the Scottish Government has presided over a 6 per cent reduction in GP practices and a 12 per cent increase in practice lists over the last decade. Consultant and nursing vacancies rates are at records highs. In June 2017 there were over 3,000 vacant nursing and midwifery posts, representing a vacancy rate of 5.2 per cent, and nearly 500 vacant consultant posts, representing a rate of 8.5 per cent. Spending on agency nurses and midwives has risen by six times in five years, and nearly £250 million is being spent on locum staff.

NHS Scotland has been underfunded by the SNP. Treasury figures show that health spending in England increased by 9 per cent between 2011-12 and 2015-16, but only increased by 3.4 per cent in Scotland.

And, just for the avoidance of doubt, if I am stuck on a waiting list at Ninewells, I truly am not concerned with what the waiting list at Leeds General Infirmary looks like. I’m interested in NHS Scotland’s performance.

The Police

Merged almost 4 years ago due to a political desire for centralisation by the then Justice Secretary, Police Scotland has been beset with difficulties.

Perhaps of most concern is the stealth-reframing of the VAT issue. When Police Scotland was created, the Scottish Government was warned that being now a national police force it would become liable to pay VAT.  It rejected proposals from the Treasury to avoid the cost and pledged to cover the cost of VAT itself. Now that the Scottish Government’s mismanagement of the economy has reduced funds available, it seeks to suggest that the UK Government should change VAT law to bail it out of the mess it created.

And what of the SNP’s desire to smash the British Transport Police in with Police Scotland, against all industry advice and opposition?! HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland branded the decision as ‘entirely’ political. The BTP Federation, representing officers, has said the SNP was only driven by ‘nationalistic jingoism’.

Agriculture

We hear a great deal about farm payments from the EU but the SNP remains silent about the IT system tasked with reimbursing. The original estimate of IT delivery costs was £50 million. It is currently running at about £178 million. And doesn’t work yet.

Subsequently, farm debt has reached a record high of over £2 billion. SNP failure. Not the UK Government’s.

So, next time you’re on a train and hear someone pontificating from a position of ignorance about how evil Toaries have ruined everything in Scotland, despite devolution and having no responsibility for it for over a decade, do feel free to refer them to this article.

Oh, and the libraries? Local authority budget cuts due to underfunding by Scottish Government.

Full house!

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