Good or bad? Square 2

The SNP Record: good or bad? Executive Report

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IN THIS report – published by ThinkScotland.org and available here – the data, mostly produced by the Scottish government itself, demonstrates the SNP, despite being in power over the last 14 years, has an unparalleled  record of failure in every policy area. There is much more that could have been written about secrecy, manipulation and highly questionable practices – not to mention the Covid-19 response – but the areas covered give a taste of what is already visible before the government books are opened up to full scrutiny.

Poverty

Scotland under the SNP is doing worse in respect of all the main measures of poverty – relative poverty, persistent poverty, child poverty, severe poverty, in-work poverty and pensioner poverty. While poverty rates had been steadily declining in Scotland for many years, once the SNP took over that decline stopped and poverty began increasing again.

Data just released by the Scottish Government at the end of March 2021 shows that 26 per cent of children – around 260,000 young people – were living in relative poverty in 2019/20, a big jump from 23 per cent in 2018/19, when around 230,000 children were living in relative poverty. The latest figures published by the Scottish Government show that persistent poverty has risen from 10 per cent in the 2012-16 period to 12 per cent in 2015-19.

Persistent poverty rates are even higher for children. While 13 per cent of children were in persistent poverty after housing costs in the 201-16 period this has risen to 16 per cent in the 2015-19 period. For pensioners, the persistent poverty rate after housing costs has increased from 8 per cent in 2010-17 to 12 per cent in the latest period.

As far as relative poverty is concerned, the SNP has also managed a substantial increase. Latest figures show that 20 per cent of Scotland’s population (1.03 million people each year) were living in relative poverty after housing costs in 2019-20. This is a substantial increase over the 16 per cent recorded in 2010/11.

Pensioners are also suffering from higher poverty rates. The percentage of pensioners in relative poverty after housing costs increased from 12 per cent in 2012-16 to 14 per cent in 2017-20.  Scotland has the highest rate of persistent pensioner poverty in the UK with the number of older people in difficulty equal to the population of Dundee.

The number of those in severe poverty, (below 50 per cent of UK median income after housing costs), has also increased over the last year from 13 per cent in 2018/19 to 15 per cent in 2019/20, with a bigger jump in the proportion of children in severe poverty from 16 per cent to 20 per cent.

The SNP has failed to develop a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy, or to put much concentrated effort into addressing any of the underlying causes of poverty in Scotland.  The result is a shameful record of rising poverty across all measures

Life expectancy

Residents of Scotland can expect to die on average two years earlier than citizens of Britain as a whole. Even worse, if you live in one of the most deprived areas of Scotland you can expect to live for 13 years less than Scots in the least deprived areas. That’s if you are a man. If you are a woman then on average you will live for 10 years less. Moreover the latest figures show that life expectancy has FALLEN in 13 of Scotland’s 32 Council Areas and in the rest growth has effectively flat-lined.

Life expectancy in Scotland is worse than in a number of Eastern European countries. For example, an Albanian man can expect to live longer than a Scottish man. Life expectancy in Scotland overall is also worse than in some developing countries such as Costa Rica and Barbados, where men live longer than those in Scotland.

Life expectancy is lowest in Glasgow City, where females can expect to live for 78.5 years and males for 73.6 years. This means that Glaswegian men have a lower life expectancy than men in Uzbekistan, Egypt, Venezuela, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Belarus, Libya, Cape Verde, Bangladesh, Algeria, Mexico, Iran, and Mongolia.

Education

“Let me be clear – I want to be judged on this,” said Nicola Sturgeon. Improving education was the SNP’s central commitment but when annual surveys of numeracy and literacy continued to show declining levels of performance, the SNP scrapped them. Sturgeon also withdrew Scotland from two of the three international comparative reviews in which it participated.

Sturgeon is refusing to publish the latest results from the remaining international survey, the OECD Pisa Report. However, the most recent results from the 2018 PISA report showed near-constant decline and a fall in science rankings from 10th to 19th, reading from 11th to 23rd, and maths from 11th to 24th since 2006. By 2019, Scottish pupils now only performed at the OECD average in maths and reading, and below it in science. Scotland was achieving the lowest scores in maths and science since it started participating in the survey 20 years before.

A further nail in the coffin of the SNP’s record in education is seen in literacy and reading comprehension, areas in which Scottish children used to excel. While Scottish pupils once had the highest level of reading comprehension in the UK and Ireland, they have now slipped below Northern Ireland and fallen roughly in line with England. The SNP has also failed to close Scottish education’s woeful attainment gap between the performance of pupils from the most and least deprived areas. This sees 60 per cent of pupils from the most affluent areas heading to university – while the comparative figure for deprived areas is only 26 per cent .

A March 2021 Audit Scotland report was very critical of the SNP’s continuing failure to close the attainment gap, saying “The poverty-related attainment gap remains wide…..Progress on closing the gap has been limited”. The report highlighted the fact that the “gap is wider at higher levels of award,” pointing out that “in 2018/19, the proportion of school leavers achieving five or more awards at level 5 was 82.7 per cent for pupils from the least deprived areas, compared to 46.5 per cent for school leavers from the most deprived areas – a gap of 36.2 percentage points”, and that the poverty-related attainment gap, in terms of expected levels of literacy and numeracy, is also evident at primary school level and early secondary school level”.

Childcare 

In 2014 Nicola Sturgeon pledged to double free early learning childcare places. 7 years later the pledge has not been fulfilled with only 13 per cent of target centres ready. Under the SNP less than 30 per cent of local authorities have enough childcare for parents working full-time, compared to 56 per cent in England.

New regulations introduced by the SNP are actually leading to a reduction in childcare provision. Nurseries are pulling out of council funding agreements for three and four year-olds, saying that the Scottish government’s new scheme does not cover their staffing costs and bars them from charging top-up fees to plug the gap.

Healthcare

The number of whole time equivalent GPs in Scotland dropped by 160 from 2013 to 2017. In 2018 25 per cent of GP practices had an unfilled vacancy.

GP practices have been closing completely all over Scotland because of GP shortages including in Dumfries and Galloway, Ayrshire, Edinburgh, West Lothian, 11 surgeries in Grampian, 14 in Highlands and Islands. The current vacancy level for consultants in Scottish hospitals is close to 500. Health boards spent £102 million pounds on medical agency locums in the last financial year, which would pay some 1,000 permanent staff.

The Scottish NHS missed 6 out of 8 national waiting time standards in 2018/19. The missed standards included Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service referrals seen within 18 weeks and patients starting cancer treatment within 62 days. Between 2017/18 and 2018/19 there was an increase of 2.2 per cent in people waiting for outpatient appointments and an increase of 6.1 per cent in people waiting for inpatient appointments.

In 2000 the number of medical students in Scotland who were Scottish was 63 per cent. By 2016 the number of medical students in Scotland who were Scottish had dropped to 51 per cent, because it is more lucrative for universities to take non-Scottish applicants.

Healthy Life Expectancy is declining in Scotland. (Healthy life expectancy (HLE) is an estimate of the number of years lived in ‘very good’ or ‘good’ general health, whereas life expectancy is the number of years an individual is expected to live).  A Glaswegian man now has a healthy life expectancy of just 54.6 years. There is a huge 25 year gap in healthy life expectancy at birth between the most and least deprived areas.

Healthy life expectancy in Scotland is the lowest in Europe.  National Records of Scotland 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”. By contrast, according to WHO data, the average healthy life expectancy in Europe is 68.3 years with all other European countries having higher HLE than Scotland.  At 69.1 years even Albania has considerably higher healthy life expectancy.  Scotland fully qualifies for the sad title of ‘Sick Man of Europe.’

Fewer boys eat the recommended five a day now as compared to the second year of SNP rule. The mean portions of fruit & vegetables per day eaten by boys was 2.7 in 2008; and in 2019 a lower 2.6.  Obesity has increased from 27 per cent in 2008 to 29 per cent in 2019.

Food insecurity has worsened under the SNP. In 2017, 8 per cent experienced food insecurity (defined as being worried during the past 12 months that they would run out of food due to lack of money or resources). This figure rose to 9 per cent in 2018 and has remained at the higher percentage.

Food insecurity is actually most prevalent among the younger than older age groups. 13 per cent of 16–44-year-olds experienced food poverty according to the most recent Scottish Health Survey. 8 per cent of those aged 45-66, and 2 per cent aged 65+. More tragic still, 31 per cent of single parent households report being food insecure, and 20 per cent of single adult households.

The SNP has failed to tackle the deprivation that leads to bad health outcomes. Scotland, under the SNP, has become the ‘sick man of Europe’. Mortality statistics of Glaswegians when compared to equally deprived Liverpool and Manchester, provide alarming reading. 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.

Drug deaths

The drug death total in Scotland reached a shameful 1264 deaths in 2019 – that’s an average of 24 funerals a week for families in Scotland. Our death rate from drugs is 15 times worse than Germany and 35 times worse than France. Under the SNP, Scotland is the drug death capital of Europe.

Drug deaths in Scotland are three-and-a-half times the drug deaths in the UK as a whole yet England and Wales operate under the same drug legislation as Scotland. The number of Scottish drug deaths has increased steadily since 2013. When the SNP came to power there were 352 rehab beds and 455 annual drug deaths but – after SNP funding cuts – by 2018 the rehab beds had dropped to 70 and the annual drug deaths had risen to 1187.

Homeless deaths

Scotland’s homeless death rate is currently the worst in Britain, at a rate of 52.2 per million of the population aged 15-74 compared to just 18.0 in England and 14.3 in Wales. That’s a death rate three-times higher than that in England.

This figure includes those found dead in the street and in temporary homeless accommodation, which includes homeless B&Bs and hostels. The average age at death for homeless people was 43-years-old for males and 39-years-old for females.

Covid-19: Vaccination

If the SNP had been able to implement their policy on vaccination procurement – to take part in the EU vaccination scheme – then as of the beginning of April 1.6 million fewer Scots would have been vaccinated.  While over 2.5 million Scots have been vaccinated to date, only 877,952 would have been vaccinated at the EU’s average vaccination rate. Scotland, like most EU countries, would be in the grip of a third Covid wave, and many more Scots would have died, likely around two to three thousand.

The SNP had a rocky start to the vaccination drive in Scotland, vaccinating many fewer proportionately than in the rest of the UK. Nicola Surgeon’s vaccination targets for the end of January were missed. However, assistance was provided from the British armed force and after a period the vaccination effort in Scotland caught up with the rest of the UK.

Scotland’s Economy

The Scottish economy has long been lagging behind the UK economy but now the prognosis must be considered as dire. In 2019 Scotland’s GDP was 8 per cent lower that of the UK as a whole. While GDP in the UK grew at a rate of 1.7 per cent between 2000 and 2019, in Scotland it grew at a much smaller 1.3 per cent. Employment from 2000 to 2019 grew at 0.9 per cent in the UK as a whole, but only at 0.6 per cent in Scotland.

The failure to match the UK average GDP growth really matters and has cost the Scottish people some £11bn of beneficial economic activity every year and with it £3.9bn of lost tax receipts – enough to fund a housing budget twice the current level.

Scotland has the smallest number of businesses per head of any part of the UK with the exception of northeast England” Statistical data shows that Scotland has a particularly low rate of business scale-ups and the number actually fell between 2015 and 2018. In 2018, there were 40.3 scale-ups per 100,000 people in Scotland, compared with a UK average of 51.

Innovation is key to business growth but data from the 2019 UK innovation survey showed that the proportion of Scottish businesses that were innovation-active fell between 2016 and 2018. Productivity is lower in Scotland than the UK average.

SNP economic management of the Covid pandemic has been poor. Implementing the strictest lockdown the UK while failing to distribute relief funds supplied by the UK Treasury, the effect on Scottish businesses has been dire. In December, the Scottish economy was 7.2 per cent below pre-pandemic levels, a contraction of 6.2 per cent in the UK economy.

While Britain has the longest tax code in the world the Scottish version is even more complex, with a generally higher income tax and an absurdly onerous and expensive Land and Buildings Tax both of which penalise greater productivity and dynamic mobility that drive an economy to expand and grow.

Policing

The SNP’s creation of a single state police force has failed. The elimination of regional police forces, done without consulting the police themselves, was essentially a national takeover by Strathclyde Police. A one-size-fits-all Strathclyde approach involves armed police on regular duty all over Scotland and performing 1,000s of stop and searches on children. Local accountability and local flexibility have gone, and studies reveal the merger has failed to increase crime clear-up rates.

Freedom of speech

The SNP’s hate crime legislation has trashed freedom of speech. Private speech has been criminalised in our homes.

Allegations made by individuals after an argument at a dinner party, or similar social event, can be investigated by the police. Conversations on contentious issues could be repeated innocently by children at school and lead to intervention by the police, who would have no choice but to investigate and take witness statements from others present at the time of the speech, including someone’s own children.

Over 2,000 organisations protested against the legislation, but to no avail. For example the Network of Sikh Organisations said that the new law “will make Scotland one of the most hostile places for freedom of expression in Europe”.

Local Government

The SNP has slashed local council funding with cuts to local services equating to a shocking £1,544 per household since 2014 Glasgow has suffered a real-term reduction in local authority spending of £233 per Glaswegian resident from 2014-2019, a fall of 11 per cent. Glasgow City Council has reported a funding gap of £12.2 million for next year.

Figures from the independent experts at the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) show that between 2013-14 and 2019-20, the Scottish government’s revenue budget was cut by 2 per cent by the UK Government. Over the same period, however, the SNP Government has hit councils with a staggering 7 per cent reduction in funding in real terms. That’s more than three times the fall in funding from Westminster. The SNP is grabbing funds to hoard centrally, for spending on election bribes & independence campaigning. Potholes get worse and bins are uncollected. Local councils can’t cope and are having to make widespread redundancies.

Unspent and unaccounted for funds

The SNP pursues a policy of announcing big spending projects and support schemes which often fail to materialise.  In previous years this was costly, now with the pandemic it’s deadly.

The Scottish Auditor General confirmed in February that the SNP government had received an extra £9.7 billion from the UK government to deal with COVID-19 in the 2020/21 financial year and highlighted that if you check the 170 public spending announcements related to Coronavirus, only £7 billion is accounted for. Somewhere, £2.7 billion is lying both uncommitted and unspent by the SNP.

In 2017 Nicola Sturgeon announced that the Digital Growth Fund for businesses would distribute £36 million in loans to businesses with the aim of improving digital skills but by 2021 only £6m had been spent.

The UK government gave out Bounce Back Loans to 79,000 Scottish businesses while 15,000 Scottish businesses are waiting for their initial application for support from the SNP made seven months ago to be processed.

By the end of January 2021, only $55m of the £715m Covid support funds promised by Sturgeon at the beginning of October had actually been paid out. Of the 30 business support funds announced by the SNP government in 2020, only 7 are actually in operation.

In March 2020 the UK government supplied £100 million to the SNP in order to deal with the crisis of dangerous cladding. No funds have been delivered by the SNP.

The SNP has withheld at least £14m of emergency funding from hospices, more than half the amount allocated by the UK Treasury.

Procurement

In 2015 the SNP chose the highest bidder, the shipyard Ferguson Marine, to build two ferries. Construction began before design was completed and six years later the ferries are still not complete and a £97 million contract is now expected to cost at least £230 million.

The ferries ordered were three times as large as was necessary for the routes they are meant to serve. The firm building the ferries went bust and was nationalised, with Scottish Government loans of £45m written off by the SNP. By January 2020, more than two years after both of the ferries were due to have begun service, Tim Hair, the SNP-appointed turnaround director for the yard, announced that the ferries were “significantly less than half built” and that 95 per cent of the ships’ designs had still not been agreed.

The £840 million Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, which eventually opened in 2015, was another SNP procurement disaster, with sewage leaking into operating theatres and a series of other dangerous contamination problems that caused 4 deaths.

Other procurement disasters include:

•       the infamous sick children’s hospital in Little France, Edinburgh, which was originally due to open in 2012, but is still not in operation almost a decade later.

•       Police Scotland’s new computer system which cost an additional £100 million

•       A £3 billion dualling project of the A9 from Perth to Inverness, pledged to be complete by 2025, but delayed for years

•       the Aberdeen bypass, which opened two years late at an additional cost of £64 million.

•       the SNPs flagship superfast broadband plan, two years late at least with the rollout to the Highlands five years late.

These large project failures demonstrate the SNP’s lack of interest in and aptitude for effective administration of government.

Investment in business

The SNP’s extensive track record of failure in business investment is yet further evidence of its basic administrative incompetence.

Launched by the SNP in July 2015 ‘Our Power Energy’ was pitched as a not-for-profit initiative that would cut fuel bills. Four years later the company was forced to fold – with the further loss of £12.5m Scottish government loans to the company, and 38,000 customers left in the dark.

Other investment failures include:

•       Bifab, a fabrication company that received a £37m loan from the Scottish government which is now valued at £2m.

•       Prestwick Airport, whose survival relies on SNP loans from Transport Scotland of £40m that are now worth only £7m.

•       The Scottish Stock Exchange project, which collapsed with the loss of all jobs, but not before the SNP government had awarded it a grant of £750,000.

•       The Scottish Enterprise quango which had, over a decade to 2018, given out £95 million to 698 firms which had gone on to fail.

The support for Sanjeev Gupta’s faltering empire is another good case study. The SNP government lent him £7M to buy two steel plants, which has never been repaid. Sturgeon also provided a £575m guarantee to Gupta to help him buy the Lochaber aluminium & hydro plants, in return for a promise that he would create 2,000 jobs in an alloy wheels factory. Gupta sold the hydro for profit and the promised alloy factory hasn’t been built, although he recently bought a £42m London mansion.

Gupta’s main financier has gone bust and his company may go bust too. Much financing was done on the basis of imaginary invoices. Gupta is defaulting on supplier and tax payments. Scottish taxpayers could face a bill of £600m.

Foreign Affairs

The SNP Government is operating its own costly foreign policy and establishing a proto-embassy network, to promote and operate a paradiplomacy, despite foreign affairs being outside its legal competence.

The SNP finances seven ‘Innovation and Development Hubs’ in Brussels, Berlin, Paris, Dublin, Washington DC, Beijing and London. These cost £7.6m and do not focus on trade and investment alone but also handle political, social and cultural affairs.

The SNP Government also finances a ‘Constitution, Europe & External Affairs’ department with a budget of £26.8m, despite the constitution, Europe and external affairs being reserved matters outside its competence. It also finances a £10m International Development Fund.

The SNP Government simply had to slash 16 per cent off the affordable housing spend. It cut more than £100m from the Affordable Housing Supply Programme but spent over £44m duplicating reserved foreign policy functions.

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