Opposition means critique
Jim O’Neill says we must continue to hold the Scottish Government to account, and highlights serious failings in education and transport which suggest the SNP is barely governing at all.
One word on Chilcot (well, a few). There are many more qualified commentators who have filled many column inches on Chilcot. My only comment is that it was one of the proudest moments of my political life that I went to Scottish Party Conference on behalf of my constituency to oppose war in Iraq. Despite being abused and spat upon by protesters who did not know how to make friends and influence people, we forced the Scottish Executive to put a debate on the agenda by continually referring back the agenda. A victory, even if in a losing cause.
But to business. Some of my critics on Labour Hame have accused me of continually attacking the Scottish Government while ignoring their successes. I suspect that these people don’t understand the concept of opposition. Opposition means attempting a forensic critique of the government’s actions and bringing these to the attention of the public. It is not my job to praise them. God knows, there are enough out there who do that. So let’s carry on.
In the last week we have seen a worrying report by Audit Scotland which showed that it is more difficult for young Scots to get to university in Scotland. This is after a series of promises by successive education ministers which, among other things, first set up an access fund for poorer Scots and then shut it down. A betrayal of the old Scots tradition of the lad o’ pairts. It is also following massive cuts in Further Education which have seen hundreds of thousands of access places disappear, especially in areas which would have enhanced our economy by developing skills needed by any growing economy.
It looks like we are seeing the dumbing-down of Scotland, either by deliberate or incompetent policy-making by the Scottish Government. Add to this the problems in secondary education and teacher recruitment highlighted last week, and we are seeing a management of education in our country which is destroying the futures of a generation.
Let’s turn to another area – railways. There are reports of substantial time and cost overruns in the Edinburgh – Glasgow electrification project, the Highland mainline and the Aberdeen – Inverness route. And what was the response? An investigation into the governance by Transport Scotland. Can anyone tell me how many such investigations have now taken under this Government? Surely by now they can get it right? This goes back at least as far as the fiasco over Edinburgh’s trams, when Transport Scotland called in the project and proceeded to screw it up further. It took the election of a Labour and Co-operative administration in Edinburgh City Chambers to sort it out. Mind you, I don’t think I would want to cross Cllr Lesley Hinds!
And at the same time we are faced with a dispute between the RMT and Scotrail, the company handed by the Scottish Government to Dutch state rail provider, Abellio. That despite the many calls for a people’s rail project in Scotland which finally scuppered the Scottish Government’s pretences to be pro-co-operative. This dispute has the potential to cause serious disruption to the Troon Open, which should be one of our showcase events, and which could damage Ayrshire’s economy.
In past days, the relevant minister would have had both sides in and banged heads together, but this laissez-faire government is continuing its hands-off policy. What exactly does the transport minister do all day? No control over major transport infrastructure projects and no involvement in a major transport dispute.
So, I will continue to identify the failings of the Scottish Government and I will continue to draw the public’s attention to them. It seems the right thing to do!