Jim O’Neill returns from Oz to find the same faces overseeing the same failures in Scottish public services, and thinks New Zealand may have a better example to offer us than a cribbed passage in the Growth Commission report.


As I return from the madhouse that is Australian politics, with the Commonwealth run by the Liberal/National Coalition (think Tory/extreme Tory), a shocking story from a friend reminded me of the dreadful state of our government.

The friend, who has a disabled daughter, called for an emergency ambulance with her daughter in severe pain. After some delay she was told “We can’t find an ambulance available, you’d better bring her to hospital yourselves”. As it turned out the parents’ concern was well justified, although thankfully her daughter has now recovered.

What state is our National Health Service in that an emergency ambulance cannot be found for a child in severe pain? But this is the kind of day-to-day problem we find in our NHS run by Shona Robison and the SNP government.

Periodically the fundamental problems are highlighted in Parliament, such as the Tayside crisis, the fraudulent reporting in the Lothians, or the endemic overspends by almost every other health board, but it is the so-called small issues, like that experienced by my friend, that make up people’s everyday experience. None of this is the fault of the caring staff employed, but when we have the largest consultant vacancies in history, a massive gap in our nursing staff, and General Practice in disarray, surely it is time to make changes at the top.

But Nicola has not reshuffled her cabinet in two years.

This has left John Swinney in change of education, a service in which he has almost Panglossian belief, none of which is based on verifiable fact. The last teachers’ national strike was when I was in charge of one of the unions in the mid-eighties. I know how difficult it is to convince teachers to withdraw their labour. But the recent EIS conference committed to strike action if improvements are not made soon, while Swinney sits in his ivory tower, hands over his ears, singing la-la-la-la-la.

We also have a Transport Bill brought forward by the ever accident-prone Humza Yousaf. At a time when even the Tory government in England has accepted the breakdown of the franchise model, Yousaf has refused to accept the case for any change in Scotland. This at a time when Abellio’s parent company, Netherlands Rail, have been fined by the Dutch Government for their overseas losses. And this Bill argues for “partnerships” between the private sector and local authorities rather than allowing local authority owned transport systems, as successfully shown by Lothian Buses. Having rejected the People’s Rail proposals, he is giving short shrift to the People’s Bus proposals too.

Yet Nicola seems to see no need to change any of these serial failures. Is that because this would expose her own culpability in managing Scotland to the benefit of her party, not the benefit of its people. And all of this capped by a farcical staged walkout by their Westminster troops, giving up four PMQ opportunities to challenge the Prime Minister on her own failings. How is that representing their constituents?

Meanwhile, another story shows the continuing incompetence of the DWP in running the state benefit system. A friend (yes I do have more than one) tells me of a recent experience. He is also disabled and has to lodge his current bank statement to ensure the continuance of one of his benefits. He did so, as requested, but received a letter the day before his benefit was due telling him that since he had not lodged his statement, his benefit would be cancelled next day. He phoned the DWP, but had difficulty in getting through since the number had changed, without being changed on the letter.

When he finally got through, the officer confirmed that they had received his statement but that it had not been recorded since the staff were so overwhelmed that they often did not check the record. The position was resolved but only after much concern and upset to my friend. This was compounded when he asked why the new phone number was not on the letter. He was told that the Department did not have enough money left to change the paperwork, and they were now waiting for the delivery of new paperwork. You couldn’t make it up.

This at the same time when Theresa May is coming up with Brext plans that she knows will not be accepted, Boris Johnston calling the negotiation a shambles in public and scenes of the Chief Whip scuttling about the benches of the Commons trying to get a deal that will stave off the most recent crisis – a deal that had unravelled within 24 hours. I cannot remember, in 40+ years of political and trade union campaigning, a time when the governments of Scotland and the UK have been more in chaos.

So, to steal a phrase from Lenin – What Is To Be Done?

At FMQs, Partick Harvie, an SNP lapdog, was criticising the so-called Growth Commission report as being heavily based on the policies of the now-discredited New Zealand National Party government. He praised at length the change in atmosphere created by the new NZ Government. Breaking news for Mr Harvie – that new Kiwi government is led by New Zealand Labor. So a step for a hint, Patrick, as we say in Ayrshire. Maybe, just maybe, that is the way forward for Scotland.