Lacklustre Opposition

Lacklustre Opposition

With the latest complaint relating to the SNP Government in office being the sixth made, and the sixth on which the SNP Government have been cleared of any wrongdoing, questions again must be asked of Scotland’s opposition parties, and what exactly it is they are doing to carve a role for themselves in the Holyrood forum.

For the best to be brought out of the Yes campaign, we must see a parliamentary opposition which are credible in the public eye.  It is true that the Labour administration up to 2007 had quite simply run out of steam, and the SNP Government came as a refreshing new start.  But it is also becoming increasingly evident that the opposition parties who sit in the Holyrood Chamber do not have the requisite skills to bring the independence debate to life in a parliamentary setting in the run up to autumn 2014.

If people are to be convinced of the merits of an independent Scotland, the Scottish Parliament must be seen as a realistic forum for governing an independent country in the aftermath.

The SNP leadership will be keenly aware of this, and the need for this to change.  Of course, it comes as a poisoned chalice.  Should the parliamentary opposition find the skills to ‘up their game,’ then more scrutiny is piled onto the SNP.  It also has the potential to make the SNP an even stronger force, however.  With an opposition able to realise its political purpose, the public will take the Scottish Parliament itself more seriously, and politicians on all sides who lack conviction, or are incapable, will fall by the wayside.

This is a necessity.  Alex Salmond and the SNP Government have proven themselves to be light-years ahead of the opposition in Scotland, reinforced again last week.  The SNP previously delivered not only a minority administration which had the political skills and negotiating prowess to deliver on electoral promises, but it also in the 2011 election became an unprecedented majority government.

Whilst week-in, week-out, the SNP’s feet need barely touch ground in Holyrood, and the more often ill-informed political gestures by the other parties are dismissed as baseless, then it follows that the public will not see in Holyrood a serious forum of cross-party lawmakers negotiating and scrutinising what is best for their country.

They see one party delivering on its electoral promises in a straightforward fashion, and a collection of opposition members on the sidelines unable to articulate what it is they stand for, or how that contrasts with the party of government.

Despite Holyrood’s failings, however, the prospect of handing the levers of power back to Westminster is the stuff of fantasy.

They continue to play the role we have come to expect over many years.  Scottish Secretary Michael Moore’s assertion that UK officials would not, as part a series of publications by HMG prior to the independence referendum, include amongst these any facts or figures on the potential impact or distribution of resources between the UK nations following a Yes vote, suggests they are concerned this may play out favourably for the pro-independence camp.

Being the politically expedient creatures they are, if work by officials demonstrated that an independent Scotland would go bust then I am certain this is something they would want broadcast at every opportunity, and to as many people as possible.

On the other hand, if these papers demonstrated Scotland would at worst break-even or potentially be in a better financial position outwith the current confines of the UK governing set-up, then it would make sense for them to stick to their current line.  Mr Moore’s stance suggests the latter is the case.

Scotland’s voters have become accustomed to being given half-truths, and been the victim of paperwork cover-ups, for many years by Westminster.  The suggestion that there will be a lack of transparency when they are the very government whose Chancellor sits with the UK’s budget books each year, and therefore must have some idea what the statistics are post-independence, or at least be able to divide the current figures up in order to reflect this, is not unexpected.

It is imperative if we are to have an open referendum campaign that Westminster change their tune, however.  I do not think supporters of an independent Scotland believe that increased transparency would be detrimental to the case for a Yes vote.

The evolution of the Scottish Parliament has taught us all that more accountability in politics goes down well, and has the potential to increase public confidence in the political system.  We now live in an age when openness, particularly online, is unavoidable for everyone.  Governments, businesses and organisations succeed best when they embrace the 21st century and its demand for an instantly responsive working and social environment.  The operation of politics behind oak-panelled doors belongs now to a different age.

What will separate those able to communicate their message in the future will be their ability to adapt to technological changes, and whether they can at least portray a sense of honesty in their public position.  The last time politics convulsed in such a fashion, changing permanently how political messages are conveyed, was in the 1960s.  JFK’s ‘Camelot’ era heralded a new breed of politician existent in a rapidly expanding televised age.  Change has again come from the US, demonstrated by Barack Obama’s mobilisation of an online army to get his key electorate out to win it for the Democrats in 2012.

The Scottish independence referendum will be a focal point of great interest and consequence for people in Scotland, Europe and internationally.  In this era of online transparency, the arguments for and against will instantly be torn to shreds, or heralded, by anyone with access to a computer or phone.  It is in both sides interests for their arguments to be the clearer and more understandable.

No voter likes to be treated with contempt.  How many times have you heard grumbling about the Edinburgh tram project or the cost of the Scottish Parliament building?  Scots do not forget and they will not permit a Yes or No campaign to make a fool of them in front of the world’s media, by coming out with laughable arguments for their case.  That would be endgame for either side.

The Yes campaign has already demonstrated via a heavy online presence that a vision for Scotland’s future is in voters own hands; giving them a shopping list for the future, in effect.

It would be tragedy if a vacuum in Holyrood, which should be inhabited by an opposition party in some form or other, and a disinclination by HMG to release post-independence projections, harmed public confidence during a campaign which on both sides should be a straightforward demonstration of the pros and cons for their respective side of the debate.

American journalist Martha Gellhorn once said that “all politicians are bores and liars and fakes.”  If Scotland’s politicians want to avoid being tarred with this brush, then it is time for all those vocal in the constitutional debate to open up, explain the factual basis of their position, and trust in voters to make their own mind up as to the future of their country.