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Mandy Rhodes: Locals vote on local issues but national disquiet encroaches on council elections

Mandy Rhodes
Mandy Rhodes

It’s almost 25 years to the day since Tony Blair’s New Labour won the 1997 General Election by an absolute landslide, locking the Tories out of government for the next 13 years and encouraging an optimism that politics could be done differently.

The Blairites’ anthem promised things could only get better and, for Scotland, that meant devolution and the pledge to find Scottish solutions for Scottish problems.

A quarter of a century on and without rehearsing all of the dismal arguments about why Labour’s political hegemony of Scotland was supplanted by the SNP, suffice to say that entitlement was a factor.

And here we are, on the eve of yet another election, this time for local government, which will be fought, not on the politics of the potholes that need fixing, or the poor state of education in our classrooms, or whether our bins get emptied often enough, or that housing is fit for humans to live in, but on the constitution.

Yet with their record for running the country looking decidedly ropey, the SNP is predicted to win with a rallying call of “send Boris Johnson a message”. And on that basis, it is the SNP that has indeed fulfilled its own promise of doing a different kind of politics, but perhaps not in the way that most of us hoped.

Local issues? Cost of living, independence and Partygate dominate debate in suburban ward ahead of elections

It feels surreal to be involved in politics right now. Elections fought on one thing are won on another and, meanwhile, the governance of our country at all levels appears so flawed.

In Westminster we have a government led by a prime minister who has just been found guilty of breaking his own laws. We have a House of Commons where one in 10 – yes, one in 10 – of our MPs are apparently under investigation for sexual harassment or bullying. And in the so-called Mother of all Parliaments, where misogyny is ironically rife, we unbelievably have a Tory MP accused of watching porn on his phone during a debate.

In Scotland, we have an SNP administration that has been in power for over 15 year and acts as if scrutiny, transparency and accountability are for other, lesser governments.

The failings of this government are stacking up. A ferries scandal that has so far cost the taxpayer £250 million and delivered no ferries remains shrouded in secrecy, gagging orders, and calls for police involvement with the first minister taking general responsibility for everything and specific responsibility for nothing at all. Where in education, standards have slipped so badly that we are no longer regarded as a global centre of excellence. In health, where inquiries into the deaths of children in hospital must be forced through by grieving parents. In justice, where our courts remain log jammed and conviction rates for men’s crimes against women remain appallingly low.

Where, across Scotland, the statistics relating to poverty, attainment, drug deaths, care experience, and even life expectancy, run contrary to the pledge from ministers that Scotland is the best country for a child to grow up. Where even running a national census runs wildly late and over-budget. And where default secrecy, obfuscation, and silence, bolster the notion this is a government working for itself and not the people.

Of course, dispiritingly, none of this is likely to figure as Scots go to the polls next week but, after 15 years in government, having already lost one referendum, with another nowhere in sight, the question of who or what the SNP is for, is real.

While it may seem like there is little that can sweep the party of independence off its pedestal, as Tony Blair discovered, tides can turn and fast.