|"I heard a rumour..."|
The three big policies that remain unfulfilled from 2007’s manifesto are the Independence referendum, the replacement of the Council Tax and the cut in class size for Primary 3 and under pupils. These fell by the wayside for different reasons. The Independence referendum fell victim to the bayne of the SNP government’s life this parliament – parliamentary arithmetic. With a rainbow unionist coalition against any referendum proposals, Alex Salmond decided against bringing it to the floor of parliament. This blog has argued that it may have been in the SNP’s electoralinterests to bring this piece of legislation to parliament to see it voted down. The time this was scheduled to appear coincided with the SNP suffering from their equivalent of mid–term blues and the announcement of two unpopular decisions that have shaped the second half of the Salmond premiership.
Local Income Tax fell by the wayside when the SNP could not agree with the Lib Dems, the Greens and Margo MacDonald on proposals, while being up against their foes this parliament – adverse parliamentary arithmetic. While the Council Tax freeze is a popular policy – so popular Ian Gray has half stolen this policy – literally. The abolition of such an unfair tax system should have been much more of a priority, with compromises made with the other pro-LIT party. The passing of this opportunity seems to have given Council tax a stay of execution as no party is proposing its abolition for this election. The cut in class sizes for pre-Primary 3 pupils has fallen by the wayside for a number of reasons. The fact that councils are hamstrung with outstanding PFI re-payments is a factor, while the recession has been another.
So what have the SNP government done. Well they stopped the mooted programme of Hospital closures and went on to abolish prescription charges, the latter much to the chagrin of the Tax-dodgers Alliance. There has been that Council Tax freeze and also Tuition Fees were abolished for Scottish Students studying at Scottish universities, the latter much to the chagrin of university chancellors who refuse to look at their own £200,000 wages. They have invested in re-newable energy and snubbed attempts to build nuclear power stations in Scotland, much to the chagrin of the pro nuclear lobby and their friends in New Labour. Even with that list of achievements, there has been a sense that minority government has been a steady hand on the tiller.
The SNP government will be defined though by two events. There has been a lot said about the release of Ali Basset Al Megrahi, including some lies by certain Tory cabinet ministers. The fact remains that he remains the only person convicted of the bombing of Pan-Am flight 103, which might not have been the case had his appeal proceeded. The other event, which Iain Gray tried to highlight before he was “ambushed”, was the axing of the proposed Glasgow Airport Rail Link that the media, prompted by Labour, seem to think would have been a popular service vital to the Scottish economy, as opposed to a vanity project for Glasgow. However it was the SNP’s failing media management skills here that have let Labour away with this untruth. Certainly this project is not so popular here in Paisley, where the link was due to be built (wow, adding the link, Stephen Purcell, whatever happened to him?).
They could have done better. They could have been blown off course. They could have been engulfed by controversy – over Trumptown and Snowgate. They could have been engulfed in scandal – their lack of action over Transport Scotland’s controversial decision to renew First Group's Scotrail franchise. At the end of this parliament they were still in government. As I said earlier, the SNP were an unspectacular, but steady, hand on the tiller. More tellingly they have provided an alternative to perpetual New Labour rule.