Scottish Voters Notice SNP Has Neglected Education, Health Care

In their quest for independence, Scotland’s nationalists have shied away from reforms in education and health care.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of Scotland unveils a new education policy, January 6, 2016
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of Scotland unveils a new education policy, January 6, 2016 (Scottish Government)

Chris Deerin reports for the New Statesman that Scottish voters are starting to notice the ruling National Party (SNP) has neglected good governance in favor of the independence cause:

Its raison d’etre is independence; everything else — literally everything else — is just another brick to build the path. And so education reform cannot be either radical or unpopular, even if it needs to be so to work, because the SNP cannot afford to alienate teachers or the teaching unions or parents. Bricks, you see. Same with the NHS and doctors and health unions and patients. All the separatists have done — all they could have done, given their nature — is deploy the rhetoric of the radical while in reality body-swerving hard choices and conflict at any cost. And where they have found themselves taking flak, they’ve pointed south to Westminster: “it’s no’ our fault, it’s theirs”.

I’ve been surprised in the past when Scottish voters were willing to overlook the SNP’s failures in education and health care, so I can only welcome this development. It isn’t healthy for one issue — independence — to trump all else and the SNP really has dropped the ball in crucial areas.

Tuition fees

Since the party came to power in 2007, spending on schools has fallen. So have literacy and numeracy rates.

Even though Scotland still has free higher education — unlike other parts of the United Kingdom, where students now pay up to £9,000 in tuition fees per year — university attendance has barely increased among low-income Scots.

Deerin argues that the SNP’s “ideological obsession” with free university education is increasingly seen as “a sop to the better-off”.

In England, meanwhile, the fee-charging regime has seen the number of students coming from poorer families climb.

Waiting times

Health statistics tell an even worse story.

Waiting times have gone up. Those waiting twelve weeks or more to see a doctor in Scotland’s devolved National Health Service has more than doubled under SNP rule.

Unlike the Conservatives in England, the SNP has refused to introduce more choice and competition into the government-run health care system. The result has been a predictable decline in quality.