It’s been apparent for some time now that the Scotland has developed electoral habits unusually amenable to the SNP. Though their success is a relatively recent development, it has roots reaching back decades. Throughout the 1980s the increasingly anaemic Scottish Conservatives tried to have their cake and eat it by posturing against central reforms they deemed unpopular to protect their votes, while being attached to the party making said reforms. For reasons that should have been obvious, this posturing strengthened Scottish Labour, which steadily gained power posing as a champion of Scotland against Westminster. Built on shaky foundations and shaky rhetoric that grew increasingly evident when Labour reigned in Westminster, Labour reaped the rewards of their labour when the SNP overtook them in the Scottish Parliament in 2007, marking the beginning of our present era of SNP ascendancy.
This ascendancy is linked to the narrative that the Conservatives have a unique animus towards Scotland, later that the rest of Westminster shares this animus, and that Scottish leftism represents a better way. Said narrative is a lie and has been from its inception. During the Thatcher premiership, coal and heavy industries declined in Scotland, but newer industries like electronics, chemicals and engineering, now among the top 5 Scottish exports, thrived. Moreover the ONS shows that key indicators of economic health, such as inward investment, self-employment and productivity spiked upwards, and over the decade Scottish living standards improved by 30%, outstripping much of England.
More than that Scotland’s economy thrived: Scots were disproportionately beneficiaries of Thatcherite Right to Buy and rents-to-mortgages schemes, with homeownership rising from around 30% to over 50% in the Thatcher era (as shown in the graphic below), and continuing to more than double by the early 2000s, giving hundreds of thousands more the security and dignity of a home of their own. To put it another way, Scotland was among the greatest beneficiaries of the Thatcher era.
Even the act most commonly touted as evidence of a disdain for Scotland, the early roll-out of the Community Charge, was nothing of the sort. It was, like the roll-out of Universal credit to local authorities on a rolling basis rather than all at once, an example of the responsible habit of testing how policies work before rolling them out nationally. While the roll-out Community Charge was poorly explained, poorly implemented and poorly executed, policy-makers believed it would improve local governance by making residents more directly responsible for its funding. This is to say, it was intended as a positive step, with its execution representing no special animus towards Scotland, despite the disingenuousness of some Scottish Nationalists.
Today matters are much the same. In those areas that the national government affects most, Scotland has been performing well, with stunning rises in inward investment, record levels of employment reported, and the ONS showing pensioner poverty lower and household wealth higher than ever in Scotland. This, plus the fact that the state spends £120 on a Scot for every £100 it spends on an Englishman, is not what any balanced person would consider symptoms of a Westminster vendetta with Scotland. The claims that the Tories have it in for Scotland, then, are fatuous at best.
The other half of the Scottish myth is, if anything, more glaringly untrue. Almost every policy area devolved to Scotland has been mismanaged, sometimes disastrously. The rushed absorption of all police authorities into a central body resulted in innumerable mistakes being made and calls going unanswered. With the worst of it over poor priorities which have seen the number of police on the streets halved since 2011, and incompetence has given the Scottish Police Force a potentially ruinous £21 million black hole in funding. In infrastructure short-sighted populism saw the toll on the Forth Road Bridge, a vital artery for many Edinburgh commuters, removed, leaving the bridge without funding for regular repairs, which surely enough lead to said bridge being forced to close for emergency repairs, causing chaos for commuters. Most obviously given the misbegotten pride the SNP takes in it, however, is Scottish education.
Schools in Scotland are providing sub-par education, painfully evident in results from Scottish Highers, the equivalent of A-levels. While 52% of English pupils get 2 A-levels, only 37% of Scottish pupils attain three Highers, the approximate equivalent. The poor are especially underserved, with barely 6.7% attaining the average grades required to get into University. This is one of the factors underlying the substantially lower numbers of poor students attending University in Scotland relative to England. Another is the relentless cutting of the bursaries on which poor students live to help Holyrood afford the SNP’s shibboleth of zero tuition fees, in practice a colossal hand-out to middle-class and rich Scots. Even then Scottish Universities are only solvent because of tuition fees from the rest of the UK and international students, which constitute nearly half of its funding.
None of this is to mention the Orwellian lunacy of the Named Person policy, recently struck down by the courts on the blazingly obvious count that it violated basic human rights. Despite all this, the SNP remains suzerain, because too many Scots accept the Scottish myth of evil Westminster without even looking at what actually happens in Holyrood, all the abuse dealt to them by the latter blamed on the former. If Scotland is ever to reach its potential, or at least to reach beyond the dead weight of the SNP, its people must take a second look at their popular assumptions, see the myth for what it is, and rise above it. Until that happens Scots will continue to vote for the SNP and, in effect, against themselves.