AS I SEE IT: TERRY MURDEN says that economic concerns are trying to be heard amid the noise around independence and Alex Salmond
Decisions on easing the coronavirus restrictions are made purely on medical evidence, the First Minister insists on reminding us. How convenient, then, that the country will return to something more closely resembling normality in the next few weeks when progress on the vaccine “should give us confidence to ease restrictions much more significantly from 26 April”, she told parliament. That’s just 10 days before the Scottish elections on 6 May. Of course, there is no evidence at all that political expediency has played a part in deciding when we can all visit the garden centre, enjoy a pint in the spring sunshine and get a new hair-do. Creating an election feelgood factor? Nah… it’s all timed on science.
Some will say the reopening of the economy more or less mirrors the schedule laid down by the Tories in England, though that may prove to be another welcome coincidence for the SNP. There was a time when elections were decided on economic performance. Not this one. The easing of Covid restrictions will allow Ms Sturgeon’s supporters to thank her for all she has done, and to party like its Hogmanay 2019 when we all, in our ignorance, wished each other a happy 2020., More than that, it will provide the extra push towards the ultimate and only goal that really matters.
The SNP argues that it needs a majority on 6 May in order to legitimately call a second independence referendum. In truth, the poll that day will do the same job. It will be a referendum on Scotland’s future.
The campaign proper will kick off shortly with Labour beating its chest about workers’ rights, the LibDems claiming local successes in fixing cracks in the pavements and the Greens saving the planet. The Tories hope they still have the key to derailing the independence bandwagon by exposing wrongdoing at the heart of the Holyrood government. They will be encouraged by recent polling showing a weakening of support for separation, and new allegations revealed by Tory MP David Davis in the Commons, of a “concerted effort” by senior members of the SNP to encourage complaints against Alex Salmond.
Meanwhile, the issues that impact the electorate day-to-day are trying to be heard and there has been some notable stepping up on the economic front. In the circumstances of a health pandemic the government can be excused the slump in output and even job losses, but it’s shambolic handling of the BiFab contract and the latest questions over the terms of its loans to Liberty Steel raises questions about its competence which it will be desperate to correct.
In the past week alone there has been a notable surge in statements on grants awarded for hydrogen and satellite hubs to government plans for green bonds. Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop’s latest announcement, a £270m contract for North Star Renewables in Aberdeen for the Dogger Bank wind farm, was laced with veiled references to supporting the green supply chain. It reads like an admission that the government got it wrong on BiFab.
Maybe, just maybe, the SNP government does care about the economy after all.