Orcadian Column, 15 June 2023

15 Jun 2023

The British public has always had a soft spot for soap operas, which tend to enjoy consistently high ratings. Likewise, the soap operas currently playing out at Westminster and Holyrood will have had viewers tuning in, if only in disbelief.

A quick glance at social media over the weekend provided all the evidence needed that SNP and Tory politicians had lost the plot; each gleefully denouncing the implosion of the other party while stubbornly refusing to notice the bin fire raging within their own ranks.

Boris Johnson’s self-destruction over recent days has had all the graceless narcissism we’ve come to expect from the former Prime Minister. His decision to resign to avoid facing the music for lying to parliament over lockdown parties in Downing Street during Covid was wholly in character. So too, his attempt to blame everyone else for bringing him down when, in truth, as always, he remains the sole author of his own political demise.

Even as he departs, however, Boris Johnson seems intent on causing maximum damage to his beleaguered party and successor, Rishi Sunak who has been drawn into an unedifying exchange of name-calling over the former’s resignation ‘honours’ list. If nothing else, recent events have made the most compelling case possible for reform of this arcane and much-abused mechanism for rewarding political allies, donors and the undeserving.

Meanwhile, no sooner had Scotland’s First Minister, Humza Yousaf descended from the high moral ground where he piously denounced the soap opera at Westminster than news broke of Nicola Sturgeon’s arrest by police investigating the financial scandal engulfing the SNP. Karma comes at you quick, these days.

While the former First Minister was released without charge and protests her innocence, this has not stopped SNP MSPs and MPs calling for her to resign from the party or have the whip removed by Mr Yousaf. As they point out, this is the course of action Ms Sturgeon herself demanded of others who found themselves in difficulties in order to ‘protect the party’.

The spectacle of Tory and SNP politicians tearing into each other is yet another sign that both parties and governments have run out of steam, ideas and the discipline to govern. Most UK Tory MPs have already concluded they cannot win the next election. With the SNP, the problem is that many believe they cannot lose. Both illustrate why change is so desperately needed.

Moreover, the divisive approach to politics is reflected in the dysfunctional relationship between Scotland’s two governments. Who is more to blame is now irrelevant as both the Tories and SNP clearly see political advantage in stoking division and appealing to different strands of nationalism rather than focusing their efforts on tackling the profound economic, environmental and social challenges we face.

And this has consequences, exemplified by the deposit return shambles. Such schemes have been introduced successfully in countries around the world and enjoyed strong cross-party support in this country for years. While consistency across the UK would certainly help producers, retailers and consumers, the SNP decided they wished to go further and faster. Although not an unreasonable position, it did add extra complexity and cost.

So it is that Green Minister, Lorna Slater has spent over two years failing to convince Scottish businesses that she is able to address their concerns over DRS, or even that she is listening. After three separate delays to the start date, a request was finally made to the UK government to grant an ‘exemption’ for the scheme under the Internal Market Act. This was approved but only subject to the removal of glass from the scheme.

At a stroke, both parties had the constitutional spat that has become their ‘happy place’. But governing effectively demands seriousness, a willingness to compromise and a trust that is only possible if ministers avoid constantly and publicly attacking those with whom they are negotiating. Such features have been wholly absent for some time now.

As well as being hugely popular, soap operas are also renowned for lasting forever. There are exceptions. Let’s hope, for the sake of Scotland and the UK, that we’ve reached a Crossroads and can soon tell the SNP and Tories to Take the High Road.