The second in this series of guest posts from women musing about what they want from politicians and this election is from Shelagh McKinlay. And it’s a stoater.
After several lifetimes in media relations and public administration, including ten years as a parliamentary clerk, Shelagh is now a freelance writer. She has her own, wonderful blog, The Absurdist and tweets as @Shequeen.
What do I want from Scottish politicians and political parties this election?
Well, humility is high on my list. Stop sniggering at the back! This is not a joke. Of course politicians need self-confidence and self belief; what they don’t need is overweening ego. They need to listen; they need to be willing to accept when they have got it wrong, to recognise when a consensual solution is the right one. They need to really believe that they are there to serve.
Being a parliamentarian is about being more than a politician. Parliamentarians are there to serve not just the interests of their party, but the interests of their constituents and the country as a whole. Nowadays when the phrase “for the good of the country” is uttered by a politician it is interpreted as, at best, a platitude, at worst, cynical justification for actions with no popular support.
I refuse to accept that an emphasis on principled politics is naïve or pointless. Firstly, because I have met many politicians who really did enter politics for the right reasons and who continue to be motivated by a desire to make things better. Secondly, because allowing cynicism to take hold is simply throwing in the towel. Selflessness; Integrity; Objectivity; Accountability; Openness; Honesty; Leadership. The seven principles of public life as initially set out by the Nolan Committee in the mid 90’s are arguably, post the expenses scandal, more relevant than ever.
But enough of the high-minded stuff. What else am I looking for in those seeking my vote come May? Competence for starters. I am not being facetious. Contrary to popular opinion running the country is no easy task. The issues are complex, the work schedule punishing. It’s all very well having a big vision, but it doesn’t count for much if you can’t manage and motivate the machinery of Government to make it happen.
In any event, big vision might be a luxury that none of the parties can afford given the tightening noose of public sector spending set by Westminster. While Scottish parties may be keen to emphasise that they should be judged on their record in Scotland, we really cannot ignore this particular elephant in the room, particularly since it has gone round turning off the lights and unplugged the telly.
On that note, I may be in a minority of one here, but I’m afraid that the policy of freezing council tax, now the official stance for Labour, the Tories and the SNP (who still have a long-term goal to introduce a local income tax) leaves me pretty cold.
Isn’t it rather perverse to limit an accepted traditional source of revenue at a time when services are being hit? The freeze is being sold as a boost to hard pressed families. But how much of a boost is it if you are a carer who loses essential services? Or a temporary worker within the public sector whose contract is terminated? Or a voluntary service whose funding is not renewed? An inflation level increase to an annual council tax Bill of around £2,000, almost the top of the scale in Edinburgh, would mean an additional £100 a year. The truth is there are many who can afford to pay such an increase. In fact, the council tax freeze benefits the better off the most, since they avoid paying the biggest increase.
I have a suspicion of this “loss-leader” politics. Like supermarket two-for-one bargains, we pay the price in other ways. It also makes it more difficult to have an honest debate about the tax system and the fact that, ultimately, you get what you pay for.
I know this all sounds a bit beer and skittles. I’m not advocating old school tax and spend. I am suggesting that discussion around the council tax freeze has not been fully honest about the downsides. Neither has its benefits been explained in policy terms beyond general blandishments that the money saved can be used to boost the economy folks! Where is the analysis? What is the impact on the economy and how does that compare to the economic effect of raising, and spending the equivalent amount through tax?
Which brings me to my last general point. I would like to see policies and politics that are truly evidence based. I would like to see less legislating for the sake of it. I’d rather not see lots more tinkering with structures, and more emphasis on outcomes. In the NHS for example, there is already a wealth of evidence about what works and what doesn’t. I’d like to see Government concentrate on improving practice, in business and clinical terms.
What else would I like to see? I’d like to see a system that gives carers better support and respite. I’d like better co-operation between the NHS and social work. I’d like to see a public transport system that meets the needs of rural communities and makes it easier to travel across cities. I’d like to see a network of safe cycle routes to school. I’d like to see the welcome emphasis on inclusion in schools backed by the resources to make it work. I’d like to see a minimum pricing policy for alcohol. I’d like to see a strategy which recognises the links between childhood obesity, the distances travelled to school, access to green spaces, and out of hours child-care. I’d like to see planning regulations that emphasise the quality of the built environment. I’d like to see recognition of the importance of the arts in our society, in terms of both access and excellence. I’d like to see red tape for small business streamlined, with regulation focused on protecting really important employee rights. I’d like to see a party political selection system which encourages a wider range of individuals to stand.
I know that’s a tall order and so to those standing on May 5, I wish you well.
Oh, and finally, one or two lookers wouldn’t go amiss.