At last, we get some common sense, vision and straight talking in this election campaign but alas, none of it is coming from the yins standing for election.
Ah, COSLA if only you were a political party with PatWatters4FM…
Positively Local, COSLA’s manifesto for public sector reform, comes complete with a route map to reform that the burd has cut out and put up on her wall. I don’t agree with every proposal and contention in the manifesto – au naturelement – but by and large, this is the most sensible document to have been produced in this election. And just to emphasise the message, gun slinger Watters came out with both pistols blazing this week, accusing the parties of feeding the electorate a political junk food diet, offering options that are “short term, unsatisfying and leave a bad taste”. Not just the best manifesto, but the best soundbite so far too.
The parties are in a bidding war for votes, scattering big numbers around like confetti, and it is a game that BBC Scotland has taken up with gusto. Plonk 25 random manifesto commitments before the electorate and ask which are the priority. Come on down, folks, the input is right…
Thus, top of the poll, came Labour’s pledge to cut the time someone waits to see a specialist about suspected cancer from four weeks to two. Okay, so it happens. Then what? You wait months for treatment only to find it isn’t the best treatment available because all the money has been spent at the initial stage. And what about preventing people from getting cancer in the first place? Who cares? The state can fix it for you.
Next up, the SNP’s and the Conservatives’ pledge to keep more police on the streets. What, even if it makes not a jot of difference to crime rates and does absolutely nothing to address the causes of crime? No takers, then, for Superintendent John Carnochan’s contention (Violence Reduction Unit Scotland) that if we want to prevent crime and address its root causes in our communities, we should be investing in 1000 health visitors instead of 1000 police officers – that Tory pledge languishes way down the list of voter must-haves.
“The real question is what difference extra police or teachers or doctors make in terms of individuals’ lives. We should be less focused on how quickly an ill person sees a consultant than on why so many people are becoming ill in the first place; less interested in the number of police constables we have than in the type of policing they have to do.” Oh, COSLA how many ways do I love thee?
And then we get a series of want more, pay less proposals – everything free at the point of need, or rather want. Dear god, what planet are we all living on? If we refuse to create a sustainable local tax base, if we keep the rotten system we have but even then, take significant parts of the population out of contributing to it, how on earth do people think we are going to pay for more apprenticeships, free higher education, prescriptions and bus passes?
Despite what the politicians are suggesting at this election, there ain’t no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The Scottish budget has taken only its first cut – the next two are much more severe, with rock bottom being hit only by 2014. The bottom line is that we can no longer afford to do what we have always done and no political party has been prepared to stand up and say this at any point in the campaign. Shame on them all.
Our political masters will point to BBC Scotland’s poll and say, see our strategy is right, we are giving the masses what they want. And where they lead, we follow. Which is enough to make the burd weep.
COSLA is absolutely right: “only an outcomes focused approach to reform will improve public service delivery in Scotland”. But because politicians refuse to articulate what this actually means, because parties cannot be bovvered to do the hard work of leading this debate, of working out how to educate the public in ways they would understand, they have resorted to type. It’s all about the inputs, big, shiny incomprehensible numbers that make people’s eyes glaze over but instinctively, they want.
So, the parties continue to promise jam today and tomorrow, to be paid for by a little bit of fiddling round the fringes of public sector reform, while extracting yet more mysterious efficiencies from the existing system. It is a mendacious approach that simply will not work. As COSLA points out: “Public sector reform needs to be about whole systems; about funding arrangements and income; about governance, duties and powers; about the principles of democratic accountability; and only then about boundaries and structures.”
The refusal by the parties to conduct the campaign in such terms is troubling. It would appear that the concept of political leadership is deid; in its place, we have a bread and circuses approach to politics that will result in us all – but most especially the most vulnerable in our society – paying a terrible price. For there is no way that all they are promising can be delivered – either the parties know this and are hiding it from the electorate, or they really don’t know and think we can carry on spending. I’m not sure which is the more worrying.
But whoever wins this election should beware: no-one likes to be misled. Being elected by saying one thing, and spending four years doing quite another, might result in a very high political price being paid indeed.