SNP’s record doesn’t stack up with voters

Last week, I saw a man, standing tall and erect, outside NHS Scotland’s offices in Edinburgh.  Dressed for work with a briefcase at his feet, he was impassive and stoic, holding a handwritten card in front of him.  He smiled politely at people going into their work – they all put their heads down and refused to meet his gaze – but otherwise maintained a dignified silence.

*The NHS abused my wife* read the card.  It was enough to make me gasp and as you can tell, has stayed with me.  I’ve been worrying the scenario, trying to elicit its meaning and implication.  Young people and anarchists taking up the UK Uncut cause with noisy abandon we are used to, ditto with the dotty Mr Fraser who thought it appropriate to strip to protest at bankers’ bonuses, but this kind of protest?  It’s still rare.

But I wonder if it goes on in a slightly different shape and form in living rooms and over dinner tables across the land?  Certainly that would be the suggestion behind the YouGov poll findings on the SNP’s record in government, published last week in Scotland on Sunday.  Indeed, everyone has a horror story to tell about their own or a family member’s experience at the hands of the NHS (read some of the comments on this breastfeeding blogpost);  daily, people commute to work almost in spite of our transport systems;  parents regularly regale each other with their contempt for the education system and wonder if a work-life balance is simply a myth; and while the statistics show crime, and the fear of crime, falling, that collective experience is a far cry from the individual view.

The SNP’s 2007 manifesto commitments were so ambitious in scope and scale, on some level, they were bound to disappoint.  The party can trumpet all it likes that it has met 84 out of 94 of its promises but it failed on the biggies and that’s what people remember.  Moreover, it may have kept its end of the deal on some key issues, but on many others, it – as Ministers found out pretty quickly – was not actually able to deliver progress or change.  That responsibility lay with national and local government agencies and their foot-dragging has meant slow progress on the ground.  The fact is that people have noticed very little difference in the last four years.

Thus, when put on the spot, when asked if things have improved, stayed the same or got worse under the SNP Government, most opted to show their least sunny sides.  Including tax and the economy when a devolved Scottish government has limited powers in these areas was mischievous, so let’s ignore those findings (though given how the parties are fighting like ferrets in a sack over a council tax freeze, they may wish to note that only ten per cent of respondents reckoned tax had got better in the last four years).

Only on two issues – Scottish parliamentary powers and the environment – did a majority of respondents think things had got better or stayed the same.  On the others, the numbers thinking things had got worse outweighed those thinking things had got better.  On health:  30 per cent think worse, 27 per cent better.  On crime:  38 per cent think worse, 20 per cent better.  On education:  32 per cent think worse, only 18 per cent better.  On transport:  38 per cent think things have got worse and a tiny 14 per cent better.  And on family life and childcare:  26 per cent think worse, 12 per cent better.

The less numerically challenged of you will have noted that the overwhelming response of poll participants was a resounding meh.  Despite a change in government, despite a spring in Scotland’s collective step (certainly in the first two years), despite record funding for key public services, the vast majority of people think nothing has changed in the last four years.  Everything has stayed the same.

It hardly adds up to a resounding endorsement, yet the weekend’s polls show that the SNP has leapfrogged Labour in a rather dramatic turnaround.  People are saying they are going to vote for the SNP to give them another term in government, even though they are not overly impressed with their record so far.

So what on earth is going on?  It’s hard to pinpoint, especially when the SNP’s manifesto is promising more of the same.  As in, the same sort of things it offered last time – 1000 police officers, a council tax freeze, more money for the NHS, lower class sizes, free higher education – and as in, no big changes to how we do things in Scotland.  Which when you think about it is a remarkable stance from the party that wants to make the biggest change of all.

These particular poll findings, delivering a shrug of the shoulders on the SNP’s record, offer a glimmer of hope to Labour.  If it can somehow shift the narrative away from personalities and polls and back on to bread and butter issues, it has a chance of stopping the SNP’s re-election express train in its tracks.  So far, Labour has failed to nail the SNP’s failure to improve things on key issues and consequently, has not provided voters with compelling reasons to shift their vote.  But now there is nothing left to lose but the election itself.

This rescue mission requires three steps:  trash the record; then say something positive about what can be done differently; and remind people why it’s time to come home.

It might not work: too little, too late and all that.  But at least the campaign would challenge something the SNP reckons is an asset and this poll suggests is most definitely not.  Real life confirmation of which, can be found in the desperately sad vigil of the man outside NHS Scotland.


34 thoughts on “SNP’s record doesn’t stack up with voters

  1. hello burdzey,

    have you read Alastair Campbell’s, Blair, and Mandelson memoirs and diaries?

    • I’ve read some of them – why? I’m a bit worried I’m going to be linked to these slimy characters, and not in a good way!!

  2. Incremental nhs changes can be more cleberated when one considersnthe wholesale change in the health departments governance structure. The abandonment of labours privatising agenda is one reason I believe the SNP has had success in this area over others. I live 30 yards from a hospital, it’s a major employer (includng half my family) and it’s free car parking, maternity unit, and even tea bar were saved by what I believe to be a progressive and socially responsible approach to public services provision

  3. We may be forgetting that the SNP took power a few months before the financial crisis struck and possibly the gloomiest economic period since the early 90s. That the perception isn’t even more negative is quite impressive to me, and as only a very small minority blame the SNP for the financial crisis (and as Eck once said they’re all relatives of George Foulkes!) I’m not sure that these figures are really an indictment on the SNP. I would also add that the perception on crime is almost always that it’s getting worse. In reality it appears to be getting better according to most statistical evidence available, but fear of crime and actual crime don’t always seem to correlate too well, especially with such a negative, petty media. However, the SNP probably should accept responsibillity for some of these failings and work to address them if we are given another shot in government.

    And @Caroline justice policy still seems too much to be driven by tabloid populism and not what actually works, and it has been refreshing to me from a non-partisan point of view to see a change of tack from the SNP in that particular respect. But I do see your point.

    • You make some very good points CW!

      I only allude to it really but there is also the Scottish natural disposition to the glass always being half empty.

      And the crime one is strange, not only is crime falling (though not on serious or violent crime sadly) but also official data shows fear of crime is falling. I try to cover that by saying collective view not indiividual opinion. Nowt so queer as folk….

      • I suppose some of it must come down to the context in which you ask the question i.e. that Yes Prime Minister episode where Sir Humphrey demonstrates that you can commission a poll to say anything. Not that YouGov would deliberately do this but when asked about crime (or anything for that matter) in the context of politics you’re probably more likely to get a negative response than when just referring to every day experiences.
        Incidentally, I’d like to see an ICM poll before I harden my view that the SNP are actually in the lead. The lead on the MORI and YouGov were a good few points higher than the lead the equivalent polls gave at this point in 2007 but it was the ICM two days before that got closest to the actual result which was a fair few points down on what even the YouGov done at the same time as the ICM said.

      • I agree – hope someone is commissioning an ICM one!

    • Steve, given that you follow me on twitter you know which party I was delivering leaflets for the other day!

      The Peat Worrier is a fine blogger and wholly entitled to his opinion. I have a pseudonym like him but am quite open about my real identity, which he isn’t. We agree and disagree on many things….

      This attempts to be a non-aligned blog that calls it as it sees it. Sometimes that comes across as pro one party, sometimes as pro another but in the main it tries to analyse objectively. I say tries…

  4. The SNP are managing to fight this campaign as the opposition. Collages have had their eduction budgets cut by 10% but at a recent meeting in Kirkcaldy where students were fighting cuts to the drama and arts department budget the SNP local candidate got the biggest cheer. Somehow the SNP managed to put the blame for the cuts on to all the other parties. They didn’t attack them, they were as a poster here said just very positive in their outlook. the trouble is, its one thing to be positive but they will be found out. Sooner or later people will begin to realise that in fact, the SNP are the government in Scotland and things like the 10% cuts are SNP policy. I will admit though, they are difficult opponents because they are so slippery,

    • I would humbly suggest Peter that they have only learned such dark arts from others. Glenrothes by-election ring a bell? When Labour was in power at UK level but successfully shifted blame for Westminster related things on to the local council?

      This he says, she says brand of adversarial politics is one reason why I have become increasingly disaffected with the whole charade. And consciously stepped back from active politics some years ago.

  5. Oh well, it seems to have rattled someones cage. The NHS isnt perfect, and anyone trying to deny that will be trying to convince me that black is white next.

    The questions are, could it be better, and is someone to blame for it not being better? The answers are yes and the SNP Government – they are ultimately responsible, just as the previous administration was held to task over the state of the NHS by the then opposition – which happened to be the SNP.

    Speaking to staff within the NHS, I find that although things havnt moved backward over the last few years, few will say they have really moved forward. And that, I think is part of the problem. The NHS needs to constantly evolve to meet our expectations – and not necessarily have evolution imposed upon it. Someone once said that the NHS was the closest thing Britain had to a religion, and if you dont look after it, and support it, you’re in big trouble. Dave and Nick are finding that out south of the border. Hopefully Alex and Nicola will find it out too.

    • One of the points in my blog is that where the SNP has failed to deliver is not really its fault but due to stasis and inability and unwillingness to change by the delivery partners, like the NHS and councils. If re-elected, I don’t think they will make the same mistake twice.

      The people who are involved in running and working in the NHS have a duty and responsibility to improve things, though often they don’t see that.

      But all the parties are promising inputs – especially for the NHS – ignoring the pressing need for reform, mainly but not only because of the financial situation. I don’t think (whoever is elected on 5 May) is going to be able to keep all their manifesto promises.

      You are right on the NHS being a religion point, a point which I don’t understand really. Yes it is hugely important but it needs to move much more to preventative health care rather than fixing people when broken. Moreover, both Labour and the SNP want to move social care into a health setting and I think that is travelling in the wrong direction and will end up costing us a huge amount of money for very little improvement for users of services.

      Thanks for liking this post John – you have confirmed the wildest fears of other commentators today!

      • Sorry! I think any normal thinking person will realise you will criticise any party with impunity. The trouble is there are a number of nationalist activists who think that if you dont agree with them 100% and think every utterance of St. Alex is the word of god, then you are a traitor under the mind control of London and should be hung, drawn and quartered.

        Its this attitude which puts a lot of people off the SNP and why, despite English born people being 10% of the population, they arnt 10% of the SNPs membership. If the SNP want to create an inclusive welcoming independant Scotland, they need to tackle these dinosaurs – especially as more and more people become internet savvy and come across these cybernats.

  6. This writer of this article is an idiot. Why can’t we just continue on from the last four years? Answers on a postcard please!

    (I’m used to vote labour until I found out how much SNP care for the people of Scotland)

    • Thanks for the benefit of your considered and thoughtful contribution to the debate. I think if you actually read the post, you’ll see that the SNP is indeed continuing on from the last four years with many of its pledges in this election.

  7. Hi Burd,

    Who thinks the health service has deteriorated under the SNP? Are they mad?

    I can only speak from my own experience and say truthfully that the care I have received, and the equipment used has been improved superbly over the past four years.

    I cannot compare the likes of Vale of Leven Hospital and the Ayr and Wishaw emergency services which were scheduled to close, because I have no experience of them, but would hazard a guess that the patients who use them are glad of their continued existence (the facilities that is, not the patients, although that too. Oh heck, I’m wandering, but you know what I mean.)

    And I recall that one of the first of Nicola’s acts was to invest in steam cleaning apparatus to help cut down the infection rates and it has worked. And I can testify the the hospitals I have been in are cleaner than they were. So if this is my personal experience, and those that I talk to are of similar mind and experience, how have there been no improvements?

    For the first time I think you are allowing your pro-Labour opinions to cloud your judgement – which is unlike you.


    • Hi there

      I don’t actually have pro-Labour opinions! But you are right to point out that for everyone with a moan about their treatment and care in the NHS, there is someone else who had a good experience.

      And yes, in certain areas, the SNP has improved NHS effectiveness and efficiency, hugely. That is borne out by the targets met.

      But this post tries to understand why so many people when asked if things had improved, stayed the same or got worse under the SNP government, opted mainly that things had stayed the same (not necessarily a bad thing) or had got worse. Why is that people’s opinion when they also in this poll said that most of them would be voting SNP. It’s a quandary and either people are simply half glass empty, or the SNP’s record is the weak part of its campaign theme.

  8. As a bit of an anorak I would have thought you would be alert to the importance of the wording and context of any question. As someone who actually filled in this yougov questionnaire, parts of it were a bit awkward in their wording (not conspiracy just an observation). Having said that, to my mind politics is as often about perception rather than detailed analysis, which is why I think many people are pleased at the job done by the first SNP government, not necessarily by them having achieved every detail of every policy but by them being seen to reflect their values, perhaps best seen in the idea of free prescriptions and free education. Now a cynic might see this as blatent buying off of the electorate but I do not think that is the case, it reflects an ingrained feeling of many Scots about caring for those less fortunate than themselves and giving people the chance to be all they can. This resonates with many. At the same time the SNP has been able to balance the social needs with those of developing and growing the market, see latest from CBI Scotland.
    SO in summary I do not think many people would share your analysis but would share the direction of travel of the SNP government.

    • I agree with what you say. But the poll findings are the poll findings! The fact is that many people do share my analysis – all I have done is report what people said in response to these questions, then tried to understand why and suggest it might be a weak point that Labour, if it could get its act together, which I very much doubt, might want to try and exploit in the last days of the campaign.

      People do agree with the direction of travel and prefer the SNP to any other option. But when you scratch the surface they seem less impressed with their actual delivery in many areas. A conundrum.

  9. Nice to see that when provoked you rerveal exactly what you are – a Labour hack posing as a silly wee lassie.

    • Pleased you felt the need to post this comment twice Dave. I have been called many things in my time but none have made me smile so much as this, nor entertained so many of my friends and family. Thanks!

  10. Nice to see that when provoked you expose exactly what you are – a Labour hack pretending to be a daft wee lassie

  11. And just as a matter of interest the SNP does not indulge in “grievance” politics.
    Perhaps you’ve been away, but the SNP decided over three years ago that all political activity would be positive and that is exactly what it has done since. Helps to explain its healthy level of public support. There has been no nasty attacks on other political figures, no grievance politics and nothing except constructive and positive statements.
    (Having a laugh at Iain Gray or Lord Ffffoulkes doesn’t qualify as “grievance politics)

    Over the moon that Labour in the first stages of rigor mortis has decided to do the opposite

    • The SNP may have decided that it does not indulge in grievance politics, shame that many supporters haven’t followed suit.

      There have been no nasty attacks on other political figures – oh really?

  12. Shortest waiting lists ever, smallest class sizes ever, no rates for small businesses, frozen council tax, PFI kicked into touch (but not sadly the huge bill to ber paid every year out of current revenues for Labour’s idiocy with this), more than 1000 extra policemen on the beat (as verified by the Police Federation) – I could go on and on and on…………………
    Talk about desperation.

    • Hi Dave and Brian

      These are not achievements, they are inputs. And they are not borne out by the reality of people’s experience which is what people thought of when they responded to this poll’s questions. In many areas, children are not in the smallest class sizes ever.

      The achievements are that no rates for small businesses has kept many of them open in a recession and kept them employing people. The shortest waiting times ever means people getting treatment earlier and therefore better prognosis.

      It’s not what you put in, it’s what comes out as a result and not explaining that to people means they think little has changed. And people will always use their own personal experience to inform their opinion, not big statements or global numbers.

  13. The simple explanation of why the SNP is so far ahead now is that they have an able leader and front bench team. Gray, seemingly having just realised that this is a Scottish rather than a Westminster election, spent his re-launch yesterday talking about Eck and the SNP.

    Who do you think will succeed Gray? I hope Richard Baker!

    • Yep but the record is a weak spot with voters. Was just saying….

      Who knows who will succeed Gray? If they lose this election, I hope they take the time to realise they are being rejected by Scotland and change how and why they do their politics. Scotland will be a better place politically if they do.

  14. At last!! This has baffled me. Why aren’t Labour, the Conservatives and any other party leveraging this in their campaigns? All the information is out there.

    Failure to deliver on key promises – many of which they are promising again;
    Failure to examine statistics they provide ( like the fact 1000 officers “on the street” is nothing like that number in reality or the fact that how we report crime changed in 2008 so a 30% reduction in crime is a big claim)
    Failure to point out that even though they were in power, they have no idea how much knife crime might cost – though spend a lot of time ridiculing labour’s figures (though I acknowledge this did concern me!). Nor did they have any idea how many people breached Community Payback Orders etc. Nor did they have any idea how many stop and search procedures were carried out in any other area than Strathclyde. All of this info is “out there” – worryingly, it’s often in response to questions asked by MSP’s!
    Or that Alex and the SNP aren’t interested in public opinion. On knife crime, Alex said he wasn’t interested in “gubbing around for some populist vote.”. When I started Hearts Matter I wrote to many politicians in all parties. It took my resignation hitting Centre Press for Kenny MacAskill to acknowledge my email to him; it took him another 6 weeks to answer me, same answer he sent out to other people. And apart from that, not one SNP politician responded. Not one. I’m still waiting on the Greens and Lib Dems to respond too. And given I paid to send the letter AND pay for any response, I think that is shocking. They were voted in by the public!

    I will be sharing more on this in Blantyre tonight and Rutherglen tomorrow night as it’s part of what made me decide to stand.

    Rhetoric is one thing. Alex the brand is the consummate politician. Don’t let the words blind you to the actions!

  15. Incase you’ve not noticed people are now “coming home” in their droves from being kept under the spell of Labour’s romantic notions of socialism. Notions the Labour Party don’t even believe in let alone attempt to practice.
    And “trash the record; then say something positive about what can be done differently”.
    How can they possibly find favour with the electorate in trashing a record that’s been delivered on the back of a minority government that they didn’t even come close to matching when they had full powers of majority whilst being propped up by the Tories new helpers – the Lib Dems?
    Say something positive about what can be done differently – that’s going to look good when they’ve built their campaign on mirroring nearly every SNP policy!
    They’ve no scope left to talk about doing things differently – because they didn’t have the originality or they just didn’t care enough to put in the effort to use their grey matter (not the Gray matter – he clearly doesn’t) to explore any possible alternatives.
    Wee tip to Iain Gray’s group of Labour MSP’s – when they’re dead they ought to have the decency to lie down and act accordingly.
    The people seen through them in 2007 and they’ve just got worse since then!
    The Labour Party in Scotland’s only hope is to disassociate itself with London and focus itself on the betterment of Scotland and not their own job prospects in London.

    • I think you are falling into the trap of seeing the campaign through the prism of close up and personal!

      I don’t disagree with the points you make but the voters are not so close to politics everyday that they can see through what Labour has done or not done in the last five years.

      And it’s a bit rich to accuse them of using others to prop them up when the SNP used the Tories for the last 5 years!

      I agree with your substantive points at the end – and if they do that, Scottish politics will be a better place. But a question – if they do disassociate themselves with London where does that leave the SNP or rather SNP supporters in terms of their grievance style of politics?!

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