I had intended to write a pithy, witty post about BBC Scotland’s party leaders’ debate. But it was so pedestrian, I was struggling to fill my pre-ordained categories. So I’ll have a rant instead.
For all that Labour and the SNP have stolen each other’s policy clothes during this campaign – Labour far more and far less cannily, it has to be said – the Scottish media don’t do us any favours either. For they have condensed this election’s key talking points into a handful of areas. Tonight’s topics which came from audience questions were free bus passes and their affordability; public sector jobs; tuition fees; independence and the referendum; sectarianism; renewable energy; and their autobiography titles. And possibly A N other subject that I missed because some of us were having a twitter debate about ties. It was that good.
Where, I wonder, are the real issues that people have said are the most important in this election? Yes, jobs came up in last night’s debate – it was Iain Gray’s mantra throughout – but nothing of substance or detail, making the leaders explain what they were going to do to enable jobs to be created. The focus was purely on public sector jobs, because of course, that’s where we all work. And for every public sector worker thankful at the parties doing all they can to protect their employment and terms and conditions, there’s another private or third sector worker – or self-employed person – resentful at the same lack of attention being paid to their often more precarious positions.
Both Labour and the SNP have BIG commitments on youth employment, but they need to be pinned down on the detail. What jobs, where, and how will these be created? Will they be sustainable, on a living wage, and how do they ensure apprenticeships lead to full time careers? Apprenticeships in what exactly – stuff we do now or stuff we need for the future? How do these tie in with college courses currently offered? Does the country actually need more hairdressers, nursery nurses, media graduates and sports coaches?
Poverty – Scotland’s real shame which dare not speak its name in this election. Ah, but we’re all squeezed middle or hardworking family or struggling pensioners now. Poverty is on the increase in Scotland, the gap between the haves and have nots grows, the numbers in fuel and food poverty are increasing rapidly, and nope, no one has anything to say on it.
Education – no, not bloody tuition fees, the bits that affect all children. There have been skirmishes on class sizes, buildings, teachers, the curriculum but bugger all on the only bit that matters, our children’s learning experience and attainment. The education system fails 20% of our children, and has done throughout devolution. The most marginalised children are still just that; children with needs, either through disability or circumstance, are getting scant support to succeed. Local authorities have a legal duty to ensure that every child fulfils his or her potential. With pressure on budgets, how will the parties ensure this happens? And to return to the issue that grabs them, how will they ensure that more young people from poorer backgrounds get to go to university, for improvement here has been mighty slow during the years of plenty?
Early years – everyone (including the politicians) agrees that the most important thing we can do for our future is invest hugely in children, nurturing and supporting them and their families in the earliest years. All the parties have actually made significant commitments in this vital area of social policy but we have heard very little about them in election coverage. Yet, what could be more resonant than investing in Scotland’s future generations? But no, not capable of being digested in a single soundbite nor explained in a couple of lines, so the media are just not interested. And they wonder why we are turning off and tuning out in our droves?
Health – for all the record investment and protected budgets, Scotland is still the sick man of Europe. How do the parties intend to tackle the obesity crisis that doctors warn will engulf services in years to come? What are we doing to prevent and relieve multiple sclerosis, Scotland’s very own cluster disease? Mental health services? Infant mortality? Men’s reluctance to seek early medical advice and treatment? Alcohol misuse? The NHS has had targets for breastfeeding and alcohol treatment orders and failed on both – why and what will the parties do to change that in the next four years?
Transport – the roads are in a shocking mess; pavements are worse; we need more and better train services; the lack of a high speed rail link to England threatens our economic competitiveness; for every air link established, another one folds; and local bus services are under threat as subsidies dry up. We live in a country that makes it hard to get from A to B – where the maxim that it is better to travel most certainly does not apply. Yet, sound infrastructure is vital to our society and our economy on so many levels. No one want to discuss any of that?
So glass half full – there’s still time, there’s one more leaders’ debate to come, maybe these issues will feature and maybe we will get some vision as well as detail from each of the leaders. But actually our glass is bound to be half empty. None of this will feature and all we will get is the same old sterile stuff that has been offered up throughout the campaign.
There is a cosy consensus that operates in political and media circles about what the big issues of the day are, but it ignores the reality of people’s lives and concerns, and only serves to emphasise the gulf between the governing and chattering classes and the rest of us. Come Thursday night, thought, the very same people will be wringing their hands in woe at the continuing low turnout for Scottish elections.
Occasionally, the burd despairs.