Today will see the demolition of one of the last totems of Thatcherism left in Scotland. When right to buy is abolished, gone – at long last – will be the perfidious policy which attempted and nearly succeeded in dismantling our infrastructure of social housing.
It wasn’t wrong then and it isn’t wrong now for people to want to own their own home. What was wrong was the way the policy was constructed: taking houses, built with public money to ensure everyone had access to a decent home, out of public ownership and into private hands at knock down prices, leaving local authorities drowning under a sea of construction debt they could no longer afford to service, never mind begin to pay off.
And which is the government in Scotland to remove this blot from our policy landscape? A Labour one, which had 8 years leading an administration in which to attempt the feat? Labour, that fabled creature which works for the “working people”, which in its time in office built only a handful of council houses and only a handful more of housing association ones? No. An SNP government is what’s done it.
Actually, scratch that. It’s Salmond’s government what’s done it.
Now, readers who’ve been with this blog over the last three years will know that I’m not always our First Minister’s biggest fan. I’ve criticised him here when I’ve felt criticism was due. And like any leader or politician, he has his weaknesses and foibles. He is after all only a man, a person like all the rest of us.
But he also has outstanding strengths. And those are the reasons why he’s been SNP leader not just once, but twice. And also Scotland’s longest-serving First Minister to boot. Nearly half of the Scottish electorate (or at least the half that voted) voted for him and his party in 2011. Clearly, the old guard Labour figures returning to the Scottish fray after decades of plying their trade at Westminster, now besmirching the SNP and what it stands for, trying to take us all back to the 1970s in a political timewarp, appear oblivious to this not inconsequential fact.
The pace of change might have irked many (including me) since 2007, but there is no denying that Alex Salmond has been a radical and reforming First Minister, leading a government which has improved the lot of Scots everywhere. Free prescriptions, free tuition, the council tax freeze, lower class sizes, the abolition of bridge tolls, ambitious climate change targets, laws to protect children from online abuse, to protect our shores and marine life and to better protect women against domestic abuse, and policies to extend childcare provision, to give all children a better start in the first years of their lives and a free school meal until they are eight.
All this and more. That’s what Alex Salmond has done for Scotland as First Minister.
So, when I hear from some in this referendum campaign that they’re not that keen on voting yes (they’re not a definite no either) because they “don’t like that Alex Salmond” or they wonder what “he’s ever done for us” or the mantra “he’s just like all the rest, they never do what they say they will“, I find myself not only wondering why a no vote matters so much to Scottish Labour that they will lie to their own people to achieve it but also in the most unusual position of rushing to Alex Salmond’s defence.
What’s he done for you? Some of that list above has made your and your family’s life better. Didn’t he put all that in the manifestos you voted for? They said they’d abolish prescriptions, maintain the free bus fare scheme, keep the council tax freeze and get rid of tuition fees – hasn’t his party done that?
And then I give a very recent example. This Scottish Government under Alex Salmond’s leadership has kept the wolf of Westminster cuts at the door, carefully managing the money they get every year to limit the cuts and the impact of the recession. Seeing an issue with youth unemployment, Alex Salmond and his government determined that the Tories were not going to get their way in writing off another generation to joblessness, hopelessness and lost life chances. So a Minister for Youth employment was created and funds found to guarantee every young person leaving school in Scotland training, further education or a job even.
And it’s worked. Six months after they left school in 2013, 90% of Scotland’s young people are in positive destinations. That’s more of them in higher or further education, in training or in work. And where they are not yet in these destinations, more of them are actively being supported to find something that suits them. That 90% is the highest ever rate of positive destinations. The SNP is doing better at giving our young people a decent future than previous Labour-Lib Dem administrations – and they were working when we lived in a land of plenty – and doing better than they’re managing in England.
Not bad for a man that doesn’t do anything for folk or apparently doesn’t do what he says he will. And as I also point out to these folk, you don’t have to like a man to respect that he’s the right man at this time to lead our government and to respect that he’s actually pretty good at it.
Why? Because he cares about what happens to the people of Scotland and about making Scotland a better country for us all to live in. And that’s his number one priority. The SNP has made a pretty decent fist of things in challenging circumstances. This has been a government which has been good for Scotland because it has worked for Scotland’s good.
And isn’t what we’ve got a decent starting point in September to take our country forward? Look at what we’ve done with the powers we’ve been given, think what else we could do with all the powers and resources we need and a government focused primarily on what is best for us, our families, our communities?
Ultimately, though, what I tell folk is this.
The vote in September isn’t for Salmond, but for Scotland and for us.
It’s not really even about him either, but about us. All of us.
He won’t be First Minister for ever – he is after all 59. And the point of voting yes in September is that it then gives us – all of us – the chance to always get the governments we vote for. And if we decide that we’ve had enough of the SNP and a better offer comes along, then that is what we can vote for. And get.
And would you really rather vote no and have David Cameron, Ed Miliband or even Johann Lamont in charge?