Despite Boris Johnson being SNP’s perfect ‘dead cat’, the nationalists can’t hide their lack of good ideas – Christine Jardine MP

The SNP do not appear to be profiting from Boris Johnson’s unpopularity as much as they might have expected (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

For most of the time since Christmas, Westminster has acted as the perfect dead cat for Holyrood.

While we have all been outraged, offended or just frustrated by the almost daily scandals emanating from Downing Street, the shenanigans from the SNP have slipped under the radar. Well, almost.

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It was interesting to watch the relish with which otherwise embattled government ministers this week threw, metaphorically, the sawn-off doors fiasco in the face of the SNP MPs. Or dismissed the self-serving and misleading nonsense about pensions spouted by both the Westminster and current leaders of that party.

This is the point, you might think, where the nationalists should be making great strides in the opinion polls as Boris gives them the petty ammunition they love to fire at those of us who pursue a different agenda.

But that’s not the impression I get talking to people on the streets of Edinburgh.

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Oh yes, they are just as frustrated and angry with the current Conservative Government as everybody else, but that is not translating into the indignant call for separation that the SNP would have us believe.

The question is why not? Why has the torrent of criticism of Boris Johnson not created the same sort of popular rejection of the Conservatives, and the UK, that Margaret Thatcher evoked in Scotland in the 80s?

At that time, I was a young politics student in Glasgow where the mere mention of the then Prime Minister’s name could provoke vitriolic abuse for anyone suspected of being in any way sympathetic to her cause.

The poll tax demonstrations were just one manifestation of our general frustration with a failed referendum process in 1979 and a government apparently oblivious to the popular desire for devolution.

I have watched intrigued as the SNP, following a referendum rejection, have now spent the best part of a decade trying to incite the same sort of popular feeling.

So far they have succeeded only in embedding the division which characterized the referendum campaign and caused so much bitterness.

It is a regular feature of their mantra in Westminster, regardless of the issue that all will be well when the people of Scotland are ‘allowed’ the independence that we have expressed our unanimous desire for. Except that we haven’t.

And they back that up with the assertion that as the majority of people in Scotland therefore voted to remain in the EU that must mean we don’t want the UK.

Well, as one voter reminded me this week, that wasn’t on the ballot paper. In fact, she said: “Nicola has stolen my vote.”

Many, myself included, voted for the United Kingdom to remain part of the European Union and I don’t think readers will need much reminding of how hard my party fought that corner and the price we paid. But to claim that equals to support for succession is, shall we say, “balderdash”.

I completely respect the nationalists’ right to argue for what they believe in, but I would prefer if they could keep to the facts.

The EU referendum was not a nationalist campaign. In fact, that party spent less on that than they did on a single by-election three years ago in Shetland.

Similarly, their pensions argument not only disintegrates under scrutiny but completely contradicts what the First Minister said in 2014.

Coming in the wake of that ridiculous ‘chop off the bottom of the doors’ suggestion, they are beginning to give every impression of flailing in the wind in their search for fuel for the separatists’ argument.

And this at a time when they have a shiny new coalition with the Greens that they might have expected to fire the imagination and give fresh impetus to their cause.

Instead of which, the new partnership seems to be posing numerous difficulties in finding a mutually acceptable position on what the SNP used to proudly proclaim was “Scotland’s Oil”.

Perhaps the problem is a simple one. Back in the days before they had been in government for a decade and a half, the SNP could promote themselves as a radical alternative. Anti-establishment.

Every problem which crossed Scotland’s path could be blamed either on the government at Westminster or the unionist parties at Holyrood accused of being in thrall to their southern partners.

But times have changed. Holyrood has many more powers and influence in many more areas than the original Scotland Act envisaged, with which comes the responsibility for the outcomes.

With lengthening NHS waiting lists, council budgets stretched by Holyrood’s controlling tendencies, classrooms overcrowded, public services strained, and roads crumbling, the SNP has nobody else to point the finger at.

Their leadership can make the annual declaration that Scotland demands another referendum and hope it will fire up and distract their supporters from the lack of progress since 2015 but it cannot hide the truth.

The SNP can no longer blame the establishment because they have become exactly that. They have been part of the government in Scotland now since before since before Gordon Brown became Prime Minister.

Their original bold new approach has begun to look simply managerial and tired.

Boris may not be setting a shining example in Downing Street but it is a long time since we heard anything helpful from the SNP that would set the heather alight. Unless of course you are a joiner who specializes in shortening doors.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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