It’s over for the SNP, and voters have finally realised

SNP leader John Swinney on the campaign trail
SNP leader John Swinney on the campaign trail

At last the penny seems to have dropped. Hard evidence has emerged that voters have finally cottoned on to an awful truth – at least for John Swinney, leader of the SNP and First Minister of Scotland – that he can’t keep “passing the buck” and blaming London and other parties for the shortcomings of his own government.

The accusation came from a Glasgow mother who said that she was “sick” of him blaming everyone else, instead of accepting his responsibility for poor performances in wholly devolved areas such as education and health.

In the same BBC debate between Scotland’s political leaders this week, a young man in the audience joined in the criticism of the SNP when he expressed his “anger” at seeing boarded up businesses and the number of beggars in the streets, when all the nationalists could talk about was independence.

Swinney had sought to use the programme to defend his party’s record, blaming any deficiencies on the British government or other parties. But in the hour-long debate, this mother and young office worker separately demonstrated that Scottish voters are increasingly accepting that the SNP’s perpetual excuses are threadbare. The anger displayed may also be a confirmation of opinion polls, which suggest that Swinney’s party is heading for a major defeat on July 4.

The attacks on Swinney were on a par with the embarrassment suffered by Gordon Brown following the then Labour prime minister’s run-in with Gillian Duffy, the Rochdale woman who Brown condemned as “bigoted” when she confronted him about several issues, including immigration, during the 2010 election campaign.

He hadn’t known that his words were being picked up by a TV microphone, but Swinney’s comeuppance occurred in the full glare of TV cameras during the Scottish leaders’ hustings in Glasgow.

The blistering verdict of this Glaswegian mother took him by surprise when she insisted that he should accept responsibility for the SNP’s failure in areas, especially education and health, which were entirely the responsibility of his government.

While the First Minister fended off attacks by Tory and Labour leaders by saying that most Scottish problems were the fault of the UK Government, his principal critic stormed: “I want a direct answer. Glasgow parents and Scottish parents are sick of you passing the buck.

We’re sick of hearing it’s Westminster’s fault that education is in crisis. We’re sick of hearing what Labour and the Tories would do. We want to know what you and your party are going to do to fix what’s happening in education right now.” And when Swinney tried to dodge her barb, this lady shouted out: “Stop passing the buck.”

The First Minister said that Scottish independence would enable him to tackle such problems, even though education and the NHS are wholly devolved. He described independence as a “beautiful proposition”. But this led to him being attacked by his other audience critic who said that, thanks to the SNP, independence dominated the political debate.

In a jibe about the prospect of Swinney’s position as First Minister being short-lived, he added: “Tidy the flat before you move out, John.”

Both Douglas Ross, the outgoing Scottish Tory leader – at least that’s what he says is his current position – and Anas Sarwar, of Scottish Labour, blamed Swinney for seeking to shift the blame for his government’s failures in education and the NHS when he had all the necessary powers.

This Scottish leaders’ debate may have given traditional SNP voters pause for thought as the July 4 election date draws near, but there was another leader, or in her case co-leader, who did her party no favours with an extraordinary performance.

It was more of a confused and noisy rant against all the other participants than a considered offering of alternatives from Lorna Slater of the Greens. I’m sure she did promise that a vote for her party would lead to more roads being built, even though I understood that the Greens didn’t like roads because cars and lorries run on them.

But I’m grateful that the excellent moderator, Stephen Jardine of BBC Scotland, allowed Ms Slater her say. Otherwise all those EV driving residents in the middle-class ghettos of Glasgow and Edinburgh – from whence the Greens derive much of their support – wouldn’t have known what they’re voting for.