Thursday, 20 January 2011

Pontius Pilate Rules

From time to time over the last year I have been struck by the similarities between the fate of the SNP administration in Holyrood and the performance and travails of the ToryDem coalition. Both unexpectedly in government, and now both suffering in the polls.

The problems started before the parties "won" their respective elections. The Lib Dems and the SNP both made the classic mistake of promising anything to the voters: after all, neither of them expected to be in government, so they felt  able to make any reckless promise, appeal to any disaffected minority, to scare up a few votes here and there.

"We'll match Labours school-building programme brick for brick".

"We'll abolish tuition fees".

"We'll scrap PPP and replace it with a Scottish Futures Trust".

"We'll oppose fast and deep cuts to solve the defecit problem".

"We'll scrap the Council Tax and introduce a Local Income Tax".

"We'll keep the EMA".

"We'll abolish all student debt".

 Ho Hum.

 Another similarity is that, in government, they use the same tactic of offloading unpopular decisions to the local level while simultaneously starving local government of powers and the cash to solve the pronblems. In the case of the SNP it's the Concordat that allows them to point to the local authorities and say "nuthin' to dae wi' me pal", a tactic Alex Salmond has used contless numbers of times at FMQs.

With the coalition, it's the Localism agenda that forces decisions down to local authorities while the cut-deep-and-fast policy deprives them of the ability to actually address these problems. When challenged they can reply, "sorry old chap, isn't that the local authority fellas responibility?".

The case of Riven Vincent is another illustration of making rash promises and hoping someone else will pick up the blame. This family's personal tragedy is above politics, but the individual case provides a general rule: ministers and the government can only avoid blame for so long. The people know where responsibility lies and they expect ministers, in this case the Prime Minister, to keep meet their responsibilities. Waving your arms and saying "It's the local fellas' job" won't do it: we elected you, you made a promise (implicit or explicit) and we expect you to keep it.

The lesson is clear and it's for all time: opposition is easy, government is difficult. Glib promises are not the same as thought out policies And the people are not stupid. In the long-run they refuse to be fooled.

For the SNP the long-run has arrived and they've been found out.

For the coalition it's only the short-run and the troubles have already begun. The long run looks like very interesting from here.....

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