BBC BLOGS - Blether with Brian
« Previous | Main | Next »

Fighting it out

Brian Taylor | 13:06 UK time, Thursday, 15 November 2007

At question time in Holyrood today, the First Minister employed every device to dismiss allegations of broken promises.

Particularly in response to Wendy Alexander but also replying to Nicol Stephen, his voice rose, he turned to satire, he heaped contumely upon his rivals.

(By contrast, in response to Annabel Goldie, Mr Salmond appeared to be opening negotiations for Tory support by offering talks over the issue of drugs rehabilitation.)

But back to the dismissive tone. I think it succeeds for now – but it may not entirely succeed in the longer term.

In particular, I suspect it may not succeed with regard to the promise on student debt.

The SNP manifesto was quite specific. “It’s time to dump student debt”, it trumpeted.

The pledge was, over time, to take over the debt owed by Scottish domiciled and resident graduates.

Now there are arguments about other pledges.

Has the police numbers promise been broken – or merely elided, to be delivered in another way? Has the promise on class sizes been breached – or merely extended to a longer time scale?

But there is little debate about the pledge to dump student debt. It has now, itself, been dumped.

John Swinney says he faced that issue frankly in delivering his spending statement.

That he did. He also explained that the promise was undeliverable in the light of a tighter than expected budget settlement from the Treasury.

It’s a cogent, coherent case.
Not one, however, that I would personally care to deliver to a Scots student who voted for my party on the basis of a specific promise that has now been shelved.
Longer term, too, there may be repercussions.

Consider the next election, for Holyrood or Westminster. (I know, I know, we’ve just got this one out of the way.)

When the SNP make promises, it will be reasonable to ask them for the caveats, for the circumstances in which these promises will be incapable of redemption.

Comments

  • 1.
  • At 02:18 PM on 15 Nov 2007,
  • Bryce Miller wrote:

I don't think anyone could reasonably expect a minority administration to be able to meet all its manifesto pledges. It would even be unrealistic to expect a party in coalition to deliver all their pledges. Parts of the budget will be diluted (rightly or wrongly) by the demands of other parties, and some promises won't be presented if there is not enough cross-party support.

It's hard to get excited about the budget right now, considering it won't be voted on until February, by which time SNP pledges will have to make way for Tory, Liberal, and perhaps even Labour commitments. This is one of the difficulties of minority government, and I can see opposition party leaders gleefully touting budget compromises as "broken promises", even when they're broken promises on things they didn't support in the first place. Oh well, it is there job to oppose...

  • 2.
  • At 02:28 PM on 15 Nov 2007,
  • John Hailey wrote:

What about that other SNP manifesto pledge, a grant for First Time Buyers? Any chance of an update on that one Brian?

  • 3.
  • At 02:43 PM on 15 Nov 2007,
  • emma wrote:

The dump the student debt pledge was the catalyst for me moving from labour to snp, i certainly will not be doing that again. Sorry Mssrs Salmond and Swinney, BIG mistake.

Sometimes, though, it's easy to be dismissive - particularly when it's in response to the relentless carping and sneering adopted by Wendy Alexander as her stock-in-trade approach, or the leaden, deaden posturing of Nicol Stephen.

What you say about the exchanges between Alex Salmond and Annabell Goldie is no doubt true. However, if you ask a stupid question, you'll usually get a stupid answer. Look no further as to why why Annabell always gets a courteous response, while Wendy gets the bird.

  • 5.
  • At 03:38 PM on 15 Nov 2007,
  • Simon M wrote:

I'm confused. Alex Salmond told Wendy Alexander at FMQs today that the pledges on student debt and the first time buyers grant were being met. Was that another slip of the tongue on Salmond's part?

Absolutely #3. I'm surprised Brian thought it was a good performance.

The Downgrade Budget is an extended middle finger to people like me who voted for the SNP in May, for any reason other than old fashioned sweaty nationalism.

I voted for the SNP to pursue their radical election pledges on police, class sizes, and student debt, because I thought they deserved a chance - if they had been defeated in their attempts by other parties, fair enough.

But not even to try is a slap in the face, and demonstrates that, in fact, the other parties were right: their promises were ill-costed, or simply lies.

  • 7.
  • At 04:25 PM on 15 Nov 2007,
  • Scotsman wrote:

I don't think Wendy Alexander's getting anywhere. Her strategy might work if the SNP had been in power for 10 years like her boss Gordon Brown.

She will never be First Minister. Does she even want to be?

  • 8.
  • At 04:37 PM on 15 Nov 2007,
  • sandymac wrote:

I did think A Salmond was more intelligent but fm's question time shows him as the bully in school, he shows no intellect or evidence of ALL his years in politics; Hugely disappointing. He treats the opposition and electorate like idiots.

  • 9.
  • At 04:57 PM on 15 Nov 2007,
  • Scott wrote:

re students - The SNP are moving from loans to grants, very welcome, and have scrapped the graduate endowment. Far more that the LibLab pact did in 8 years.

Thank Edinburgh trams for the student debt climbdown.

  • 10.
  • At 05:06 PM on 15 Nov 2007,
  • David wrote:

Emma at post 3 wrote: "The dump the student debt pledge was the catalyst for me moving from labour to snp, i certainly will not be doing that again"

Emma, so you were only induced to stop voting Labour by the promise of another party giving you money?

The war in Iraq, the reasons given for going there, Labour's stance on nuclear weapons, its 'no-matter-what-the-issue' adherence to American foreign policy (which is often driven by American material interest). All of these you thought insufficient reasons for leaving? Then along came the lure of money and stopped you voting Labour?

  • 11.
  • At 05:07 PM on 15 Nov 2007,
  • murdo wrote:

Of course students may feel let down, but the pledge to abolish debt was very ambitious in the first place, and it should be no surprise to see it abandoned. In abolishing the Graduate Endowment, they are still helping students out of over £2000 debt. To complain of not receiving more on top of this is a failure to appreciate the nature of a political system in the real world, where real life does unfortunately intrude on the best-laid plans. The reasons for this have been explained, that's enough for me. To focus on this point to the exclusion of all else is churlish and short-sighted - this has been a more accountable government in it's first 6 months than I have seen in my lifetime, and I'll allow them reasonable benefit of the doubt provided this continues.

  • 12.
  • At 05:24 PM on 15 Nov 2007,
  • Paul wrote:

"Dumping student debt" was always a stupid promise. Fair enough to say they want to abolish fees, phase out loans and re-introduce grants. But offering to repay all those who have taken out student loans was far more generous than they needed to be to prove themselves to be a student-friendly party.

In practice, this would mean giving a cash windfall to graduates now on decent salaries who took out loans as students and haven't yet repaid them. That would include those who took out the maximum loan even though they didn't need it and stuck it in a high interest savings account and made money on it! Presumably it wouldn't include those who have chosen to repay their loans early (like me - not that I'm bitter!)

Would the Government not look better in the long run if they admitted that in hindsight this was a stupid manifesto pledge that would never have been a good use of taxpayers' money however generous the Chancellor had been to Scotland in the Spending Review?

  • 13.
  • At 11:17 PM on 15 Nov 2007,
  • Alistair wrote:

Swinney said the student debt pledge was being dumped not only due to financial constraints, but lack of parliamentary support. As Wendy Alexander put it, he didn't even lay it before parliament! What exactly have the SNP done to date other than re-write their manifesto while constantly re-announcing it? The answer to that is not a lot except break promises, save a couple of A+E units and so on.

They might find their budget less tight if they stop spending money on issues not devolved to Westminster (such as the £500,000 on a Scottish Broadcasting Commission) and frittering away money on making changes that have no legal effect (such as changing the name of the Scottish Executive to the Scottish Executive). All this money could be put towards meeting their manifesto pledges and benefit areas that they actually have the competency to govern.

They got their hands on the money left over from the last executive in addition to the biggest budget any Scottish Administration has had since devolution. What are they complaining about? They’re just trying to blame Westminster for them not being able to do their sums and promising the earth and worrying about how to fund it later!

  • 14.
  • At 12:06 AM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • Phil wrote:

Wendy oratory is so typical of UK politicians as a whole. Repetition and sound bites. Use of lists etc. Scripted BEFORE she'd heard the content.

I'd much rather see someone thinking on their feet OR engaging in an adult debate suggesting she and her party had some imagination.

We need an innovative/imaginative approach to dragging this country out of its long decline.

If we have to set a benchmark for Scottish government let it be this:

*The current administration is more innovative than the last*

Whichever party does this gets my vote at the next election. Currently there is only one contender.

  • 15.
  • At 12:15 AM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • Jim wrote:

#3 emma
So what are you going to do emma, vote labour next time and never get the debt dropped, seems a bit short sighted.

  • 16.
  • At 12:49 AM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • kensei wrote:

Aside from the difficulties of being a minority government, doesn't this just show up the problems in the system and effectively make the SNP case for them?

The Scottish Government gets a grant from Westminster. If that block grant is less than expected, then they have very little recourse other than a small change in direct taxation. They don't have the full range of measures available to an Independent government and are beholden to Westminster. The SNP could reasonably claim if they had the full powers, then all their promises would be met.

  • 17.
  • At 09:11 AM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • Conway wrote:

Is it a broken promise or an admision ?
Brain you no as well as the rest of the electorate that if our Scottish Prime minister Gordon Brown had not cut back on the funds that Scotland recieves in our block grant,the SNP would have been able to pay for the other items on there wish list.
The electorate aint stupid we can see a frame up,no matter how the Unionist parties (and yourself)try to say otherwise.

  • 18.
  • At 09:40 AM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • will wrote:

The key is politics is deliver and don't disappoint. It is early yet, but the signs are not good for the SNP administration. They can only blame the others so much, after that it is up to them.

In addition, I doubt whether the ploy over Council Tax will work in the long term if there are too many broken promises.

  • 19.
  • At 09:57 AM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • Iain wrote:

No sympathy for you Emma. It is a MINORITY administration with a SLASHED budget. Surely you understand that this means they don't have carte blanche to do whatever they want.

Moving parties for a single issue that is of benefit to you is sadly the way of political alegience these days. Try to see the bigger picture.

  • 20.
  • At 10:54 AM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • Lewis wrote:

I too am a recent convert from Labour to SNP. I am delighted with the position of the Scottish government - it's a breath of fresh air- moving control to local government - elected councillors who are closely accountable to their communities, It seems a listening government - one who is seeking to make health and education a right and not a commodity . It is impossible to achieve every thing at once - I trust this government to work towards their pledges .
So much is expected - reality is - it's time but it will take time

  • 21.
  • At 10:58 AM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • Zander wrote:

Bryce Miller makes a fair point - manifestos are drafted assuming a majority government but a minority government is unlikely to deliver on them all. A tighter than expected UK spending settlement and half a billion pounds now to be spent on Edinburgh's tram system means it was likely some commitments couldn't be upheld.

From a neutral viewpoint, I would be interested to know if any of the other parties manifestos would be 100% delivered given the finances available to the Scottish governement.

  • 22.
  • At 11:38 AM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • Cocteau8 wrote:

Whatever the quality of the various manifesto pledges produced by the SNP, and their ability to implement them once in power, the grant pledge for first time buyers was always a gimmick that could never be implemented - the cost would be great and the benefits would only be felt buy those selling, who would see an instant prospect of a £2,000 increase in their selling price. That we can say farewell to this pledge there is, therefore, much relief!

  • 23.
  • At 11:44 AM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • Gordon Graham wrote:

Of course it is so easy for Ms Alexander and Mr Stephen to pick holes in the SNP Budget, when you have effectively picked John Swinney's pocket to the tune of £500 Million by insisting that the Edinburgh Tram Line goes ahead.
That extra half billion could have been used in many of the areas where Mr Swinney has had to make the tough decisions.
No government ever makes good on 100% of their Manifesto pledges, let alone is able to do it immediately after taking office as Ms Alexander seems to expect. She, together with Mr Stephen seems to suffer from 'Opposition Amnesia', which causes those affected to forget everything that they failed to do when in power
I would ask Mr Stephen and Ms Alexander, where are the 1200 NHS Dentists that your joint administration promised for Scotland ?

  • 24.
  • At 12:00 PM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • bob blair wrote:

Maybe if the other parties hadnt forced Trams on every one at a cost of £500 Million, wonder how many police officers and teachers that could have paid for. Oh, and how much student debt could have been written off with that money.

It is not the fault of the government that they received a lower than expected settlement from the uk gov, nor is it their fault that they are a minority. The difference with the SNP and the other parties is that they do intend to live up to their pledges, it just might take longer.

I think that to receive a lower increase in settlement compared to other years is GB trying to win over middle England, he is stabbing his fellow countrymen in the back to further his own career. Lastly, when you consider the settlement at a time when oil is selling for nearly $100 per barrel. I say bring on independence.

  • 25.
  • At 12:39 PM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • Cocteau8 wrote:

Whatever the quality of the various manifesto pledges produced by the SNP, and their ability to implement them once in power, the grant pledge for first time buyers was always a gimmick that could never be implemented - the cost would be great and the benefits would only be felt buy those selling, who would see an instant prospect of a £2,000 increase in their selling price. That we can say farewell to this pledge there is, therefore, much relief!

  • 26.
  • At 01:51 PM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • David P wrote:

First Minister's question time is an unedifying sight these days. The Presiding Officer should stamp out all this partisan applauding. It looks contrived and unprofessional and it does not play at all well with the public.

  • 27.
  • At 02:35 PM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • Peter, Fife wrote:

How fickle voters prove they are, not as the many claim or have claimed to be supporting policies for the common good (no red flags flying here) but merely those of their own self interests.

I have claimed for years that ‘thinking voters’ tend to assess how each administration would affect them personally, even though for many that merely consisted of reading the biased views of so called newspapers and listening to the views of supposedly unbiased television journalists; at one time such an accusation could only be raised against the ‘red tops’ now however it seems there is little difference in headline writing and biased reporting irrespective of whose newsprint one reads.

Apart from the obvious encumbrance of minority party status the SNP need to furnish the Scottish voters with details of where the Westminster meanies have treated this administration differently to the previous one led as it was by West Coast Jack.

I feel these plans are clearly designed to deliver limitations and reductions in Scotland’s budget to provide their weak Scottish Labour Leadership with the ammunition to attack the current Scottish Government; we must not forget the other outcomes for these miserly allocations, the malice involved in such actions must be remembered and supporters of rosettes other than the SNP should not lose sight of the facts, these settlements impinge negatively on all who live in Scotland not just SNP supporters and their administrators.

  • 28.
  • At 03:55 PM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • bob blair wrote:

Maybe if the other parties hadnt forced Trams on every one at a cost of £500 Million, wonder how many police officers and teachers that could have paid for. Oh, and how much student debt could have been written off with that money.

It is not the fault of the government that they received a lower than expected settlement from the uk gov, nor is it their fault that they are a minority. The difference with the SNP and the other parties is that they do intend to live up to their pledges, it just might take longer.

I think that to receive a lower increase in settlement compared to other years is GB trying to win over middle England, he is stabbing his fellow countrymen in the back to further his own career. Lastly, when you consider the settlement at a time when oil is selling for nearly $100 per barrel. I say bring on independence.

  • 29.
  • At 05:04 PM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • Murdo wrote:

Can I use this space to comment on the COSLA deal? I take the view that John Swinney has effectd a very significant change through freeing up the Councils to spend their budgets in line with local priorities albeit against national guidelines, together with allowing them to retain any savings. For many years now, government has been ever more prescriptive in instructing councils how to use the resources allocated to them and ever more centralising in forcing obedience through micro-management tools such as target fixing. A fair sized sub-industry has grown up in local government (as well as in health boards and other public bodies) dedicated to the measuring and reporting of performance against targets and in national government dedicated to checking up on them all. The cost of this sub-industry is massive, but can I believe be demonstrated to produce no real benefit other than the employment of the army of bean counters. I do hope that that this step of Mr Swinney's will be followed by a substantial reduction in this army with subsequent savings in cost, time and duplicated effort. Perhaps of even more significance however is that this is a first and pretty big step towards the localisation (the opposite of centralisation) of the management of the country.

  • 30.
  • At 07:13 PM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • Simon L wrote:

Agh, dropping the student thing entirely is a huge mistake. Its about as much of a vote winner as you can get. They'd have been better giving some good news for students in some form. This could come back to haunt the SNP here I think. Saying that, for as long as Wendy Alexander is in charge of Labour the SNP could probably cut all its promises and they'd still manage to stay in power.

In general it was obvious because of how things were panning out (votes, trams, Westminster) that the SNP weren't going to be able to back up all their promises but dropping the student one will be the thing 4 years from now where you're walking down the street and you'll hear the 18-24 voters chirping "remember when they lied the last time? I can't vote for them now".

Even if Alex Salmond was to solve the Middle East crisis tomorrow, you'd have Scots complaining about the student debt plan being scrapped. First serious mistake of the SNP administration I'd say.

Interestingly though - I read elsewhere a fair comment from somebody else - does Scotland really need like 13 universities? Does everybody need to be going to university? Its food for thought certainly. Says a person here sitting on his second degree.

  • 31.
  • At 07:43 PM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • George wrote:

Its understandable that some of the SNP pledges gad to be shelved since the Westminster government managed to put the financial squeeze on, I bet that would not have happened if Labore had regained power! The SNP were forced to find cash for the Edinburgh Trams project, all 500 million quid of it.

They have promised to abolish the Libdem and Labore backdoor tuition fee, which must be something for students to be happy about.

As for student debt, I have read that the SNP have done a U-turn on the pledge, this is just not so, a U-turn would mean they now disagree with the idea, all SNP have said is that they cant afford it now, but that’s not to say it wont happen later.

Remember they have managed to get an agreement that will allow a council tax freeze over the next 3 years with a view to its abolition, compare that with Labores record of a 60% increase since devolution. Get your house valuation out and work out how much that’s gone up since 1997 and then think about bemoaning SNP’s first budget.

Voters need to remember that Labore in Westminster control the SNP purse strings and they were never going to allow SNP cash to look good in the public eye. I blame LABORE and the Unionist conspiracy.

  • 32.
  • At 08:15 PM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • Jwil wrote:

Contrast the bottom-of-the-barrel scraping situation in Scotland with the bottomless pit of money the Westminster government seem to have to throw about in England!

  • 33.
  • At 12:35 PM on 17 Nov 2007,
  • will wrote:

I agree with David P (#16). I find the applause at First Minister's question time as off-putting and childish as the baying at Prime Ministers question time in Westminster.

Please, let's have a little dignity from all sides in the debates.

  • 34.
  • At 09:36 AM on 19 Nov 2007,
  • Anne wrote:

So pleased to see that Westminster Labour's nastiness over the tight allocation of money to the SNP government has not gone unnoticed. This will come home to roost in 2011. Good on the Scottish government on pointing up that Scotland has no access to it's own very rich natural resources, ie. oil, and has to do with a paltry handout from Westminster. All that was hidden is seeing light of day. Serves the Scottish Labour MPs and MSPs right for the lies they have told about Scotland over the years. Or is this called poetic justice.

  • 35.
  • At 10:06 AM on 19 Nov 2007,
  • EricH wrote:

What happened to the Labour promise of a fair and positive election that turned into a farce with the voting papers and a debacle with the postal vote which affected many students, including my son, and deprived many of their right to vote. If you feel the need to blame anyone, blame those who took the decisions, not those who are trying to clean up the mess.

  • 36.
  • At 12:51 PM on 19 Nov 2007,
  • Craig Graham wrote:

I have some sympathy with the SNP. How difficult it must be to actually know what you can deliver until you are in the hotseat and have the information you need. Brian Taylor suggests maniefstos should be caveated with every circumstance in which a pledge cannot be achieved. Such "flow-chart" politics is unrealistic. A manifesto is about intentions, not guarantees. It is for the electorate to judge whether objectives are deliverable and vote accordingly. I do not necessarilly agree with previous comments that Mr Swinney's failure to fully deliver the manifesto pledges will be to their detriment. In actual fact it may serve to highlight that Scottish objectives may sometimes be hindered by being not being able to fully control income whilst part of the UK.

  • 37.
  • At 03:53 PM on 19 Nov 2007,
  • Stephen wrote:

None of the previous executives carried out their election promises to 100%.

This government wont either with a minority in the chamber. More votes for SNP would have meant a SNP majority and scrapping of the Trams.

This would have produced 500 mill for 1000 police, more money for Unis, 1000 more nurses/carers the 50 mill promised to help dump student debt (ie initially freeze the interest). Pretty much everything the SNP wanted. If you want these things give the SNP a majority next time.

  • 38.
  • At 04:10 PM on 19 Nov 2007,
  • Browntheclown wrote:

Alexander and Stephen suit each other perfectly - they illustrate EXACTLY why Scotland is better off with even a minority SNP leading us.

  • 39.
  • At 09:17 AM on 20 Nov 2007,
  • john wrote:

the snp has the same amount of money to spend as Northern Rock have been given. Labour has shown it will squeeze Scotland for political purposes and throw money away in the south to try and prop up its vote. The snp should be applauded for making such a good budget out of such poor ingredients. I seriously doubt if Wendy or the Libs could have done half as well

  • 40.
  • At 09:25 AM on 20 Nov 2007,
  • geo wrote:

Brian, did you actually see question time? (As I'm sure you did) I think you'll agree Salmond had Wendy over a barrel!

Wendy Alexander: I know that the First Minister likes to avoid yes or no answers, but parents across Scotland need to know. Let me ask one simple question. Does every local authority in Scotland have to make year-on-year progress towards achieving the SNP's pledge to reduce class sizes—yes or no?

The First Minister: Yes. It is item 4 in the agreement with COSLA

Wendy's response... Um... "The First Minister did not answer the question."

She really needs to buck her ideas up or at least get a new spin doctor (hey wait... :P)

Anyway, keep up the work Brian - your blogs are always fun to read.

  • 41.
  • At 11:37 AM on 20 Nov 2007,
  • PMK wrote:

I agree with the earlier comments about applauding during First Minister's questions. However, as with the budget statement, it is often the only way in which the government benches can hope to overpower the disgraceful booing and shouting coming from the Labour side of the chamber. The Presiding Officer really needs to clamp down on this undignified spectacle and chuck out the next wee nyaff who attempts to shout down a government minister. Labour could not manage to be dignified in government - why expect anything else from in opposition, I suppose?! You would think they would have reconciled themselves with reality by now though!

  • 42.
  • At 04:03 PM on 20 Nov 2007,
  • martin wrote:

Wendy, her brother and their boss Gordon Broon were in cahoots to wreck the SNP's budget by giving the lowest settlement since devolution began. They are trying all to derail democracy and they are the wreckers of devolution. The people of Scotland put the SNP in power, never lose sight of that.
I also agree, after years of stagnation under the lab/lib dem co-alition of nowt for the students, no more police, council tax up 60% all over Scotland, the SNP are abolishing prescription charges, got rid of the endowment policy for students, freezing council tax which is a massive vote winner, more police and so on, they really are a breath of fresh air, they were dark days of nothingness under the previous lot.

So Emma, feel free to go back to labour but always remember they gave the public tax hikes aka council tax

and not much else. They are hypocrites with a brass neck who could only spread fear and lies with their negative election campaign in 2007, Scotland is the better without people like them who have self interest as their goal. People beware.

Maybe if they had the guts to tell Gordon to get the weapons of mass destruction out of Scotland, wed all be the richer and safer for it.


Roll on Independence, it cant come soon enough for Scotland.

This post is closed to new comments.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.