Nicola Sturgeon must halt this gravy train of wasted government funds | Kevin McKenna

The Scottish National party needs to get a grip on the country’s finances before it throws itself into another independence referendum

Like the school bully putting on a show for his braying playground lickspittles the Conservative administration at Westminster continues to goad Scotland. It seems that Theresa May desires a second Scottish independence referendum right now more than Holyrood’s SNP government. “How much more of this are you going to take, Scotland?” she sneers.

So how much more of this is Sturgeon going to take? Scotland has been bounced out of Europe against the wishes of almost 70% of its citizens. The most rightwing British government since the war, assisted by a rump of impostor Labour salarymen, has just voted to spend billions of pounds to maintain its weapons of mass destruction in Scotland. And last Wednesday the Ministry of Defence revealed that there was no immediate prospect of work starting on the fabled £8bn contract to build the navy’s type 26 frigates on the Clyde.

Thus, yet another promise made by the Conservative party during the independence referendum and swallowed whole by its little helpers in the Scottish Labour party was revealed to have been a fiction. The following day, Scotland was effectively told to stop wasting its time trying to agitate to remain within the EU as England negotiates its exit.

At no previous point since the Act of Union was concluded in 1707 has England seemed so foreign to Scotland. The drums are beating for independence once more and it seems increasingly likely that there will be another referendum next year. The Yes machine, which gained 15 percentage points in less than two years during the last independence campaign, is cranking up again. This time, it senses victory could be theirs. There are no indications that any of its 45% support has been lost while it believes that a toxic cocktail of Brexit, Trident and broken promises will bring the tenth of those who previously voted No to their side.

A group of senior SNP politicians is already working on plans to propose a Scottish currency and a Scottish central bank. Another group is preparing a more realistic independence message, which hints at the sacrifices that will have to be made in a newly independent state.

Yet even as Theresa May is effectively making the case for Scottish independence all on her own, the SNP government must quickly become aware of problems closer to home that raise issues of trust in the Sturgeon administration’s competence to manage the nation’s finances.

At the end of last week, it was revealed that the cost of the inquiry into the Edinburgh trams scandal is heading towards £4m. This is the inquiry set up to probe why the project was more than 100% over budget and delivered five years late in a much reduced form. The original cost was £350m.

When establishing the inquiry in 2014, the then first minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, said that it would be “swift and thorough”. It’s certainly not been swift and it remains to be seen (though we don’t know when) if it will be thorough. It’s also continuing to make a tiny coterie of trough-guzzlers extremely rich. Twenty five individuals are currently filling their boots on this inquiry, whose job it will be to identify, among other causes, how a deeply flawed procurement process saddled Scotland’s capital with the biggest cowboy operation since Doc Holliday moseyed into Dodge.

The news that the Edinburgh trams are still soaking up millions came just a few weeks after it was announced that Police Scotland had quietly decided to abandon its new unified IT system, developed by Accenture, following a hail of gremlins and glitches. When the new unitary police body was imposed on the nation by the then justice minister, Kenny MacAskill, he assured us that future savings would result. The £60m system had been introduced to merge more than 130 different computer and paper systems that had been left in place after the eight regional forces were forced together as if by a child experimenting with adhesive. Scotland’s single police force remains a wretched memorial to arrogance in high office.

In every direction, the terrain of civic Scotland is pockmarked by ruinously expensive and inefficient capital projects that have been characterised by bad governance and a lack of accountability. The multinationals and global entities that the Scottish government always favours for these contracts know that Holyrood will always be around to pick up the tab of their wastefulness and that none of their executives will ever be brought to book.

The new Forth road bridge has been delayed by a further five months owing to 25 days of bad weather in April and May. If this bridge were being built in the Bahamas then you could accept the “bad weather” excuse. This is Scotland.

Scotland likes to think that it punches above its weight in new technology and its applications. But the country seems to possess some kind of magnetic force running through it that wrecks every major IT project attempted here. The government has had to seek an extension from the European commission after its new £178m farming payments system had to be scaled back and subsequently failed to meet an EU deadline.

Meanwhile, the new IT system for NHS24, Scotland’s vital telephone health advice service, is four years late and still no nearer to becoming operational. The bill for this currently stands at around £118m, more than 55% over budget. Earlier this year, Holyrood’s public audit committee attempted to unravel the narrative of sheer incompetence through the testimony of several of its hugely well-paid senior executives. It was like watching an episode of The Banana Splits.

And so this grotesque gravy train carrying our capital investment careers on. The executives in charge continue to receive their huge salaries and pensions, crowned by massive pay-offs when their incompetence is inevitably revealed. Many rungs below, ordinary workers lose their jobs and cuts have to be made to other vital lifeline services. No one is accountable and Holyrood wrings its hands and blames high winds.

And so, while Theresa May is making a cast-iron case for Scottish independence, the people in charge of the public purse seem hellbent on destroying it. Get it sorted, Nicola, and rapid.

Theresa May, left, with Nicola Sturgeon
The UK prime minister, Theresa May, left, with Nicola Sturgeon, ‘is effectively making the case for Scottish independence all on her own’. Photograph: Lesley Martin/AFP/Getty Images


Kevin McKenna

The GuardianTramp

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