Last week I read an article in the Daily Record that really rankled with me. It was about the new Social Security Scotland system being developed by the Scottish Government to deliver a range of benefits. Some of these benefits we are taking over from the UK Government, and some are brand new benefits, like the game changing Scottish Child Payment.
The thrust of the Record’s article was about the IT system being ‘over budget’ and ‘still not finished’.
I am well aware that it is the responsibility of MSPs, particularly those in opposition, to scrutinise government spending and decisions. In fact it is their duty. But what rankled with me was that in scrutinising the costs of the project – which are high and ongoing – not one opposition politician acknowledged any of the following:
— that the spec for the project has expanded since the initial budget was approved to include the Scottish Child Payment – hence the increase in cost and in the time required to deliver it, which again has an effect on costs
— that benefits are being successfully delivered right now to thousands of people who need them
— that building a system with fairness, dignity and respect at its foundation will cost more than mirroring the system at Westminster which allows – maybe ensures – that claimants are treated so cruelly
— that devolving benefits to Scotland was part of the devolution settlement
— that it is important to build a system with the capacity to grow, both in terms of numbers of benefits and numbers of claimants
I responded to the original article with a short piece which has appeared on the Daily Record website today, 26 July. It doesn’t make all these points though it does make others!
The difference between Holyrood and Westminster – certainly between an SNP Government and a Tory one – is that with the SNP if you are entitled to a benefit we want you to claim it. And it shouldn’t be a humiliating and complex process to do so.
When you compare the behaviour of opposition parties today to the SNP’s behaviour in opposition in 1999-2003 and 2003-2007, it is a stark contrast.
Yes, we scrutinised and criticised. Yes, we demanded better.
But when a policy like Free Personal Care for the Elderly was proposed we welcomed it wholeheartedly and acknowledged the good it would do.
When the ban on smoking in public places was proposed, we got right behind it because of its huge role in improving public health.
And when free bus travel for the over 60s was proposed, we said yes, great idea.
We scrutinised, but gave fair passage to good legislation in the interests of people in Scotland.
I don’t understand why particularly Labour and the Lib Dems can’t say anything positive about policies being delivered by the Scottish Parliament. It’s not my job to tell them this, but I don’t think it’s a winning strategy.