Monday 12 November 2007

Who broke that?

That's a question that results in thousands of denials and accusations between siblings when parents ask it - the classic 'big boy did it and ran away' response.

More interesting is when you ask it of political parties, like "who broke their promise that they wouldn't introduce tuition fees?" or "who broke their promise that the removal of tuition fees was non-negotiable?" Labour for the first one and Lib Dems for the second one, since you ask.

Here we are, six months into the first four-year term of an SNP Government, though, and Labour and the Lib Dems are accusing the SNP of breaking manifesto promises.

Let's get that right - those promises were "within the four year term we will ...". Someone's stretching the truth in all directions.

Here's a promise that the SNP Government has been accused of breaking (this is the actual phrasing from our manifesto):

It is essential that we have sufficient police on local streets. That’s why we will set out plans in our first Budget for Scotland for 1000 more police and will encourage Chief Constables to focus these new resources on community policing

The opposition were saying that the SNP Government had broken a promise made six months ago because it wasn't guaranteeing 1,000 new recruits (somehow they seem to think that police officers straight out of the wrapper are intrinsically better than police officers with a few years' experience - personally I'd take either but I'd prefer a mixture of both).

Kenny MacAskill announced today that £54 million has been earmarked specifically for the recruitment of 500 new police officers as a first step. He also laid out other parts of his plan to ensure that police officers are no longer tied to a desk but can patrol the streets and to examine the possibilities for retaining officers who might otherwise be leaving the force while they still have much to offer.

The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland welcomed the statement, but not the opposition. Here's a selection of the tantrums:

Pauline McNeill (Labour)

"This is nothing less than a betrayal of people across Scotland, before the election the SNP said very clearly that they would recruit an extra 1000 police officers. Now less than six months into government they admit they will only hire half of this."

Bill Aitken (Con)

"This is a sham. Today we are told that, after initially promising 1,000 additional police officers, and then backtracking to '1,000 more police in our communities', we are in fact only getting 500 extra officers and the SNP cannot guarantee any of them will be out on the beat. Today they have finally admitted this key manifesto pledge was nothing more than a con."

Nicol Stephen (Lib Dem)

"The Nationalist government has wriggled and squirmed but it still refuses to say how many police officers there will be in Scotland in three years' time. It is dodgy spin and shifty auditing."

Take a look at the manifesto pledge and look at what the opposition's saying - MacAskill's actions are fulfilling that manifesto pledge, the opposition parties are being, if I'm being generous, disingenuous.

Interestingly, the continual accusations by the opposition are beginning to impact on the reporting of the situation by journalists - Robbie Dinwoodie of the Herald says in his blog

When it became clear that the SNP manifesto pledge to hire 1000 extra police officers was going to have to be broken ... the SNP endured a long month of cheap hits on how it reneged on a key pledge

The pledge wasn't broken, it's being honoured. Robbie's quite right when he goes on to say:

Ministers had to wrestle with two things that could never have been known at the time of drafting the SNP manifesto.One is that the Comprehensive Spending Review would produce a real terms increase of less than half of one per cent in the first year.The second is that a minority government could have other spending commitments imposed on it, such as the Edinburgh trams scheme.

I'll wait for Wednesday, though. John Swinney made it clear that he was setting out to ensure that the SNP Government could fulfil its manifesto and match the expectations of the Scottish people in spite of Labour's party politics interfering with Scotland's financial settlement and the shenanigans from the opposition.

Brian Taylor's blog has a similar slant where he says that the SNP Government's determination to freeze council tax in advance of abolishing it is a wheeze:

A popular "forget about police and class sizes" freeze.

Actually, that was a manifesto commitment too - another one being delivered.

In passing, the courage of Pat Watters, a Labour councillor, in telling his party to back off and let local authorities do the negotiating with the Scottish Government on council tax is a good sign - mature politics in action, and I hope the rest of his party learns from his good example.

I've got Newsnight Scotland on in the background and I've just heard Glenn Campbell describing the commitment as being to "new" officers, closely followed by Pauline McNeill and Bill Aitken (again).

If the SNP Government has failed to meet any of its promises by the end of that four-year term I'm sure the people of Scotland will be able to give their verdict in the election. What is certain is that none of them is broken yet, there was no big boy who did it and ran away, no denials, no accusations. The SNP Government is delivering on the promises in the SNP manifesto.

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