Nicola Sturgeon claims in today’s First Minister’s Question: “it is the easiest thing in the world to get up and diagnose the problem.” Really? Most medical doctors would like to know how, and I am sure medical students would like to know how to shorten their course of studies.
Rather, it is easy to see a problem but its diagnosis may be very difficult. Even when there is a diagnosis, it is difficult to find a solution, and there might be more than one solution. This might be what she meant. Scotland’s First Minister was responding to opposition questions and continued: “Our job and what we are doing is coming up with solutions.”
“Solutions” – plural. Sometimes it is for lack of a proper diagnosis that there are multiple solutions. Medical doctors will tell you that when there are many different tablets for an illness, then none of them works. The reason is that if one of them worked, it would drive the other ones off the market. There are, of course, problems that do require multiple, often co-ordinated, solutions such as behaviour change.
There are multitudes of theories how to solve problems, and it is not appropriate for the First Minister to complain about suggested diagnoses nor solutions, especially when she has formerly called for ideas from opposition parties.
Suggested solutions often involve throwing taxpayer’s money at the next kite flown by those responsible for finding solutions. As Margaret Thatcher once said: “Socialist governments … always run out of other people’s money”.
The usual SNP ‘get out of jail free’ card is to blame Westminster for not giving them enough money nor sufficient power. However, most problems in public life have multiple diagnoses and multiple, multi-agency solutions, which can and should be addressed and improved within the budget one has. Most people have to live within their means.
As each government fails, voters are persuaded to elect the next government full of promises how to fix whatever issue rises to the top of the political agenda. Often, in government, they discover the difficulty of finding solutions and make excuses that things are worse than they knew when they were in opposition.
Nicola Sturgeon also complained against “Ruth Davidson, who would reduce the amount of money we have available for public services by giving tax cuts to the richest people in our society. It doesn’t add up. Ruth Davidson cannot offer tax cuts to the richest while calling for more investment in our public services.” One may think that the debate about optimum levels of taxation for optimum income had passed by the First Minister, but this would be a mistake, because in the past Sturgeon has used this well-worn Tory argument about driving away the rich by raising taxes in order to justify her not using Holyrood’s tax-raising powers. Her complaint to the Tories shows that it is not so easy to diagnose the problem nor to find the solutions, because she cannot see how it adds up.
Talk, and more talk.