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Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Stepping Stones

I notice that Allison Hunter, SNP Group Leader on Glasgow City Council, has taken some stick this week for intimating that everything the SNP do (including in local government) is a stepping stone towards Independence. Opponents jumped on these words, perhaps understandably, pointing out that a candidate for a seat on Scotland's largest local authority should be more concerned about local issues. I have some sympathy with their views.

Indeed, I have to say - even as an SNP member - that Cllr. Hunter has never struck me as a particularly good group leader and seems peculiarly bad at getting across SNP ambitions for the city. Now having only moved to Glasgow recently I am speaking from a position of limited knowledge. Perhaps Cllr. Hunter has qualities of which I am still unaware but I can only go on what I have seen and heard.

Recently, in a tacit admission from the media that the SNP just might have a substantial interest in governing Glasgow after the May elections, Allison Hunter was asked by The Scotsman what policies she might implement. Her answer, "I haven't thought about that yet" didn't inspire much confidence.

Her recent performance at a public meeting when pressed on plans for bus services was equally shaky and after stammering incoherently, actually had to ask the representatives of other parties to confirm her understanding of the issue. It was hardly a left-field question - the issue had been in the media for the preceding 72 hours - and we might have expected her to have a greater grasp of the issues.

I do, though, have some sympathy for the 'stepping stones' to Independence comments. I assume that what she was trying to say was that SNP performance in administering local councils responsibly and innovatively, taken in concert with SNP performance at Holyrood,  is going to reassure the people of Scotland that the party can be trusted with regard to the even bigger decisions of independence. In that sense, everything the SNP do is very much a stepping stone.

Alex Salmond's minority government earned enough respect from the electorate for them to return the Nationalists to Holyrood with the supposedly impossible majority. All but the most partisan opponents have shown at least some grudging respect for their achievements in office. At the very least, they might admit that the skies didn't fall in as we were always warned they would.

Likewise SNP administrations at local authorities have won praise, for example in Stirling where the SNP have less councillors than Labour but manage to run an effective minority administration. Indeed the Accounts Commission recently highlighted the 'substantial progress' made and remarked on the 'strong leadership' and 'clear vision' being shown.

And, in the last few days, Clackmannanshire Councillor Eddie Carrick - despite his background as a Labour stalwart - commented that the SNP's leadership in his local authority had been 'a revelation'.

So, let's see what Allison Hunter and her colleagues do for Glasgow if they are fortunate enough to be given the trust of the city's voters. She may not be the greatest speaker in Scottish politics but Alex Salmond is and the Labour Party don't rate him either...

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