Today, Nicola Sturgeon becomes the longest serving First Minister in the history of devolution. Surpassing Alex Salmond’s seven years, six months and five days. It’s a long time to be in charge: a full generation by some definitions. Certainly time enough to make your mark on a country with devolved powers unparalleled in the democratic world. But what difference has Sturgeon made in her time in office:
1. Life expectancy for Scots men and women has seen the sharpest fall in 40 years – accelerating in the time Sturgeon’s been in power.
Scottish men born today can expect to live 77 years, the lowest of any UK country (it’s 79 in England) and a fall of some 18 weeks on the year before. The same is true for women who can expect to live to 81 – a six week fall. Glasgow has the lowest life expectancy of anywhere in the UK. Life expectancies were generally rising for decades but seem to have peaked between 2014 and 2016.
There’s a ten year gap in life expectancy between baby girls born in the poorest and richest areas of Scotland. For boys it’s almost 14 years. This poverty gap has grown some 1.3 years for males and 1.6 years for females since 2013-15. The OECD measures ‘social and economic wellbeing’ too – Sturgeon has said ‘collective wellbeing’ is a better judge than GDP – in the latest release only three countries were falling: Finland, Greece and Scotland.
2. Drug deaths have soared in this time too. Deaths from ‘drug-related’ causes in Scotland reached a record high for the seventh year running. More people die from drug misuse in Scotland than anywhere else in the developed world. This policy area is so controversial that disputes within government agencies and Scottish academia have led to crucial reports into this being delayed. Last year the heads of Scotland’s ‘drug taskforce’ resigned because of government desires to meet targets rather than make lasting change.
3. The First Minister said in 2016 that closing the attainment gap between rich and poor would be her 'defining mission'. The gap is as wide as ever.
By 11 years old there is a 20 per cent gap between the richest and poorest pupils' ability to write, read and count. Progress in closing the gap for Higher pass rates is slow too. Data is crucial to understanding public sector failures. But Sturgeon’s regime has removed Scottish schools from TIMSS and PIRLS making it harder to compare Scottish education internationally. PISA scores show declining scores in Maths and Science. The science score of 497 was considerably lower than the English score of 507. 'Let me be clear, I want to be judged on this', said Sturgeon in 2015.
4. The NHS is failing too.
8,000 patients (nearly a third of all attendees) waited more than the four hour standard to be seen in A&E last month. The target hasn’t been met since July 2020. Only the Western Isles and Shetland are meeting the target. In Forth Valley just over half of patients are seen within the four hours. Frontline doctors have warned the Covid backlog will take years to clear.
The government doesn’t want attention drawn to its recent Health and Care experience survey which shows patient satisfaction with GP provision continuing a steady decline. Things aren’t much better in England but ‘data divergence’ makes it increasingly difficult to compare the two countries.
5. Scotland enjoys one of the largest budget deficits in the developed world.
As a result of the Barnett Formula spending on public services in Scotland is some 30 per cent higher than it is in England. A financial bonus that pays for many of the SNP’s flagship policies. The Scottish Government isn’t required to balance its budget and the union maintains this level of spending deficit that could be used to improve the countries’ key metrics. The deficit last year was some 22 per cent. EU membership requires it to be no higher than three per cent.
Despite all this, Scotland has the highest income tax rates in the UK. Unless the Scottish Government change tack, analysis from the insurer Aegon says: 'from 2024 everyone in Scotland earning above £14,732 will be paying more income tax than those resident in the rest of the UK.’
6. Since Sturgeon came to power she’s launched a second independence campaign multiple times.
Her proclamations may regularly splash the front page of newspapers but none of this has moved the dial. Despite admirable domination of every election in Scotland since her ascension, the latest polling average puts Yes at 49 per cent, no huge increase on the 2014 result. A poll this morning had the Yes side at just 38 per cent. Brexit, Boris, the pandemic and Partygate haven’t changed things for any meaningful period. Independence supporters are right to grow frustrated.
7. And now the trains don’t run on time.
The SNP/Green Government nationalised Scotrail on 1 April and they’re in a dispute with the drivers unions who are currently refusing to work on their rest days. To provide ‘clarity for commuters’ the government cut a third of services. This weekend scores of Scotrail services were delayed or cancelled – travellers were asked to ‘make alternative arrangements’.
Politically her achievements are remarkable – Scotland’s electoral maths ensure power for as long as the SNP want to hold it. But years from now, some will ask, was it all worth it?