Politicians love targets, especially when they are set a long way into the future – when the people who set the target will have moved on.
But long term plans can be important because some changes simply cannot be made quickly. I was reminded of this only last week when I saw a red squirrel in my garden. The point is that we have never seen a red squirrel here before; its presence is the result of a long term effort by Scottish Natural Heritage and many hundreds of volunteers to track and reduce the parasitic grey squirrel population. Red squirrels return to space previously occupied by the greys.
We need long term plans to improve our nation’s infrastructure; roads, railways, flood defences, broadband, telephone coverage etc. Of course initially the effort goes into providing the greatest improvement for the largest number at the lowest cost, and for a while that is fine. What we have not been good at is then changing the paradigm so that a service is available to everyone. We now have suppliers providing serious competition to give you broadband in the right places in our major cities but there is no useful service in remoter rural settings. The same applies to mobile coverage, and perhaps surprisingly it now seems to be creeping in to land lines, where even small towns are now too small a market for even good line maintenance. I suggest we are at the point where some sort of universal obligation ought to apply, as it does for water and sewage.
There are plans being implemented to integrate our health and social care services. I acknowledge this is not an easy thing to do and there are tensions as the folk involved adjust their expectations and procedures, but it must be the right idea in the longer term as many of the present barriers are quite artificial. There is however a worrying tendency still to want to centralise services instead of providing a wider range of services more locally – probably driven by the fixed costs of the existing acute hospitals.
And we are still fighting shy of addressing the huge issue of our lifestyles; particularly diet and exercise. It took a couple of generations for us as a society to understand that smoking must be actively discouraged. Whilst we continue to spend more and more on treating illnesses and next to nothing on eliminating the causes of so many of these conditions we are not learning the lesson of history.
And we are doing no better in addressing social and economic inequalities. Recent analysis shows that about 350 000 children will be worse off as a result of the latest reduction in tax credits put through by the Tories at Westminster – and these are children from families who are already some of our poorest. Just one of the reasons why some of us think we’d be better managing these things in Scotland for ourselves.