I first met Scottish Conservative MSP Adam Tomkins in the aftermath of his election to the Scottish Parliament in 2016. Mr Tomkins, a professor at the University of Glasgow School of Law, was a campaigner for the union prior to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 and was later appointed by the Conservatives to the Smith Commission, which oversaw the devolution of powers enshrined in the Scotland Act 2016. Our paths crossed during the time he held the social security portfolio for the Scottish Conservatives.
As the head of a leading charity working with people experiencing poverty across Scotland, I often received a volley of abuse for engaging with Conservative politicians like Professor Tomkins as if I was courting the executioner at a public beheading. A potent manifestation of this was when I invited the then Scottish Secretary and MP for Dumfriesshire – David Mundell – to open a foodbank in his constituency in 2015. Mr Mundell was sadly confronted by 150 protestors wielding potatoes and placards.
Adam Tomkins would, therefore, have had reason to exert caution when I invited him to Scotland’s busiest foodbank in his own constituency in 2017. To the contrary, he accepted and sought to understand what drives foodbank use. Reflecting on that meeting and where we are now, he says: “ The SNP do not appear remotely interested in ending hunger.” He adds: “They appear more content in using it as a weapon for what they perceive to be the failed UK state rather than solving the problem.”
It is for precisely this reason Professor Tomkins is leaving Holyrood. He says: “I am getting out of politics because social problems are weaponised down constitutional lines and I have seen this no more than in the area of drug deaths.” An issue of great concern to people in Dundee, he adds: “The SNP became interested in safe injection rooms only when they realised they could not deliver it so, rather than talking about what they can do, they spend their time arguing about the one thing they cannot do.”
A major area of concern for a number of opposition politicians has been the manner in which the Scottish Government’s flagship Education Bill was shelved in July by John Swinney. Professor Tomkins says: “ Yet again, we’ve failed to reform Scotland’s education making them the centres of global excellence they were again anticipated to be and what is SNP’s answer? Their answer is to take us out of international table.” He says: “It is an absolute shambles.”
However, Professor Tomkins is not pessimistic concerning the future of Scottish politics. Instead, he says: “Everything is to play for. I just wish we could get to a point where we can have an honest and robust conversation about social policy that is not about the constitution. I actually think that is more important to Scotland’s future.”