TEN years ago the SNP entered government for the first time after the most chaotic election in Scottish electoral history. It was a wild night: ballot boxes went missing and thousands of voters inadvertently spoiled their ballot papers. Next day, the result was far from clear, even as Alex Salmond helicoptered into Edinburgh and declared himself the First Minister elect. It was certainly a victory for chutzpah. Mr Salmond ran a minority administration on the slimmest of margins – 47 seats to Labour’s 46 – dependent on other parties’ abstentions in crucial votes to survive. Most Labour MSPs and press commentators didn’t expect the SNP administration to last six months. But just look at it now: the SNP has more seats in Holyrood than Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Conservatives combined.

When it loses seats, as expected, in the General Election next month, the SNP will almost certainly return more MPs than all the other parties combined. And today it hopes to extend its dominance to local government, taking Labour’s last bastion: Glasgow. But has the Scottish Government’s performance in office matched its electoral success? That’s a more difficult question.

Opposition parties say the SNP is all promise and no delivery: that it has used the national question to obscure failures in health, education and the economy, blaming Westminster for everything that goes wrong. Some on the left accuse Nicola Sturgeon of pursuing essentially Tory – or New Labour – policies beneath a fog of social democratic rhetoric.

So how does the balance sheet look on the issues that matter most? On education, it’s clear that the SNP has failed to improve matters in the past decade. Scotland has fallen behind in the international performance tables, and the number of working class school-leavers going to university remains dismally low. To be fair, Ms Sturgeon accepts this failure and has invited Scots to judge her on her ability to bridge the attainment gap in future. The Scottish Government is now courting controversy by looking to measures, like testing and opted-out schools, that have been used south of the Border.

The National Health Service appears to be performing better in Scotland than in England, where there is a deepening crisis of finance and provision. Scottish voters appear much more satisfied with their Scottish service, even though NHS spending, current and capital, has not kept pace with increases across the rest of the UK. The SNP may be benefiting from the fact that privatisation was halted in its tracks here, or it may be that morale is higher in the Scottish service. Whatever, while some targets have been missed, the health of the nation appears to be in relatively safe hands.

The economy, by contrast, is not so healthy. Scotland’s growth rate is significantly lower than south of the Border, and while job creation has held up, investment in sunrise industries is inadequate. Poor growth is largely due to the crash in the oil industry, which has shed an astonishing 120,000 jobs in two years. Scotland has been a fossil fuel economy for decades and the SNP has been as guilty as any in not seeking to diversify.

Nevertheless, it’s difficult to blame the Scottish Government for the oil shock. Ministers can legitimately claim they lack the means to make serious changes to Scotland’s economic trajectory. Holyrood lacks extensive borrowing powers, control of business and other taxes like national insurance. The only lever it can control is income tax, which brings us to social cohesion.

One of the more embarrassing items on the SNP’s 10-year balance sheet is inequality. This has grown significantly over the past 10 years, on most measures, with the top one per cent owning more wealth than the bottom 50 per cent of Scots. According to Oxfam, the top four Scots families now own more than the entire bottom 20 per cent. In income terms, the top 10 per cent earn more than the bottom 50 per cent combined, and 75 per cent of the increase in income in the past decade has gone to the better off.

Despite the First Minister’s commitment to equality, relative and absolute poverty figures have been rising again in recent years, though they’ve yet to reach the same levels as 10 years ago. Again, all this is part of a UK trend and the picture north and south of the Border is much the same. But the conclusion has to be that 10 years of SNP government has not significantly altered inequality.

However, the SNP can point to the benefits Scots receive through what Mr Salmond used to call the “social wage”: free higher education, free personal care, free prescriptions, free school meals and (extended) free childcare. These much-derided “freebies” as the Conservatives call such universal benefits, are the foundation of the SNP’s claim to be a social democratic party. The commitment to a publicly-provided NHS also bolsters Ms Sturgeon’s claim to be on the left. Which is just as well, because the SNP’s fiscal policies do not match its left-wing rhetoric. Ms Sturgeon has marginally increased income tax by not increasing the threshold for higher rate tax, but she also cut air passenger duty. She is caught in a contradiction: the SNP is calling for a 50 per cent tax to be introduced in the UK, but not in Scotland. Ms Sturgeon says the additional rate would bring in little revenue here because wealthy people would avoid paying it. She may be right, but this is the same argument made by the former UK Tory Chancellor George Osborne, when he scrapped it.

If Ms Sturgeon seems more interested in gender equality than in social inequality, that’s probably because the former is easier to achieve: as in her gender-balanced cabinet. Real social equality involves very hard choices – like Nordic levels of tax. However, less well-off voters clearly trust Ms Sturgeon to look after their interests, which is why so many have switched from Labour.

So, the SNP has pursued a cautious, centre-left agenda, not hugely different to what went before, under Labour. But we should always remember that the SNP is the party of independence, not socialism. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the SNP years was persuading 1.6 million Scots to vote to leave the UK in 2014. A majority now believe Scotland will be an independent country in 10 or 15 years. A decade ago that would have been laughed off as SNP pie in the sky.