DO people still have scrambles at weddings? In the last few bashes I have been to the only unseemly dash has been to bag the cheapest items on the gift list.

In years gone by, though, it was the job of the groom, just before whisking his new bride away to exotic climes (usually Saltcoats), to throw a chunk of change on the pavement for weans to fight over.

Many a glorious moment was spent elbowing your chum in the belly for the sake of a two pence piece.

I was reminded of those happy days while watching the SNP’s virtual conference.

Whoosh, clatter, ping went the coins to pay for free school dinners for all, a pay rise for public sector workers, not a Rishi Sunak freeze, a winter help package, and a £500 thank you to 300,000 NHS and care workers. The bill for the latter alone will come in at £180 million.

Now, presumably those who thought up this £500 bonus thought they were on to a sure-fire winner. Who could possibly object to thanking those staff who have worked so hard, and continue to do so, to help others? This, surely, was one of those “no brainer” policies, a smart move that was doing the right thing, and at the same time would put a government in credit with the electorate. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

But what doubtless began as a nice idea soon began to look tarnished. For a start, there was the unfairness of singling out a group of workers, however deserving, for a bonus.

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We all know people who have suffered during this pandemic who deserve a thank you, a boost.

The stroke patients denied essential physio; the cancer patients whose treatment was delayed; the teachers who carried on even while pupil after pupil tested positive for the virus; the bin lorry staff who never missed a collection, even in those desperate days of last Spring when not a soul ventured on to the streets; the people with mental health problems, children among them, who could not get the help they required.

Everyone who could not get near a GPs’ surgery or consultant; the supermarket staff who kept the shelves stacked while many around them lost their heads and began panic buying; the bus drivers who kept on trucking so the cleaners could get to their early morning shifts; the shopkeepers, restaurateurs and bar owners who jumped through every hoop placed before them, yet find themselves with doors closed in the critical weeks before Christmas. On and on the list goes.

Even if you did not object to the divisiveness of the bonus, it was hard not to feel irked at what came next. This “gift” came with a string attached – the SNP wanted Downing Street to waive the tax. Even though the tax revenue would come to Scotland. Even though the government in Wales had tried the same thing earlier this year and been told no. Even though, as the Fraser of Allander Institute (FAI) pointed out, exempting the £500 from tax would benefit higher rate taxpayers more.

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There was a simple way round the tax problem, said the FAI: bump up the payment to cover it. Challenging Downing Street over the tax looked like bringing “a healthy dose of politics” into play, the FAI concluded.

It was right. Now, this is no-one’s first rodeo, or election. Voters around the world have grown used to being bribed by their own money. But this close to the date, and so obviously?

Even if you did not object to the £500-for-some bonus, the way it was used to advance the SNP’s constitutional cause was about as subtle as Boris Johnson driving a digger through a wall of fake bricks. We expect that kind of nonsense from him, but come on, as we are constantly being urged to believe, we’re supposed to be better than that.

It is hard to know what is more infuriating: being taken for a mug who will say yes to anything, or having it done so blatantly. The latter shows an added level of disrespect, of contempt even.

The SNP should know this. It spent enough years castigating Scottish Labour for taking voters for granted, yet now it is doing the same. It presents a picture of Scotland in which everything in the garden is rosy, and if it is not then that is only because the owner of the land won’t hand over the right tools for the job.

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But those who spend every day in this supposed Eden know there is plenty that needs fixing, from the basics (the economy, health, education) to having a credible plan for the future. Many things need money spent on them, and that requires a lot of cash to be raised. Still, why talk of such thorny matters when you can hose cash around in the shape of £500 bonuses?

There is something that has been bothering me for some time. It can be summed up in one question: where is all the money going?

The concern was raised again a week ago while reading John Swinney’s testimony to the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. The Deputy FM explained there had been debate in Cabinet over whether to hold such an inquiry, whether it would deliver for survivors. There was no problem over meeting the cost, said the former finance Minister, and the green light was given.

“When I came to office in 2007,” said Mr Swinney, “I was pleasantly surprised there was £1.6 billion in an account in the treasury that hadn’t been spent.”

He thought this “quite surprising”. I would call it alarming. How could there be so much money, amounting to what Mr Swinney called “a hidden money tree”, sitting in an account doing nothing?

If there was such a thing in 2007 one does have to wonder if there are not more such specimens today. Instead of holding a scramble at the end of her party conference, the First Minister would better serve the public by presenting a clear set of accounts, money in, money out, money in reserve. Let us all have a look at the books, then we can see the state of play.

It used to be Scotland’s oil. It still is, last time I checked, Scotland’s money. Use it wisely.

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