Scots are on the road to nowhere led by a PR firm passing itself off as government writes EDDIE BARNES

Three stories about the ­Scottish Government have come together over the past few days to tell us something important about the way we are led.

They show that it’s best to think of the SNP-Green coalition as a giant PR agency for its ministerial team and their nationalist agenda.

They also help to explain the gaping chasm in Scotland between the promises made by ministers (to rescue shipbuilding on the Clyde; to ­create a new national energy company; to close the attainment gap… I could go on) and the outcomes they say they want to achieve. In short, this week’s stories show why, in Scotland, things don’t work.

Story number one concerns First Minister Humza Yousaf and his current visit to the US. Mr Yousaf is in New York to attend Climate Week, a conference held every year to promote the push towards net zero. But he’s also there to promote himself.

Best of pals: Patrick Harvie, Lorna Slater and Humza Yousaf

The Scottish Government, he announced, is committing £2.5million to a new World Health Organisation  Fund. The cash has ensured that Mr Yousaf has been invited, while in the Big Apple, to meet its boss, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus. ‘This is the first time a WHO director general has met with a First Minister of Scotland,’ a Scottish Government press release breathlessly informed us on Monday.

Forget for a moment this sounds like a football-daft teenager boasting of getting Lionel Messi’s  autograph, the message we’re being sold is that Mr Yousaf is making it on the global stage.

Story number two is the ­government’s legal challenge over gender recognition ­legislation which began in the Court of Session yesterday.

The often unspoken truth about gender politics is that, aside from a small number of very angry people, this is an issue that lies at the bottom of the public’s priorities.

Most of us are much more worried about other, bigger, issues like the cost of living and the state of the NHS. Nonetheless, the SNP this week has ridden into battle on our behalf.

Mr Yousaf’s Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain, KC, told the court yesterday this wasn’t about gender – it was about the principle that UK ministers shouldn’t overrule a policy that had been backed by the Scottish parliament.

To cut to the chase, the floor of the Court of Session isn’t about a legal dispute over gender reform; it’s being used to litigate and aerate the SNP’s wider political message of grievance towards the UK.

Finally, story number three. At a session of First Minister’s Questions in June, Mr Yousaf claimed erroneously that Scotland was home to the majority of the UK’s renew­ables resources.

Last week we learned that, instead of simply owning up to his error and correcting the record, the civil service was told to go away and work out how to retrospectively justify Mr Yousaf’s statement. 

Some bright spark figured out that, by adding ‘per capita’ to Mr Yousaf’s comment, his claim would magically be made correct. 

Thus Scotland’s public servants helped the First Minister to claim he was right all along and not to lose face.

At first glance, these stories have little in common. But look closer and you will see the obsessive focus on presentation in them all that is this government’s calling card.

All governments care how they look, of course, and no politician is immune to this. But, in the SNP-Green Government, we have an administration for whom the message – that Scotland should be an independent nation – really is its sole purpose.

It is all about the PR. Thus trips to the US for Scotland’s First Minister are ordered so he can be seen to shake hands with the head of the WHO. 

Thus costly and ill-fated judicial reviews are ordered up to reinforce the nationalist

narrative of grievance. And so civil servants concoct absurd post-facto excuses for the Boss to maintain the facade.

It is all so small, isn’t it? Mr Yousaf’s £2.5million will doubtless be well-spent by the WHO but it is not exactly game-changing.

The judicial review will likely come to little and, anyway, is over an issue most of us don’t consider important.

The back-covering exercise over Mr Yousaf’s mis-speaking to parliament (should it be called ‘Percapitagate’?) is so pathetically demeaning it makes parish council pump look like the UN.

These pots of money, these legal challenges and these manufactured rows will pass. We will all forget about them. It is all so aimless and irrelevant.

This is why they explain the government’s wider failure actually to deliver on the things most of us care about. 

For when the main focus of the government is on the appearance of things and the small political games of the day, is it any wonder the long-term slog of reform and delivery is left by the wayside?

Last week, in a podcast for the think-tank I work for, Our Scottish Future, I interviewed former SNP Health Secretary Alex Neil about his time in the job.

I have great respect for Mr Neil. He wanted, when in the job, to set up a dedicated planning and reform unit to bring about lasting change to the NHS. 

But, he acknowledged, ‘the mistake we made was that there was nobody charged with implementing the reforms’ within government. 

The priority was elsewhere: on the daily job of presentation.

Under Nicola Sturgeon, this ephemeral performative politics became the standard way of working: every day, a million here, a million there, a speech in New York, a photo op with a boat. 

Like all superficial strategies, it left little in its wake beyond a nagging sense of pointlessness and missed opportunity.

It largely ignored the biggest and thorniest questions facing the government – such as the long-term future of our NHS, the lack of growth in the ­Scottish economy, and the unsustainable spending path being taken by Scottish ministers thanks to their short-term approach.

Now, despite having seen her leadership fail, we are supposed to sit up and be impressed as her replacement presses flesh at a conference most of us have never heard about, as a judicial review is taken forward over an issue most of us don’t care about, and as his civil servants spend countless hours working out how to spare his blushes over a foolish comment most of us didn’t even see.

Think of all the time expended to haul Mr Yousaf across the Atlantic and back this week. Think of all the cost and man-hours put into the judicial review. 

Think of those civil servants who, over ­summer, sat at their desks working out how to reverse-engineer a First ­Minister’s passing comment so it could be made to appear correct.

Then look at the big challenges this government faces. There is a reason none of them are being gripped: it’s because we have a government in charge whose focus is elsewhere.

Will SNP voters who once lapped up this performance stick by Mr Yousaf’s PR exercise? Are they not tiring of this superficial pap? The by-election in Rutherglen and Hamilton West may tell us next month.

But if the three stories from this week tells us anything, it’s that a serious alternative is desperately needed to replace the PR agency passing for a government leading Scotland nowhere.