The polarisation of Scotland’s politics is often frustrating. Some people blame the independence movement for that, but I often notice that some of the people who portray the cause of independence as divisive are the same ones who stubbornly refuse to see beyond that dividing line. The recent antics of Labour, Conservatives and the LibDems passing up every chance for proper engagement in the budget process was a case in point.
In the early days of devolution there was excitement about Scotland being able to get to work on issues which had been sidelined or ignored by successive UK Governments. Transport was one area where new energy and momentum were sorely needed.
Most days, MSPs reply to quite a number of letters and emails from our constituents. Sometimes the reply can offer some practical help, and at other times that’s just not possible. Sometimes the correspondence is about a fundamental difference of political opinion, and of course people have a right to question their representatives about such issues.
Frank Sinatra told us that it’s the city that doesn’t sleep, and this week New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio proved that he’s not lying down on the job when it comes to the world’s greatest environmental challenge either.
It will be a happier new year than expected for some of the people working through the chilly night forecast on the 31st. Edinburgh’s annual Hogmanay celebration is one of the events that gives Scotland’s capital a global prominence, with visitors and locals joining together to see in the new year. But after budget cuts from the local council, the commercial organisers of the event decided to recruit volunteers to take on what had previously been paid roles, as ‘Hogmanay Ambassadors’.
Derek Mackay has one of the most challenging jobs in politics. He has to construct a budget which not only balances the books, but defends against Tory austerity and meets rising demand for public services. He has to respond to the competing demands for investment in the future and also to the different views across a parliament of minorities.
A budget, from either government, is always a critical point on the parliamentary calendar. It’s true that budget documents are only fully understood in the days or weeks after publication, but I guess we all need to make a first stab it is, so here’s mine.
All governments play a bit of a game with their budgets, drawing attention to the good news and hiding the bad. It’s often called “smoke and mirrors”, but given the way governments try to lead their rivals to pick on the wrong aspects to criticise, I think the old cup-and-ball routine is a better metaphor.
Moving back to Glasgow from university, some twenty-odd years ago, I was in the same position as most people of my age in knowing that the private rented sector was my only option. With social housing unavailable and owner occupation unaffordable, a private tenancy was already the only housing choice available to a great many people. There was some pretty shoddy housing out there, and some pretty sharp practice too, as I found to my cost when I was harassed out of one flat by a landlord who refused even to give me a written lease.
For generations, people have gathered together in remembrance on the 11th of November, the anniversary of the cessation of hostilities in 1918, or on the following Sunday. But the feelings people have about this have always differed, and over recent years a note of intolerance has crept in. It often seems that a minority of people want this moment to become one of enforced jingoistic patriotism, or even a celebration of militarism, rather than solemn remembrance.