Recently I wrote in The National about Holyrood’s financial limbo as we wait for the UK Government’s autumn budget statement. Till then the Scottish Government cannot publish its spending plans for next year, so the committees which cover spending areas cannot yet know what will happen to the public finances. This situation is made even more complex and unhelpful given the additional powers coming to Holyrood; undertaking those changes in a period of financial uncertainty could prove very problematic.
Given the pace of events this summer, you could easily forget just how slow political change can be. More than a decade and a half after devolution in Scotland, and with the Conservatives never having been even close to power at Holyrood, you’d have thought that the legacy of Margaret Thatcher would have been long buried, at least when it comes to issues within the control of Scotland’s own Parliament, such as social housing.
At this point in the Holyrood calendar MSPs are normally looking forward to a quieter time over the summer recess, while the committee clerks and government officials are preparing for the budget process which begins when Holyrood returns in September.
As you may have noticed, this is no ordinary year.
The petitions which appear on change.org cover a wide range from deeply serious campaigns to eccentric ‘hobby horse’ issues. Perhaps the best I’ve seen appeared yesterday. Expressing the exhaustion many people feel with the current state of politics, a petitioner proposed: “Can we all agree that there will be no news on Friday. None. Nothing will happen. At all.”
As the vote on June 23rd draws near I have a sense of referendum deja vu, except this time my anticipation of positive, people-driven change has been replaced with a deep worry that we’re about to be dragged into an illogical mess against our will.
It’s therefore vital that progressive voices here in Scotland speak up, and persuade undecided voters – and the many who just feel unmotivated – that the challenges we face as a society are best tackled by remaining within the EU.
Recent days have seen further revelations about many of the deeply unethical business practises, which have become routine in this country. Following the parliamentary grilling of Sports Direct and BHS bosses, it’s become clear that exploitative employers have a grip on huge sections of our economy. Scotland must face up to the challenge of shaking off such unscrupulous businessmen.
After each election, Holyrood’s political parties begin a process of haggling over a range of issues, from who gets which office in the MSP block, to the allocation of debating time. One of the most important aspects of this “setting up” phase is the construction of a new committee system. With our increased numbers in Parliament this will be the first time that the Greens take places on the majority of committees.
Like many people, whenever I see George Osborne pop up on the TV screen, I can't help wishing that vote in September 2014 had gone the other way, and that Scotland was preparing to take responsibility for our own economy later this month. I felt this again watching yesterday’s budget announcement. The Chancellor's never-ending cuts, shameless tax breaks for the wealthy and poorly disguised attacks on those on low incomes made me wish we didn’t have to endure another day of inhumane economic policy.
Scotland faces a jobs challenge. It’s never been more important to have bold, ambitious voices in our parliament to ensure we plan ahead. Work in industries that Scotland has relied on in years past are no longer able to provide certainty. Young people in the North East whose parents and grandparents have made a good living from the oil and gas sector are faced with a declining industry. Transferring skills into the industries of the future must be our priority. Pinning hopes on yet more extraction of resources which have become more a liability than an asset gives no-one job security.
The ongoing contest for the “anti-austerity” crown in Scottish politics has reached a new intensity this week. Only the Tories aren’t in this game – even if some of the rest have a pretty weak hand to play.
But opposing austerity doesn’t just mean knowing who to blame. It means acting. Whatever view you take of the Scottish Government’s financial record to date, over the coming years it will be increasingly clear that public services will suffer hugely if budgets keep being squeezed.