After a reasonably quiet summer in the political world, the Scottish Parliament re-convened this week and already there’s plenty to talk about.
Last week Scottish Labour leader became the fifth to resign in the last six years, marking the end of another chapter in the party’s grim demise.
The two front-runners are quite polar opposite approaches, with Anas Sarwar being a Labour veteran, representing a Westminster/Brownite faction of the party, and Richard Leonard, a newcomer to politics who leans to the left.
It will be fascinating to see the direction Scottish Labour chooses. Will they make a move to the left that puts them more in line with Corbyn’s UK party, and might put some clear red water between them and the SNP? Or will they go with Sarwar and chase after centrist SNP voters and potentially Tories that are disaffected with the Government’s direction.
There’ll be lots more on that to come, but for today First Minister Nicola Sturgeon outlined her programme for Government for the upcoming parliamentary session. The SNP’s election results have been disappointing since the emphatic 2015 General Election win, and the consensus is that there hasn’t been a whole lot of radical governing. Only a handful of bills have made it through Parliament in the last 15 months since 2016’s Holyrood election, so the question many have is what are the Government doing?
The headline stuff in Sturgeon’s 40-minute speech was an end to the public sector pay cap whereby teachers, nurses, police etc. had their annual pay increases frozen at 1%. This is a long overdue change that treats public service workers better and marks a first step at ending recruitment crises in various industries.
Another main announcement was the introduction of free personal care for those under 65 living with illnesses such as dementia and motor-neurone disease. This is a great proposal that will make caring for some of our most vulnerable patients a lot easier.
Generally, the programme for Government was a “common-sense” approach to policy-making – with nothing too controversial and plenty that’ll gain popular support. Here’s some of those policies:
- A pardon for those convicted of “homosexual offences” before 1967, there’ll
- A deposit return scheme for cans and bottles
- A Scottish National Investment Bank will be created to fund infrastructure
- Organ donation will move to being an opt-out system
- Smart ticketing for public transport
These were the policies the SNP became known for pre-2011, and they can regain their dominance here if the policies are delivered correctly.
There was a clear effort to detach the SNP Government’s goals with the party’s stated aim of independence, which fell by the wayside in the wake of this year’s General Election. It’s widely considered that Sturgeon played the referendum card too early in the Brexit process, as Scotland grows weary of politics and those whose minds would need to change grow tired of being campaigned to. Moving away from all this gives the SNP a chance to show why they triumphed in 2011, and the do the “day-job” well.
There’s also the question of financing. Scotland is running a big budget deficit, and with new spending proposals it’s hard to avoid the question of where the new money will come from. The Scottish Parliament’s new tax-setting powers should be used to take a little more in revenue to at least offset the costs of new spending proposals, if not cut into the deficit, so that future Governments have the ability to take bold new approaches too.
The proof of all of this will be in the delivery, as generally there will be support from across the chamber to get these bills through. Many of the ideas have been supported by other parties in the past, so it will be interesting to see if a true age of co-operation can break out in Scottish politics in the strange lack of electioneering we’ll have over the next few years.
Politics is back, and there’s signs that it can once again be a force for good.