2018 promises to be yet another rollercoaster year ahead

As 2018 gets into full swing, much like 2017 Scottish politics is likely to be shaped primarily by two big issues: the terms of Brexit and its consequences for IndyRef2.

Managing   Director,     Alex Orr

One advantage for us, the voters, is that there will be a year of relative peace on the doorstep, as for the first time since 2013 the year ‘may’ (emphasis on ‘may’) pass without a referendum or national election being staged.

On the key issue of whether Ms Sturgeon will decide to press ahead with IndyRef2, given the electoral bloody nose the party received at the snap general election in 2017, the First Minister will undoubtedly keep the powder dry on her intentions until later in the year, when the nature of the Brexit transition deal becomes clearer. On this more later.

One other big political set-piece is due to take place in the opening months of 2018 is the publication of the SNP’s Growth Commission report into the finances of an independent Scotland. Designed to lay the groundwork for another vote, it will make a series of crucial recommendations about the currency the country might use and how it might grow its economy.

After a decade in power attention will focus on how the minority SNP administration is using its devolved powers, with a specific focus on health, education, and income tax changes. Outlined in the Draft Scottish Budget last month this highlighted modest tax rises for higher earners and cuts for low income Scots.

However, while SNP difficulties seem certain, it is unclear which party, if any, will be the beneficiary.

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson may have enjoyed electoral success, through making the pro-Union cause her own, but none of her achievements have been on domestic policy.

She should be able to use income tax rises to her advantage, but peak Tory may have been reached and Davidson’s party looks close to the upper limit of support amongst voters.

This time last year, the Scottish Labour Party seemed near to extinction, but in the snap general election it increased its MP presence and on paper its leader, Richard Leonard, has the most to gain from a year that could see Sturgeon and Davidson fight out a bloody score draw.

While IndyRef 2 seems a blur on the horizon, the implications of Brexit will keep the constitution in the foreground of political debate at Holyrood.

A stand-off looms between the Scottish and UK Governments on the transfer of powers after Brexit. During the year it is likely that the Scottish Government and the UK will finally do a deal on the EU Withdrawal Bill, which will repatriate thousands of EU laws back to Britain. The big question of 2018, of course, is whether Ms Sturgeon will decide to press ahead with IndyRef2 – and whether the UK will give its permission for another vote.

If it does happen, it is likely to be during the two-year Brexit transition period which begins in March 2019. The SNP’s mandate for another vote lasts until the next Scottish election in 2021.

Whatever happens, 2018 is likely to prove yet another rollercoaster year politically north of the border.

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School’s out for summer

Sarah Robertson Orbit Communications 04
Sarah Robertson, Account Executive:  LinkedIn

Yesterday (29th June) was the last FMQs of this school year and as of today our MSPs are off on an enviably long summer break. So, what better time than now to look back on the last 12 months and see what an end of term political report card might look like.

The wider political world’s record over the past 12 months consists of U-turns galore, plenty of pre-Brexit peacocking, the (unfortunate) meteoric rise of a certain Mr Trump who has singlehandedly saved Twitter’s stock from circling the drain, and a Jeremy Corbyn speech that drew the biggest crowd to Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage since the Rolling Stones in 2013.

The Scottish Government has faced some testing times during which Ms Sturgeon, as always, has remained personable. Maybe that’s why Nicola-bot just isn’t quite as catchy as May-bot. Over the last 12 months our First Minister has come across as, dare I say it, strong and stable in increasingly fractious and uncertain times. That being said, her record closer to home might not look so shiny.

The loss of the SNP’s majority certainly brought a new dynamic to Scottish politics and Ms Sturgeon’s government regularly received a bloody nose from opposition benches on issues such as education and healthcare.

Opposition parties have highlighted Nicola’s pledge made back in 2015 to put closing the attainment gap front and centre. Last year she made John Swinney, her most trusted minister, Cabinet Secretary for Education to prove to sceptics that she was serious. However, the Tories, Labour, and Lib Dems have found it relatively easy to throw punches at the government, drawing on Scotland’s sliding literacy and numeracy standards, our widening – not closing – attainment gap, as well as the delayed Education Bill.

On healthcare, the issue of low and stagnated pay has bitten the government where it hurts, and long waiting times for things like access to mental health services have proved troublesome hurdles for the SNP administration to navigate. While over the years these issues have been rumbling in the background, it seems they have begun to come to a head and the public have started to ask, with all the extra powers the Scottish Government now has, why things aren’t improving.

A glaring blemish on the SNP’s report card, and something that Nicola will no doubt be reflecting on over the summer holidays, is her party’s loss of 21 seats in the General Election. There is no doubt that this result has influenced her U-turn on indyref2 and it is evident there is growing doubt amongst party ranks as to whether Independence, for now, is a good idea.

Only yesterday, on the last day of term, a report by the Fraser of Allander Institute said Scotland’s economy is “likely to continue to lag behind the UK.” While opposition parties have used this to berate the government, and ministers have said the fundamentals of the Scottish economy remain strong, it is clear that whatever side of the political spectrum you sit, the summer probably won’t be the relaxing break some had hoped. Will any of the party leaders take Alice Cooper’s words literally? I can think of one south of the border who might.

“Out for summer, out for fall. We might not go back at all.”