Friday, November 16, 2007

Some Thoughts On The Budget

Well, this was the point where it was all supposed to fall apart for the SNP. The wheels would be off, the honeymoon would be over - this would be where the SNP would finally be exposed for the charlatans they really were. A nation which had elected the SNP in haste would thereafter be left to repent at leisure. Chaos would ensue, the government would fall, and after a rude interruption, LibLabbery would once more arise resurgent, ushering in the reign of Queen Wendy and a new era of perpetual peace and prosperity for her loyal subjects.

This budget should have happened at least a couple of months ago, but was delayed by the tardiness of what was then thought to be the pre-election Comprehensive Spending Review at Westminster. In the interim, there's been a bit of a vacuum politically - a phoney war if you will. So when the numbers were crunched post-CSR and it became clear that Scotland was in line for some of the lowest spending increases since the early 1980's, opposition parties were ready to leap like hungry hyenas on anything which suggested that the SNP manifesto might not be implemented in full.

In the end, the SNP has done better than most people, friend or foe, could have expected. Highlights include a deal with COSLA to recommend a council tax freeze and to advance policies on reducing class sizes in P1, 2 and 3; a cut in business rates, before their eventual abolition for businesses with a rateable value of under £8,000; prescription charges being abolished; and transport spending increasing to deliver much needed road and rail improvements around the country.

Of the pledges that had to be modified, I'd have liked to see student debt written off, but without the support of any other parties in the chamber to do this, it was always dead in the water. I am pleased though that tuition fees have finally gone, and that student grants will be reintroduced. And on police numbers, with something like 2,300 officers eligible to retire in the next 3 years and working practices which mean only 7.5% of officers are on patrol at any one point in time, any commitment to delivering 1,000 new officers (it was always more officers, incidentally) was always going to be meaningless without a focus on recruitment, retention and redeployment. That's what's now going to happen, and I find it hard to see how anyone could reasonably object, or think it desirable to continue with existing practices unreformed.

In the end, with his response, Iain Gray flopped for Labour, his turgid speech simply recycling the previous two months nonsense about sums not adding up and promises supposedly being broken. Nicol Stephen was even worse, saved from national ridicule only by some judicious BBC editing before his contribution was broadcast on the evening news. Andy Kerr shrieked and shouted when his turn came, in the process losing any vestige of gravitas he may once have carried as a former Health and Finance Minister. Meanwhile, south of the border, the commentariat seem unable to set these measures in any context other than a desire by the SNP to irritate our southern neighbours (eh?) who, as everyone knows, will be the ones picking up the tab (yeah, right - keep taking the tablets, boys and girls).

Anyway, now the process of scrutiny in committee begins. It used to be that Labour could damage the SNP simply by putting on their most serious faces and claiming that the sums didn't add up. Well, no more, and with former Minister Rhona Brankin MSP resorting to silly 'points of order' to try and score the points which her leader previously failed to score in the chamber, whatever shred of a scintilla of an iota of a smidgen of the plot which Labour may have retained, has now surely been lost.

This was a watershed. Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives have the power to vote down this budget, but not to vote down the government (they need a 2/3rds majority to do that). However, if the budget is voted down leading to a vote of confidence, it would be very tempting for the SNP to vote themselves out of office and force an election. After the SNP showing that they can govern and put together a sensible budget which seeks savings, cuts taxes and delivers spending to where it is really needed, the unionist parties would really need to have overdosed on the bravery pills to want to face the country in the New Year.


ASwaS said...

No one is going to vote down the government. The electorate loathes politics, politicians and above all elections. Anyone who did would be blamed. I sometimes worry that with their dominance of the commentariat, Labour could actually do it and manage to get the SNP the blame. Ach well, time will tell.

Richard Thomson said...

"No one is going to vote down the government. The electorate loathes politics, politicians and above all elections. Anyone who did would be blamed".


Anonymous said...

So true about Nicol Stephen. Humiliated, but his soundbites even got him onto Radio 4. But I'm sure his backbenches weren't fooled by that!