Enter Jim Murphy
Following his election as Scottish Labour leader on Saturday, Jim Murphy MP moved quickly to put his authority over the Scottish Parliament Group and reshuffled the shadow cabinet. The shadow cabinet combines meeting a 50/50 gender balance, which the Scottish Government has also recently achieved, with a balance of the old and the new. Murphy has provided both his leadership rivals, Neil Findlay (Fair Work, Skills & Training) and Sarah Boyack (Rural Affairs, Food & the Environment) with positions. Other notable appointments include Jackie Baillie to Finance, Iain Gray to Education and promotions for Jenny Marra and Mary Fee to Health and Infrastructure respectively.
With only four months until the UK General Election, Murphy has a lot to do. With the SNP tanks firmly on Labour’s lawn and a real risk that Glasgow could be snatched from the party, Murphy must overhaul the party and produce a substantial manifesto which recognises the changing political dynamics and reasoning to vote Labour. To this end, Murphy has already confirmed he will seek to rewrite the party’s constitution to emphasis the devolution of policy to Scotland and his focus on tackling inequality and poverty. We can also expect greater scrutiny of the Scottish Government’s record, particularly in relation to health and education.
The return of EVEL
The UK Government has unveiled its command paper relating to delivering English Votes for English Laws (EVEL). The paper, which is the result of the Prime Minister’s commitment on 19th September to deliver a “fair and equal settlement” for England in light of the referendum result, outlines the Government’s desire for decentralisation within England, the need for EVEL, and the positions of the respective Coalition partners.
For the Conservatives, they outline three possible options. The first is that English or English and Welsh legislation would be scrutinised through an entirely English/English-Welsh process and be governed by a convention whereby MPs from other constituent parts of the UK (i.e. Scotland) would not vote. The second option would see the amending stages of any English or English and Welsh legislation be considered only by MPs from the effected parts of the UK. However, the final vote on any legislation would be voted on by the whole House. The third option would see the establishment of a Grand Committee to effectively enable English or English and Welsh MPs an opportunity to veto or grant consent to any bill, or relevant parts of a bill.
The Liberal Democrats have also suggested a “devolution on demand” option, which would provide a menu of options that English areas could demand to be devolved.
North Sea Oil and Gas
Much was made during the referendum campaign of the importance of North Sea Oil and Gas to the Scottish economy and more specifically the projected oil price. With the price of oil falling to around $60 a barrel, the effects are beginning to be seen in the sector as oil companies and service providers cut staff, pay and investment to save money.
Scottish Ministers have called on the industry to protect workers from any cut backs and on the UK Government to set out is promised sector tax breaks on new investment by March 2015 to give greater clarity.
Meanwhile, Scottish Labour has called for an official inquiry into the “politicisation” of the Scottish Government’s statistics during the referendum campaign. According to the new Shadow Finance Secretary, the figures pushed by the Government during the campaign is about half the value currently being experienced and accused the Government of deliberately exaggerating oil forecasts to encourage a Yes vote.
Tories seek to amend LBBT
Following the Chancellor’s Stamp Duty reforms announced during last month’s Autumn Statement, the Scottish Tories confirmed that they would seek to amend LBBT during Scottish Budgetary negotiations. The Party has now unveiled their plan for a “fully-funded tax cut” for Scottish home owners by calling on the Government to raise the starting tax rate to £140,000 – up from £135,000 – and for the tax rate of 10% for properties valued between £250,000 and £500,000 to 5% as per the UK Government’s reforms.
Youth Employment Strategy launched
The Scottish Government has unveiled its latest seven year youth employment strategy, which aims to achieve a 40% cut to youth unemployment by 2021. At the heart of the strategy is the need to forge closer links between schools, colleges and employers. Measures included in the strategy, include earlier career guidance, new standards for work experience, a new ‘pre-apprenticeship’ pilot, and the need for all secondary schools to have active partnerships with employers by 2018/19.
The Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills and Training, Roseanna Cunningham MSP has also called on the UK Government to use its powers over the minimum wage to end low pay in Scotland for apprentices. Mrs Cunningham claims that Modern Apprentices should not be paid less than their colleagues, providing the example that the current minimum pay for 16 and 17 years old MAs is £2.73 and hour, compared to the National Minimum Wage for under 18s of £3.79.
Joint Ministerial Committee Meeting
Nicola Sturgeon MSP attended her first Joint Ministerial Committee meeting this week as First Minister of Scotland. Following the meeting she confirmed that she was “confident” devolution of the franchise, as recommended in Smith, would be delivered ahead of the 2016 Scottish Elections. She also confirmed that the SNP were joining a new “anti-austerity” pact with the Green Party and Plaid Cymru.