This Week in Scotland: Black Gold, TV debates and the General Election

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Introduction

The shift from the two party system of UK politics towards a multi-party system came to the fore this week, with debates around possible coalition Governments and who exactly should be appearing in the UK Election TV debates.

‘No need’ for SNP Coalition

With attention turning towards May’s UK General Election, political commentators are discussing the likely composition of the next UK Government. Possibilities include a renewal of the current Coalition, a Lab-Lib coalition, minority Tory government, or a confidence and supply agreement between a minority Labour administration and the SNP.

Although Ed Miliband refused to rule out the possibility of a government led by him being propped up by the SNP during a recent TV interview, his colleague and leader of Scottish Labour, Jim Murphy, was unequivocally against such a move. Speaking at the Scottish Parliament’s Journalist Association lunch, Murphy stated that “we don’t expect, we don’t need, we don’t want and we are not planning for a coalition with the SNP or anyone else.

The possibility of such an agreement has increased over recent months as polling continues to show the SNP comfortably ahead in Scottish voting intentions. With Labour and Conservatives polling tightly, the possibility of an increased SNP Westminster block at the detriment of Labour could have significant implications for the composition of the next UK Government.

TV Debates

With David Cameron refusing to entertain participating in any TV debates without the inclusion of the Greens, the SNP have been calling for their inclusion. As proposals currently stand there will be a debate involving Cameron, Miliband, Clegg and Farage; a second debate excluding Farage; and a final debate between the only individuals who can become Prime Minister, Cameron and Miliband.

However the Prime Minister is insisting that given the Greens have an MP they should be included as well. If this were to be agreed, the SNP believe there is an “unanswerable” case for their inclusion too. Failure to do so would lead to legal challenges.

Oil Prices

The Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney has said that the drop in oil prices is ‘bad’ for Scotland but ‘good’ for the UK as a whole. Carney warned of a “negative shock” to Scotland’s economy due to the size of the North Sea industry in Scotland. He went on to say that Scotland had been cushioned by the fall in oil prices by its continued membership of the UK. Although he would not put a figure on the economic ‘hit’ Scotland is facing due to lower oil prices, the Scottish Parliament’s researchers have estimated that nearly 16,000 jobs are at risk.

His comments come as the Scottish Government is coming under increasing pressure to update its North Sea Oil & Gas revenue projections from the $110 a barrel figure promoted during the referendum campaign. Barrels of oil are currently trading at under $50. Opposition parties are claiming that had Scotland voted ‘Yes’ it would have faced a massive “black whole.

With the backdrop of Carney’s comments and the news that BP is axing around 300 jobs from its Scottish workforce, the First Minister has announced the creation of a new Energy Jobs Taskforce, specifically focused on supporting jobs across the energy sector, but with an initial emphasis on the oil and gas sector. Sturgeon also announced that a new guarantee for Modern Apprentices in the oil and gas sector in an attempt to ensure that those faced with redundancy will be offered alternative employment or continued job training.

Smith Commission

Secretary of State for Scotland, Alistair Carmichael MP, has hinted that draft legislation to enact the Smith Commission’s recommendations for further devolution will be on Thursday – 3 days earlier than expected. However, Carmichael was also forced to deny that the Coalition Government is “dragging” its feet over devolving certain powers in advance. This included powers relating to shale gas exploration and welfare.

Housden stepping down

Sir Peter Housden, the Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government has confirmed that he will leave his position at the end of June 2015, after five years in the role.

 

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