This Week in Scotland: One Year On

This week marks the one year anniversary of the independence referendum and the debate on powers for Scotland rolls on.

Alex Salmond’s undelivered victory speech was released to the press this week. Salmond would have declared a Yes vote the start of a ‘new politics’ and ‘a new and unbreakable relationship’ with the rest of the UK. The full text of the speech can be found here. On Friday, exactly one year on since the referendum, Nicola Sturgeon made a speech in which she said David Cameron was “living on borrowed time” and if he continued to ignore Scotland’s voice “more people will conclude that Westminster simply can’t deliver for Scotland”.

Elsewhere, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party got underway with his Shadow Cabinet being announced and his first PMQs marking a change in tone and a departure from the ‘Punch and Judy politics’ of the past.

Debate on Devolution rolls on

The UK Government has not delivered on the Vow, according to Deputy First Minister, John Swinney. Mr Swinney told MSPs this week that the Scottish Government would block new powers for Holyrood unless the Westminster government would agree to “a well-designed, fiscal framework that gives the Scottish Government flexibility to use the powers distinctly and effectively to boost the economy and create a fair and prosperous country.”

Mr Swinney called the Scotland Bill in its current form “a series of missed opportunities” arguing that the Bill should give the Scottish Parliament powers over many more areas including employment law and social security. The Deputy FM commented “As it stands, the Bill constrains our ability to use new its limited new powers and retains vetoes for UK Ministers if they don’t like our plans.”

Corbyn’s tumultuous first week

Jeremy Corbyn was announced as the new leader of the Labour party on Saturday, winning with a majority of 59.5% in the first round of voting. In spite of winning the election with a huge mandate, Corbyn’s leadership got off to a difficult start. He initially struggled to pull together his shadow Cabinet as many senior party figures, including Cooper, Kendall and Hunt, refused to serve on the front benches. Corbyn’s eventual appointments included Andy Burnham as Shadow Home Secretary, Hilary Benn as Shadow Foreign Secretary and controversially, John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor. Request a full briefing of the Shadow Cabinet from Grayling here.

Although Corbyn came in for early criticism for the lack of women in the top jobs, his approach in his first outing as Leader of the Opposition at PMQs was met with positive responses, both from political commentators and from the public. Corbyn chose to crowdsource his questions from the general public, confirming his view that PMQs should be an opportunity for the concerns of real people to be addressed. Corbyn was praised for seeking to change the tone of PMQs from ‘Punch and Judy politics’, while others criticised him for not pushing the Prime Minister enough with follow-up questions. Whilst the opening exchange offered a way to publicly acknowledge his supporters, the Corbyn team are undecided on whether this strategy will be pursued in the coming weeks.

Universities warn against changes to governance

Principals of Scotland’s universities have voiced concerns over the proposed changes to university governance outlined in the Government’s Higher Education Bill. Opponents to the Bill claim the changes would lead to universities being reclassified as public bodies by the Office of National Statistics which could mean the loss of their charitable status and the ability to hold reserves.

Alastair Sim, Director of Universities Scotland, inferred that the Bill presented a threat to more than £900m of funding, should such a reclassification occur. However, the policy lead for the Scottish Government claimed a thorough consideration of the financial implications had been undertaken and denied accusations that the Bill would hand power over the running of the universities to Ministers.

SNP members form new anti-fracking group

A new group, SNP Members Against Unconventional Oil and Gas (SMAUG) has been set up with the aim of encouraging the party’s leadership to take a tougher stance on the issue in the lead up to the SNP party conference.

The move comes at the same time as the pro-fracking business lobby has stepped up their campaign. The Scottish Government had previously placed a moratorium on fracking back in January, however, the party leadership have not ruled out allowing it in future. An SNP spokesperson said “There are a range of views across Scotland on issues around unconventional oil and gas, which is why the Scottish Government has put a moratorium on fracking to allow a full public consultation where all views can be heard and all evidence considered.”

The new pressure group is also calling for the moratorium to be extended to Underground Coal Gasification. A vote will be taken on this issue at the party conference next month.

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