It has been quite a year in politics. May’s Scottish Parliament elections already feel like they are from another, calmer era. Since then we’ve had Brexit, a new PM and Trump. What then can we say about the past year in Scottish politics and what does it mean for the year ahead? By Ross Laird, Director, Grayling Scotland Public Affairs.
Certainly the past year in Scottish politics has been dominated by Brexit. In many ways, faced with such a challenging and surprising situation, the Scottish Government did well – with Nicola Sturgeon giving statesman like speeches at a time of chaos down in London. Nevertheless, by raising the spectre of a second independence referendum right from the start has meant that it has been nigh on impossible to secure wider backing of the Opposition parties. This is in danger of becoming the Achilles heel of the Scottish Government in their Brexit negotiations. Their aim of being the voice of Scotland in this debate is being corroded by the Opposition parties taking issue with the SNP’s stance due to that early statement on a second referendum. The Scottish Government’s most recent paper on Brexit is a welcome addition to the debate on how Scotland could have a different relationship with the EU, but it is hard to envisage it being accepted in London and because of the SNP’s initial focus on independence, has secured little support from the Opposition.
The loss of the SNP’s majority has also put a new dynamic into Scottish politics. Parliament feels just that little bit stronger, even if the Committees are still taking some time to find their feet. The Opposition though have had a number of opportunities to give the Scottish Government a bloody nose. Healthcare, transport and funding have all very much been in the spotlight and with the budget negotiations still to be finalised, it will be interesting to see how effectively the Opposition can make gains. While we (hopefully) won’t see the level of horse-trading that was seen in the last minority Parliament, we may well see back-room deals to get this budget through.
As we look forward to 2017, we can expect another year of political turbulence as we head into the next phase of Brexit negotiations following the triggering of Article 50. That will spark further debates and discussions between the Scottish and UK Governments. Will Scotland’s voice be effectively heard when the UK Government is so focused on its deliberations with Brussels? And closer to home it is a big year too, with local government elections in May. This could see Labour losing its overall control of its Glasgow heartland and the SNP and Conservatives becoming the largest parties in Edinburgh. Labour can ill-afford another drubbing at the election box, but there are signs that the SNP’s star is losing a bit of its shine as it struggles to tackle some of the public service issues.
It would be foolish to try and predict too much what we can expect in 2017 given the circumstances. What we do know, however, is that we’ll be in for a roller-coaster of a year with some tough political decisions. Let’s hope our politicians are up to the job and can steer us through these choppy waters.