Nicola Sturgeon is not renowned for long breaks and taking her eye off the political ball. She’ll be acutely aware that, despite results the opposition parties could only dream of, the Party has taken a bit of a knock in the recent General Election – she’s lost some of her most trusted advisers and mentors and some MSPs will be feeling wary of their futures. How then can the SNP Leader and First Minister get the Party back in fighting form?
Brexit – Brexit may be the SNP’s biggest ally. The SNP are at their best when they are campaigning for or against something and with May’s weakness the SNP has an opportunity to attack the Conservative Government and fight for a better Brexit deal. Central to this strategy will be the Party’s opposition to the Great Repeal Bill, which requires consent from the Scottish Parliament. That in itself provides an ideal bargaining tool to get May (or her successor) to make concessions.
Powers – It is easy to forget that the Scottish Parliament continues to gain new powers. Powers over social security and employability. Tax raising powers. These will all start to come into full swing in 2018. This provides the SNP with new scope to create new ways of working and create some real, innovative changes that are more bespoke to Scotland’s needs. There are of course risks involved with this, but there are also real rewards to be had too.
Tax raising powers will be one of the biggest changes coming down the line. In 2018 the Scottish Government will have its own Air Departure Tax, but it will also start planning for the important devolution of VAT in 2019. The SNP’s budget proposals are likely to play it safe in these post-Brexit times, but again there is greater scope for change. 52% of the Scottish budget will be raised directly in Scotland by 2020, compared to 10 per cent in 2014/15. That’s a seismic leap that gives the SNP a lot of scope to make budgetary changes and demonstrate an ability to deliver lasting changes.
Strategy – The SNP’s campaigning zeal is normally reflected in the plethora of government announcements and strategies that the Scottish Government churns out. Some are better than others, but there can be little doubt that the SNP has been storing up a wide range of ministerial announcements, particularly on healthcare and education. And there’s that big brand new bridge over the Forth to open later this year too.
Some of the big announcements stored within the SNP’s manifesto still remain relatively untouched. Perhaps we can expect to see announcements on major issues like a review of local government, implementing planning reforms and the creation of a new consumer body coming back to the fore.
New advisers – Time for a ministerial refresh? The SNP rarely does cabinet reshuffles unless there is an election. Even after the last Scottish Parliament elections there was a remarkable level of continuity, with only two brand new Cabinet Secretaries. However, now maybe the time for some tweaks. Sturgeon has already shown her willingness to make relatively ad hoc appointments, such as Michael Russell’s promotion, so it should come as no surprise that others may also find themselves given slightly different positions or put in charge of important reviews.
Sturgeon will come out fighting this autumn. The annual round of legislative proposals and the SNP’s early October Conference will give her early opportunities to galvanise her party. Indyref2 may be on a backburner for now, but don’t dismiss the SNP.