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This Week In Scotland – Week 36


While the SNP has belatedly named a vague, possible date for indyref 2, the SNP conference next week will debate a timeline for Trident removal on independence. Great. But isn’t this putting the cart before the horse? We can’t remove Trident without independence. We can’t get independence without a referendum. We can’t get a referendum without..oh never mind.

Royals/the BBC

Andrew Marr declared that anyone not interested in Prince Philip’s funeral was wrong. There was apparently a ‘lot to reflect on and … learn’.  Such as why Scotland would continue to have a Hanoverian monarch as its head of state?  Or why the Queen is allowed exemptions from Scotland’s laws?  Perhaps  Scotland wouldn’t want a monarch at all or would choose a different one.

The BBC revealed its true colours.  It regretted the trashing of normal schedules in favour of the royal funeral, but the decisions made ‘reflect the role the BBC plays as the national broadcaster, during moments of national significance (like independence referendums, for example). Oh, no.  We didn’t know you were biased……

National Insurance Rise

National Insurance will rise by 1.25%, hitting the poorest hardest.  Taxes on share dividends will also rise, but what about a windfall tax on company profits?  National Insurance is just another form of tax.  There is a “promise” of  £1.1bn filtering down to Scotland via Barnett Consequentials (that is, if England gets extra funding, the devolved nations get a proportionate rise as well).  The extra Scottish money was only announced after Boris seemed to forget that he couldn’t just tax the whole UK to fund the reform of social care in England.

Internal Market Act

Despite a fairly open ended commitment to indyref 2, in the meantime the Internal Market Act will undermine Scottish agricultural produce, standards, environmental and consumer protection, and threaten Scotland’s NHS by allowing American private healthcare corporations to bid for NHS tenders.  Dispute resolution is left to the Office for the Internal Market (OIM), based in the Competition and Markets Authority, that is a UK body, with no direct input from the devolved governments.  The UK government can bypass Holyrood and spend directly in Scotland.

Programme for Government 2021/22

The Programme was a bit of a mixed bag; if anything, it was a bit on the timid side. These were the takeaways for us.

  • Protecting and enhancing the powers of the Scottish Government is promised, but it is unclear how this is compatible with the Internal Market Act which is doing the precise opposite. We need more detail on this.
  • The independence referendum is aimed for, but not promised, before the end of 2023 Covid permitting.
  • A National Care Service is promised, but will this be nationally owned or run by private companies?  Did the five Elder Care Medical Centres promised throughout Scotland ever appear?
  • The abolition of dental charges for all is welcome, as is the commitment to refurbish the NHS estate, and more money for mental health services.
  • A Minimum Income Guarantee is promised. It is means tested, however. It would have been good to see a bit of political bravery and introduce a Univeral Basic Income, which ISP support. UBI has been talked about a great deal, but no one seems willing to test the waters on it.
  • A renewables revolution was promised. It would have been good to see a commitment to local procurement, to avoid the Bifab situation where turbine jackets for Seagreen are being brought halfway around the world and much of the work went elsewhere.
  • Free bus travel was promised. This is good, but a commitment to developing a proper rural transport network is long overdue. A bus pass is no use without buses.
  • Again the promise to invest in digital skills needs to be matched with investment in rural broadband. Being without broadband now is what it was like being without a phone in years past. It’s vital for business, work and staying in touch.
  • We hope the Land Reform Bill will actually tackle vested interests and disincentivise land hoarding and speculation More money to the Community Buyout Fund will continue to enrich private landowners at taxpayer expense.
  • Nationalisation is mooted for the railways, but other commitments like a national infrastructure company appear to be national, not nationalised.

We’d hoped that with the SNP/Green coalition that this would be more ambitious. The recent drawing back on a Scottish Energy Company this week also was disappointing. Let’s see how it all turns out.

The Removal of the triple lock on pensions

The removal of the triple lock on pensions was announced this week by Westminster.  Only for a year, honest. Can’t have pensioners benefitting from a rise in average earnings, can we?

Under the triple lock, pensions rise by the largest of 2.5%, September’s inflation or average earnings and is designed to stop pensions falling when wages do.  Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey stunningly claimed it was unfair for pensioners to have an unfair advantage as earnings had spiked recently.  Fair enough if the UK’s pension was the best in the developed world, in fact, it is nearer the worst.  And haven’t the elderly contributed enough to deserve it anyway? 

Not much from the Scottish Government on the plight of the WASPI women, whose pensions have been delayed by up to 6 years.  Wouldn’t it be a vote winner going into indyref 2 to make up that difference to Scottish residents in a group traditionally hostile to independence? 

And finally

Protests outside Holyrood

The Scottish Government is petitioning the UK government to give Holyrood the same exemption as Westminster and the Senedd from troublesome protesters getting too close.  There will be a designated area forbidden for protesters to encroach on pain of a £5000 fine or imprisonment. One wonders what has triggered this; the most recent protests were two noisy but civil ones on independence and women’s rights. Surely it wasn’t this? As Lesley Riddoch put it, ‘What problem was this meant to solve?’

This is not a good look for the government and it’s doubly embarrassing as they’re actually going to have to ask Westminster for the powers to shut their own people up. This proposed restriction has been criticised by none less than Roddy Dunlop QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, who have said, ‘This is not ok. Protest furthers, rather than hinders democracy. Stifling protest is not acceptable.’

We couldn’t agree more.

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