Sunday, 13 January 2008

Answering Sam

I've been asked a few questions by a wee Winchester lad who, by his own admission, is "no expert on politics north of the border." Apparently he sees the news coming out of Scotland as pretty negative, citing the Trump development, the budget and the sportscotland issue as 3 examples of the SNP's "inability to govern" and asks whether these are just teething problems or real problems in governing or if its just the view they get in England.

In response, I'd say its a little bit of all three. But let me explain.

On the Trump Development, A. Salmond MSP met with Trump advisors as the locally elected representative. He also met some of those opposed to the scheme. Granted the timing looks bad, but there was nothing illegitimate done - as will be demonstrated in his appearance before the Local Government committee next week. The problem with the development really arose because of Aberdeenshire Council's planning regulations which allow a sub-committee (of less than a quarter of the full council) decide upon all planning applications in the area - even those of the magnitude of this. The decision - had it been held in most of Scotland's other authorities - would have been taken by the full council, and Aberdeenshire has now changed their rules on planning. Also - important to note given that most of the flak taken is from N. Stephen, the council is Lib-Dem led. And they messed it up. The decision to call in the planning application does not mean that it will be passed, just that the development will undergo more scrutiny before a decision is made. Incidentally, I (and I think the government) disagree with the way Martin Ford (the chair of the committee) has been dealt with in the aftermath of his decision to vote against the plans. So that's kind of teething problems I guess.

On the budget, as a minority administration with a wafer-thin majority (in fact, with one MSP on maternity leave, no majority) the government has to find measures to compromise to get its budget through. This, I believe, is no different than what happened under the previous Lib-Lab coalition, except that the concessions were made between 2 parties as opposed to to the whole parliament. The numbers limit the ability to govern independently, but the ability to govern. And in the next week, I think we shall see much negotiation between the SNP and other parties (in particular the Tories) in order to pass a budget which will benefit most ordinary Scots.

Finally, on sportscotland, I might give you that one. The decision to scrap it was taken as a means of trying to streamline and make agencies more effective. Probably a bad move. But I have to say, Stewart Maxwell has coped with it well, and kinda did a Keynes, but I agree that it hasn't been handled that well.

I have to say tho, you probably only do get the negative aspects down there. Since May the SNP has frozen the council tax, abolished the graduate endowment (so we don't pay ANY tuition fees), abolished the tolls on the Forth & Tay bridges, committed to a replacement Forth crossing (at a cost of £4 BN a transport project for the next generation) and pledged that no new nuclear power stations will be built in Scotland. Above all, the FM's approval rating is around 65% and there's been a significant rise in support for independence and a more confident, optimistic mood in Scotland. That's in sharp contrast to the image of dodgy donations and a Stalin/ Mr Bean leader who doesn't seem to know who to blame when something goes wrong (or missing in the post...).

Does that answer your question?

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