Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Money, Money, Money

So the Budget is going to pass. Not too much of a surprise, it should really have passed last week but for some posturing/incompetence on the part of the Government in not getting the Greens on board.

The surprise, I must admit, is that the SNP have gone to the length of bringing Labour into the agreement. With the Lib Dems rather hasty u-turn, the Budget deal was sorted very early on, leaving the SNP not needing to make any overtures to Labour. Admittedly, the situation has meant that the concessions have hardly been ground-breaking, but they are concessions none the less.

Considering the intense rivalry, if indeed not hatred, between the two main parties it would not have been a huge surprise to have seen the Nats deliberately snub any input from Labour. Labour have assessed that there is some public discomfort with the Budget not passing which explains some of their move to a supportive position, but the SNP's acceptance of it is an interesting one.

It could be a reflection of the consensus building nature of Scottish politics, particularly for a minority Government, however I feel that this may be too idealistic. I think rather there is some clever politicking going on behind the scenes for the SNP. As the Government they carry the responsibility should actions to improve the economy and life in Scotland be less than successful, however by tying the other parties into the Budget they can legitimately attempt to pass some of the blame should things not go well, whilst retaining the praise if they work.

The point of the Budget debate was that the SNP tried to push through a Budget without too much consideration of other parties (other than their bosom buddies the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party), seemingly forgetting that they are a minority administration. Salmond's bombast about resigning was hot air and a reflection of displeasure with Swinney's handling of the negotiation process, with breakthrough swift to follow. Consensus was the name of the game in the end, but it needn't have ended up that way.

So where does it leave the parties? The SNP left themselves open to looking less all powerful than they like to portray whilst Labour were attacked for putting petty politics above the national interest. Both of these portrayals were unfair, however that is the nature of the political game. The Tories, as bedfellows of the Nats, secured their desires early on and therefore were able to remain above the fray - all in all a successful operation for them I feel. The Greens had the chance to make themselves heard and to play an important role in the process - if they choose to be the sole dissenting voices in the vote then they will also argue that they alone had the courage to stick to their convictions.

The losers, and not for the first time, were the Lib Dems who handled this really badly. The only issue which all the parties seemed to agree on before the first vote was that the tax cut plan was badly thought out, if indeed not rather inane, leaving the party looking clueless as to how to respond to the economic challenges Scotland faces. This was then followed by a u-turn which bordered on unseemly, leaving them looking weak, especially as their main concession secured appears to be to get the Scottish Government to make a submission to the Calman Commission. Heck, I've made a submission and given oral evidence, so it ain't all that powerful! And getting the SNP to argue for greater fiscal devolution...well, there's a breakthrough. All in all, a continuation of a dreadful period for the Liberal Democrat party.

Normal service will now resume and the Scottish Government can get back to the important process of spending money. It's been an interesting week or so but fundamentally the SNP are getting the Budget they want (as has become the norm for Budgets in Scotland). Will be interesting to see whether their proposals can make a difference, and if not, to see who will carry the can.

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