You could be forgiven for thinking the Scottish Budget negotiations have gone awry. The first attempt to gain parliamentary approval failed to gain a majority. A second attempt has now been held but when the media invite went out for assembled hacks and snappers, it was to be during a visit by the Finance Cabinet Secretary, Derek Mackay, to Howdenhall Police Station. Was this a last minute public appearance before Derek entered the station to ‘assist police with their enquiries’? The mind boggled.
A difficult week in a difficult time. A Scottish Budget that is at the mercy of smaller parties determined to secure concessions from the SNP administration. In the grand scheme of things, any budgetary changes will have little impact in the long term but will embrace a chippy wrapper by the end of the week with ‘major concessions wrought from tight-fisted SNP minister’.
The SNP will breathe a sigh of relief that they have an executive programme for another year. The next budget feels very far off and there is plenty to worry about before then. For example; predicting the outcome of triggering Article 50 on the financial markets. Early indications of Brexit negotiations not going well. Support for independence slowly creeping up into a consistent if low lead. Re-building the economic case for independence based on being in the Single Market but not necessarily a member of the EU. A Scottish pound or not a Scottish pound, that is the question.
How to square the circle of in/out of EU is clearly taxing the Scottish Cabinet’s collective minds. There is a perception in the former SNP heartlands of Tayside and the North East that the EU dictates so much. Better out. However, the simplified understanding of the EU is such that most of the SNP-supporting Leavers would not recognise what EFTA membership really means: freedom of movement; EU directives still being applied; access to the Single Market; but control over fisheries or anything else we don’t care to trade away. Could this be the best of all worlds in a less than perfect situation?
All of the above indicate some of the interdependencies of political options and action. This is what makes politics interesting, a most underwhelming statement. It also turns even the best of politicians into pseudo poker players, trying desperately not to reveal their hand too publicly. Bluffing and counter bluffing. Not sure if a pair of tens is enough to win the day. I don’t envy them.
Then what happens if Donald Trump takes a hand in the post-Brexit IndyRef2 game. Foul play we may want to cry but he could feel like repaying Maggie May for his ‘special relationship’. Tariffs on whisky exports for a start. Trump’s haphazard binary politics of ‘friend or foe’ could, of course, have a counter-effect. Any pro-UK assistance he applies, doubles the strength of feeling to stick two metaphorical fingers up at him in a way that Scots would never have done to Obama, or even Hillary. I’d personally move that we nationalise his assets and take back control of Turnberry and handover the Menie Estate to the Scottish Wildlife Trust or RSPB.
Seriously though, Theresa May has shown clear contempt for any compromise or concession in the Brexit plans. For all the soft words about consulting devolved administrations the reality is she can’t shape a customised exit for each Home Nation without upsetting her new-found love of Eurosceptics. The Scotland Act (2016) has been found to empty of any real meaning following the Supreme Court’s judgement that embedding the Sewel Convention into the constitution, is meaningless because Brexit is a reserved matter. Hmmm…..
All this raises the expectation that a second independence referendum must be called. At some point. Perhaps announced in October conference for a Spring decision? It’s clear the next referendum will not have a three year run up to voting. This will be short, sharp and decisive. All the more reason to be back on the doors talking to voters about the Council elections and slipping in a temperature-taking question or two about IndyRef2 voting intentions. This time we can truly expect a Summer of Independence campaign, building on the national listening exercise of autumn 2016 but taking it a stage further. This year we call May’s bluff.