Haggis, Neeps and Liberalism #12

Yesterday was St Andrew’s Day, a special day of celebration in Scotland. If Iain Smith, Liberal Democrat MSP for NE Fife which includes the town of St Andrews had his way, it would have been a full public holiday, not just the half day that civil servants can take if they want that the SNP have delivered in Government.

There’s a lot going on in Scottish politics at the moment. Here are just a few snippets:

On Tuesday, First Minister Alex Salmond was forced to demote his Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop after pressure from the Liberal Democrats. Having promised to increase teacher numbers and reduce class sizes in the early years of compulsory education, figures released last week showed that teacher numbers had fallen by 1348 in the past year. Ms Hyslop chose to blame the Councils in what’s becoming a bit of a theme from the SNP, a trait Tavish Scott calls centralising the policy and localising the blame. Over the weekend reports suggested that she was going to nationalise every school in Scotland, removing any input of local Government. The Liberal Democrats in the Scottish Parliament tabled a motion of no confidence which would almost certainly have achieved a majority. They will now use their opposition day on Thursday to set out a fresh approach to resolve the problems in our schools.

On St Andrew’s day, the Lib Dems launched tax policies which will make a huge difference to the people who are struggling most. The £700 a year it will give back to the poorest may not sound much if you’re a Tory earning millions and legally avoiding tax, but it’s nearly 4 months’ rent on a Council flat, or almost three quarters of the annual Council Tax on a Band B property in Edinburgh.

In contrast, the SNP Government served its own interests by unveiling a White Paper on independence containing their plans for a referendum. Unfortunately for them, the Scottish people don’t really care. At the end of September, only 4500 people out of a population of 6 million had participated in their “National Conversation” events across Scotland. The membership of the SNP is over 15000. If they can’t even engage a third of their own members, they surely must realise that people are not interested in breaking up the UK.

Last week, the Government announced its response to the Calman Commission on Scottish Devolution which recommended giving further powers to Holyrood. You have to wonder about Labour’s judgment. They’ll fight to the bitter end to impose deeply illiberal and unpopular measures like 42 days’ detention and ID cards, but when they have a broad consensus to introduce most elements of Calman, they decide to delay until after the General Election. As Willie Rennie MP said:

On jobs and the economy, on climate change, on social justice, the Calman Commission offered practical change that will have a real impact. I cannot understand why we can’t just get on with it.

This week the Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee will discuss a petition to allow same sex civil and religious marriage. It would be good to see Scotland leading the way on this.

Scotland’s been hit with its own equivalent of the Derek Draper/ Damian McBride blog scandal as SNP minister Mike Russell’s office manager was unveiled as the author of a blog which on occasion smeared political opponents. The most important thing for me is to remember that there are lots of good thoughtful blogs across the political spectrum in Scotland providing robust but generally good-humoured debate.

Finally, if you’re in the Glasgow area between now and 10th December, you might like to help Ashay Ghai in the Bearsden South by-election.

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