Some say a week can be a long time in politics and while the fortunes of the SNP government haven’t changed drastically, this week will certainly have felt like a long week given the number of tricky issues it has had to tackle.
The Health Secretary, Shona Robison, continues to face pressure from parliament this week as she answered her routine portfolio questions and debates brought forward by the Scottish Labour Party on the NHS Tayside public inquiry into mental health services and wider NHS waiting times. In an unusual move, the Scottish Government supported motions from Scottish Labour to expand the scope of the inquiry beyond the specific case in Carseview to the wider NHS Tayside region. Senior officials from NHS Tayside were also before the Public Audit Committee where MSPs questioned the Board on the state of its finances. Shona Robison has faced regular calls to resign over recent weeks over the matter but maintains the support of the First Minister.
The spectre of Brexit has also not diminished this week. The Finance Committee published its report into the EU Withdrawal Bill and has concluded that differences over the Bill and Clause 11 can be resolved through ‘mutual trust and respect’ between both governments. The Committee recommends that reciprocal political commitments as a means of ensuring parity between the UK and Scottish governments over the repatriation of powers from Brussels should be considered. Time is ticking for both governments to agree a way forward as the Scottish Parliament will vote on a legislative consent motion for the EU Withdrawal Bill next week.
Holyrood also debated the government’s recently published ‘Energy Efficient Scotland’ route map which outlines how it intends to improve the energy efficiency of Scotland’s homes and businesses. Opposition members criticised the lack of ambition within the route map and called for all homes to have a minimum EPC score of a C as soon as possible to tackle fuel poverty.
In wider news this week, petrochemical firm, Ineos, has been in court to challenge the Scottish Government’s decision to place an indefinite moratorium on shale gas extraction in Scotland. Headlines were generated when lawyers representing the Scottish Government said that no ban existed and that a final decision has yet to be adopted. Ineos have been quick to point out that this position contradicts publicly made statements by Scottish ministers since the decision was taken in October 2017 to keep the moratorium in place, which Ineos argue is an effective ban.
Next week will undoubtedly see a return to Brexit dominating political debate with the debate on the Legislative Consent Motion and a specific debate on the future of the Erasmus+ programme – in some ways the cynic might conclude that this will be welcome respite for Scottish ministers so as to deflect matters away from their ongoing difficult domestic issues.