Events at Westminster propelled a devolution issue to the top of the UK news agenda for the first time in a while. As it became clear that the aim of the SNP’s game wasn’t so much to avoid snakes and get up the big ladder, but to throw the pieces in the air so the adults in the next room came running to find out what was going on, then many commentators could only conclude that the SNP’s Westminster group had played a blinder. Together with the suggestion that guerrilla tactics will now be used to disrupt the Brexit process, the party in opposition has delivered the positioning it wanted, if not yet the result.
Soon after, the SNP membership stats came rolling in (over 7,500 new members this week) and the architect of ‘the Vow’ explained why he’s moved to an independence-supporting position. Along with some more-than-decent polling figures from the previous week, things are at first glance looking pretty good for a party that’s been at the helm of government now for more than a decade.
And yet on domestic matters there is the overwhelming feeling that the party is spending a lot of time on the back foot. A critical report this week from Scotland’s Information Commissioner on FOI practice (particularly the interference of special advisers) confirmed that procedures were questionable. The speed with which changes had already been made by the time the Minister made his statement, suggests that the Scottish Government knew it too.
Coupled with a health service under constant pressure, delays to flagship rail improvements, a sluggish economy and the flagship policy of education under serious challenge, the Cabinet batteries look in serious need of a recharge if they are going to get through the next two years, never mind deliver an exciting new Holyrood manifesto in 2021.
To further compound the struggles, the local authority that should be the shining star in the SNP galaxy – Glasgow – is facing down lots of negative press on anonymously-donated limousines, on childcare costs and on the specifics of its newly-agreed low-emissions zone.
It may be unfair to make such judgements two weeks ahead of the summer recess. The newsdirect recess to-do list is already lengthy and we’re all looking forward to the holidays. But the lacklustre nature of the SNP’s Aberdeen conference does now increase the pressure on the top team ahead of the new term and the flagship October party gathering.
“We can” was the slogan of last weekend’s event, but I found myself driving home thinking about the power duo at the top of the party and wondering what happens when one day they decide that “We can’t”. The overlap last time was considerable: Sturgeon took over as Deputy Leader in 2004. Keith Brown is a week into the job. One to explore in another blog on another day…
Low-emissions zones are one of the provisions of the Scottish Government’s well-trailedTransport (Scotland) Bill. The five key objectives are:
- Setting the framework for urban low emissions zones which are to be introduced over the next three years.
- Rejuvenating bus passenger usage which has been declining for a number of years.
- Updating parking legislation, with a particular focus on introducing a ban on parking on pavements.
- Improving the oversight and standards of road work projects.
- Facilitating the creation and adoption of a Scotland-wide smart ticketing system across all major methods of transport (ferries, buses, trains, planes).
Anyone hoping the Bill might deliver a radical plan for bus services will be disappointed (as we've also blogged about) and the proposals on pavement parking and low-emissions zones are already being questioned by campaigners.
Also introduced this week was the Human Tissue (Authorisation) (Scotland) Bill which seeks to enact an opt-out system for organ donation and transplantation. This mimics a change already implemented in Wales since December 2015 that seeks to increase the number of organs made available for donation. A 2-year review of the policy in Wales suggests no significant increase, so while the move will be widely welcomed, we should be wary of predicting a sudden and transformative impact.
Just walk away, Renee
And finally, lots of chat about MPs walking out of Parliament this week. Social media was quick to dip into the archives and deliver examples from history, including John Swinney on the SSP, Tom Clarke in 1993 and Donald Dewar in 1987.
Kirsty Peebles, Director, Newsdirect