While most work places across Scotland were winding down this week in the run up to the festive break, Holyrood was in the midst of one of its most significant set-pieces of the political calendar – the Scottish Budget.
The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Derek Mackay MSP, delivered his Budget to the Scottish Parliament on Thursday afternoon, with the highly anticipated changes to income tax taking centre stage.
Following on from the options paper on Scottish taxes published by the Government last month, Mr Mackay announced the creation of a new tax band for those earning £24,000 to £44,273, along with changes in rates to the other bands.
The Finance Secretary said that the measures would mean that lower earners would pay less tax than the rest of the UK, and higher earners slightly more – part of the Scottish Government’s efforts to create a fairer and more ‘proportionate’ tax system.
The reaction from opposition parties was predictably mixed, with the Conservatives criticising the new ‘Nat tax’, Labour and the Greens stating that the changes weren’t radical enough, and the Lib Dems describing the Budget as another ‘missed opportunity’.
Other key announcements included a pledge to provide an additional £600m for superfast broadband, relief from the Scottish equivalent of Stamp Duty for first time buyers up to £175,000, and increases in funding for both health and education. The Budget must now undergo parliamentary scrutiny before being subjected to a final vote on 19 February, with the Scottish Greens the most likely to provide the additional support to ensure it passes.
In other news this week, former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale MSP returned from Australia after her stint on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. The fireworks with Boris Johnson’s dad Stanley that producers of the show had hoped for never quite materialised, and Kez’s plans to use the programme to spread Labour’s message to young people fell somewhat flat as she received minimal airtime.
After arriving as a late entry she was voted out second, with just 1.67% of the vote. Her return to the Scottish Labour fold may well be an uncomfortable one as she’s faced widespread calls for suspension, and she may be left wondering whether her exploits in the jungle were worth the hassle after all – especially after she was given a written warning her Party.
Kez’s Australian adventures also somewhat overshadowed the election of new Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard last month. Having only been an MSP for 18 months, Mr Leonard survived a brutal leadership battle with moderate Anas Sarwar to triumph as Scottish Labour’s fourth leader in the last three years. His first few weeks in the job have been fairly quiet, but as Corbyn’s man in Scotland he can undoubtedly expect a more challenging 2018.
Looking back on 2017, it has been another year where conventional political wisdom and predictions have been thrown out the window. Theresa May’s disastrous snap election in June saw her lose her parliamentary majority, and her position in 10 Downing Street was saved only by the resurgence of the Conservatives in Scotland under the leadership of the talismanic Ruth Davidson. Ms Davidson is being widely touted as a future UK leader by many in the party, and has recently refused to shut down speculation of a move to Westminster.
Arguments over independence have taken somewhat of a backseat in recent months, with political focus dominated by Brexit and its impact on Scotland. However, as debates over Scotland’s future in the EU ramp up in the coming months, expect the First Minister and her party to push a potential IndyRef2 back to the forefront.
Whatever happens in 2018, if the last few years are anything to go by then is should be another fascinating year in Scottish politics.