Unsurprisingly, issues around the independence referendum continued to dominate debate this week.
Over 300 civic leaders took part in a Q&A with the Scottish Cabinet on the White Paper, streamed live on YouTube. Covering issues from tax to written constitutions, much media focus on the event, however, centred on the comments of Ian McKay, Chairman of Institute of Directors in Scotland. Criticising the voluminous White Paper of being made “on the hoof”, he also asserted the document was a “political wish list” with no firm costs – a key argument of the Better Together campaign in their response on launch.
Back in Holyrood, the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee launched its inquiry into Scotland’s economy post-referendum. Expected to last around four months, evidence sessions with senior UK and Scottish Government Ministers; ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaign reps; the public sector and business community will kick off next February and address a range of issues from monetary and fiscal policy, to trade and investment. I’m sure they’ll all be using the festive break to collect their thoughts on the issues up for discussion...
In the penultimate FMQs of 2013, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie pressed Alex Salmond again on the White Paper’s much publicised pledge on free childcare, arguing that, as an already devolved power, this could and should be progressed pre-referendum. Sticking to his guns, the First Minister re-iterated his position that Scotland would only be able to put such measures in place with the financial revenues unlocked by independence.
On the perceptions front, polling results published this week suggest all the White Paper ‘chatter’ amongst politicos and in the media has had limited impact on voter intentions. A YouGov poll for the Times on Wednesday saw support for independence only increasing by 1% since the launch of the White Paper (up to 33%); with support for the No campaign remaining at 52%. More positively for the Yes campaigners, Ipsos MORI’s poll at the start of the week indicated a three-point boost for the Yes campaign since September, up to 34%.
Following the Westminster-based bashing of Better Together campaign lead Alistair Darling last week, there was better news for Scottish Labour this week, with another YouGov poll conducted for The Times suggesting a boost in support for the party following the White Paper’s release – placing the SNP and Scottish Labour neck-in-neck in the polls, with 38% each.
In another case of ‘London calling’ this week, Boris Johnson entertained attendees at a London School of Economics event with his musings on how a post-independence ‘rest of the UK’ might be branded; asking “What the F UK [Former UK] do we think are we doing?”
Looking ahead, there’s still a week to go before MSPs head off for recess. Up until then, they’ll be as busy as Santa – who himself managed to take time out from his hectic schedule on Thursday, to meet with MSPs to promote Citizens Advice Scotland’s new payday lending campaign. Wonder if he gave them their presents early?