Scottish Budget Woes: Challenges, Controversies, And Shifting Political Dynamics


London (Parliament Politics Maganize) –  The scene is prepared for one of the year’s most anticipated legislative events, and the participants are gathered. Although it’s pantomime season, there’s not much joy around this Scottish budget. Humza Yousaf‘s Cabinet is in the wings, ready to make its grand appearance.

Shona Robison Says,

According to deputy first minister Shona Robison, Jeremy Hunt’s choice to cut taxes rather than increase expenditure has resulted in a “worst-case scenario” settlement for Scotland in the Autumn Statement. Hunt promised to provide Holyrood an extra £545 million in this and the following fiscal year. 

Still, Robison pointed out that the Barnett formula calculations meant that the little increase in funding for the NHS in England would only translate into an extra £10.8 million for Scotland. And the government has several other fires to put out, even if there is pressure to make the numbers add up.

The problem ministers now face in balancing the £60 billion budget and implementing their promised council tax freeze against a predicted public spending imbalance of £1 billion before any changes are made so great that extra cabinet discussions were needed to iron out the specifics. In 2007, the SNP won power on a platform of competence and trust. However, that record is under scrutiny following 16 years in office due to several unfavorable assessments on education and health. 

The BMA and the Royal College of Nursing report that thousands of empty positions indicate that the health service does not have the personnel necessary to provide for patients, and NHS waiting lists are still very high. In the international assessment of educational performance, Scotland recorded its lowest-ever scores in last week’s Pisa report, which incited jeers from opposing parties. 

Meanwhile, trade unions and local governments are demanding action to “save Scotland’s public services” and warning that increasing financial constraints may force some councils to practically go bankrupt. 

Furthermore, just 17 of the 61 National Performance Framework indicators that are currently quantifiable indicate improvement; the remaining 31 indicate stasis, and 13 show deterioration. The SNP-Green government would not want to send the wrong message this Christmas: performance is declining in child social and physical development, greenhouse gas emissions, workplace learning, and quality of care experience. The other 20 categories are not comparable due to data collection changes. However, there is an improvement in economic growth and the sustainability of fish stocks.

The government has lost a high-stakes legal challenge against Westminster’s use of Section 35 powers over the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, Operation Branchform looms large over his party like a ghost of Christmas past, and the Michael Matheson iPad controversy continues to dominate news coverage despite numerous government statements indicating it has been resolved. 

Even after that budget is presented, there will still be the contentious dispute between Yousaf and his former mentor, Fergus Ewing of the SNP, to consider, long-overdue ferries to complete, and a fresh legal challenge brought up by Yousaf’s predecessor, Alex Salmond, regarding the Sturgeon government’s handling of accusations against him. And so it continues.

Fraser McMillan Says

Fraser McMillan, a researcher with the Scottish Election Study based at the University of Glasgow, says the poll “may well be an outlier.” However, he also points out that there are still “only a handful” of findings where Labour is “actually ahead” of the SNP. Although Anas Sarwar’s party has “significantly closed the gap,” he notes that without more sophisticated modeling, it is “difficult to think about how these polls translate into seats.” 

However, the prevailing narrative that the SNP is up against serious opposition at the polls “makes sense because of what’s happened to the party.” He informs Holyrood, “There has been a noticeable shift in public opinion over the past year.” Although Nicola Sturgeon was more popular and had political superpowers, Humza isn’t as well-liked by the public. 

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why his popularity has declined. Although Humza doesn’t do too poorly, he and Sarwar are similar. Overall, the two of them are ranked almost equal. However, he continues, others may be only “swithering” and “will come back by the next general election can be seen to improve their handling of issues like the health service.

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McMillan Says

“We’ve ended up with a slightly messy situation somewhere between the constitutionally polarized situation that we had, post-referendum, and more normal competence-based party competition dynamics,” claims McMillan, adding that “many of them have upped-sticks to Labour.”

Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.