Magazine article Public Finance

Allies in Adversity?

Magazine article Public Finance

Allies in Adversity?

Article excerpt

There's an unmistakable pre-election air to Scottish politics right now, as the voters prepare to cast their verdict on the four-year experiment in Scottish National Party government. It has been experimental in two respects: the first ever administration run by nationalists in the UK, and the first mainland minority government.

Alex Salmond, with his largely social democratic policy agenda, has managed to cling on to power for four years, with only 47 out of 129 MSPs.

Quite a feat. But if the opinion polls are any guide, the Labour leader Iain Gray will be taking over in Holyrood after the election in May.

However, things might not change very much, for Gray is also likely to be running a Left-of-centre minority administration. He has ruled out any coalition with the SNP or the Scottish Conservatives - and, given the Liberal Democrat coalition with the Conservatives in Westminster, is unlikely to want Tavish Scott, the Scottish LibDem leader, sitting next to him as deputy first minister.

This means that Gray, like Salmond, will have to rely on the other parties to get his legislation, and most importantly his budgets, through the Scottish Parliament.

Now, Labour and the SNP are bitter political enemies, but they actually disagree about remarkably little. The nationalists want to leave the UK, of course, but independence is not really an issue in Scotland at the moment. Salmond abandoned the Bill for a referendum on independence when he realised it would get little support. The first minister has explicitly sought to run a devolved administration within the constitutional status quo and has not sought to destabilise relations with London. Well, not much.

In other respects, both Gray and Salmond are peas out of the same social democratic pod. They both reject market reforms to the NHS, support comprehensive education and agree that the deficit reduction programme is too much too fast. …

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