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Bills, bills, bills

Brian Taylor | 11:16 UK time, Wednesday, 3 September 2008

It was a confident performance by the first minister. I know, I know, such a statement is tautologous. But worth pointing out nonetheless.

Ranged against him, the opposition leaders. All three hopefuls for the Labour post sat on their party's front bench, an eager and aspirational triumvirate.

It fell to Cathy Jamieson, the current acting boss, to speak. And she spoke rather well: pointed and precise.

The new Liberal Democrat leader, Tavish Scott, offered the opinion that the programme for government was light on measures to address the economy. A substantive point, well delivered.

However, it allowed the first minister to point out, gently, that he had dealt with the economy as his very first point, that he was doing what he could within limited powers - and that he would welcome support from Mr Scott for extending those powers.

I doubt he will be as gentle again.

The Conservatives, breaking with custom elsewhere, fielded the same leader as they had had on show before the recess.

Surviving summer

Annabel Goldie duly lambasted the government's proposal to ban off-sales for those aged under 21 as daft - and was equally excoriating about the move to ban the council tax.

Mr Salmond voiced his relief that at least one opposition leader had survived the summer. It encouraged him, he said, in the thought that there was durability still in political life.

To the substance, then. It is often difficult, in truth, to discern a theme from such legislative packages.

They are disparate, blending politically engendered proposals with reform measures which may have been waiting in the wings for some time.

However, if one were seeking a theme, one might look towards lifestyle. Building perhaps on the ban on smoking in public places, introduced by the previous coalition team, there is proposed action on tobacco advertising at point of sale and, controversially, plans to place constraints on alcohol off sales.

Kenny Macaskill and Nicola Sturgeon are notably evangelistic about this latter effort. But I believe they will also blend this with pragmatism.

This will face huge opposition: from the trade, from political rivals - and from groups like students who don't fancy being prevented from buying drink in an off licence before they're 21.

Party challenge

I wouldn't be entirely surprised if some elements of this package fall from the picture, either at the present consultation stage or at the later legislative stage.

But, for now, they're in. This is the Governmental intention.

Same might be said of the plan to scrap the council tax and replace it with a local income tax - although there the intent is firmer still.

In essence, Alex Salmond and his ministers are saying: these are our plans. Don't like them? So what have you got as an alternative?

To the Treasury, who say LIT would mean Scotland losing £400m in council tax benefit, the SNP is issuing a comparable challenge.

It's the genteel political equivalent of "come and have a go if you think you're hard enough".

The Tories oppose LIT. So do Labour - although, under pressure, the leadership contenders have been obliged to go further than their 2007 manifesto, acknowledging wider flaws in the council tax.

The LibDems ostensibly support LIT - but don't like the SNP's plan for a fixed 3p rate across Scotland.

Modern lifestyle

It may be income tax, say they, but it sure ain't local.

Will LIT get through, precisely as Mr Salmond proposes? Doubt it. However, it seems likely that a reformed system of local government finance will emerge, somehow.

Other stuff. The Creative Scotland Bill, bumped by MSPs for lacking financial detail, is back in a new guise. Bit like one of those telly shows, repackaged in a new format to win audience support.

This time round, it's contained with a wider public services reform bill. That should obviate the need for a six month delay before the measure is reintroduced. But there may yet be further oppositionm party objections.

Lots on the environment: marine conservation, climate change etc. See that modern lifestyle theme.

Lots on criminal justice: reforming the sentencing procedure and the system of justice itself.

In fact, lots.


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