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A budget impasse looms

Douglas Fraser | 17:47 UK time, Saturday, 30 October 2010

Scotland's public spending could be heading for another precipice. Holyrood's budget is being cut, and there's a real possibility that there may be a failure to pass it.

In some countries, such as the United States, that means public sector workers don't get paid, and services close down.

In Scotland, the quirk is that it could make very little difference.

Here's how it works. If there is no agreement on the budget for the financial year starting in April, then the law says that the previous year's budget will apply, or whatever part of it was spent, in one-twelfth shares released each month.

That law was drawn with an assumption that budgets would continue to rise. But what if they're being cut, if only in real terms?

Last year's money still gets passed from the Treasury to the Scottish government, on a monthly basis. And as it's not much more in cash terms, it will deliver very similar results to the outcome if the budget were not passed.

How does this affect the politics at Holyrood? It means there's little or no penalty for parties if they can't agree a budget, and it would be up to the incoming government (or a continuing SNP one) to try and pass a budget after the 5 May election.

Across the parties, that's a scenario that's being treated quite seriously.

The other likely way of getting the budget through the Scottish Parliament, when the SNP is 19 votes short of a majority, is by negotiating a deal where opposition parties can be persuaded to abstain.

Tories have backed SNP budgets in the past three years, in exchange for concessions, but Conservatives may be reluctant to get too close to John Swinney's cuts programme this time round.

Assuming Labour will want to vote against, what the finance secretary then needs to do is to neutralise the Lib Dems.

And while talking politics, in which I've been immersing myself at the Scottish Labour conference in a drookit Oban, watch carefully what Labour's going to say about protecting the health budget.

It's carefully not saying it's ring-fenced. But what it's likely to do is to say it will put the care budget in with the National Health Service. The effect of that is intended to build pressure on health service managers - and the councillors who would play a bigger role in running the service - to bear down on costs and inefficiencies in the NHS.


  • Comment number 1.

    counciloors have doen such a good job protecting the care budget...just what we need more politics in health and social loses its role in quality and becomes the cheapest we can provide

    it would be nice if councillors decisions could be held accountable in every child protection enquiry, and then we might get a clearer idea of the havoc they cause

  • Comment number 2.

    " ... and the councillors who would play a bigger role in running the service ..."

    In my expererience, one of the things that keeps a level of sanity within local government is that even the most tyranical, or egotisitical, of managers has to answer to the political and democraticly elected 'layer' of their organisations. And that layer of Council Members can veto or overthrow inappropriate strategies or plans. [I'm not claiming that the 'layer' will do every time, but it can do]

    That is something that is sadly lacking with NHS Boards. Basically, get a Chief Exec, or even a Chief Operating Officer, who thinks s/he is the laird of all s/he surveys and then everyone below them kow-tows to the official line in order to protect their jobs / butts. But there may be little objectivity to these demi-god's whims and their demands might not actually deliver better or more services to the people of their areas.

    So while you could be right, local government managers and their elected bosses might well help prevent potentially damaging idiosyncracies of NHS bosses causing too much harm, what is really needed is greater external scrutiny of NHS Boards. Health is something that matters to everyone young and old and in betwee, so why is there no democratic process involved in selecting your local health chiefs?

    Actually, when I worked in London, the Adult Services Director of the local authority was the key-player and co-ordinator of strategy for local health and social care services for adults.

  • Comment number 3.

    Assuming Labour will want to vote against....

    Of course they will. It's so they can say the SNP doesn't keep to its promises.

  • Comment number 4.

    Raises the interesting scenario in which (until Westminster changes the rules) Parliament agrees not to bother setting a budget to avoid the cuts!

  • Comment number 5.

    "Assuming Labour will want to vote against"

    And you don't see anything wrong with this, it is obvious to me that they are working to an agenda against the nation of Scotland and your company is also doing our country a disservice by way overstating these losers opinions.

    In my view, which I am sure is shared, they do and always will vote against SNP, and you even admit you know they will, because their only interest is to keep Scotland under English rule so that our people can be demoralised, our resources plundered and land abused.

    I think it’s about time the journalists who work for the Scottish branch of your company start telling the story like it is.

  • Comment number 6.

    I see that you have been in Oban this weekend and along with Brian Taylor making up the numbers attending the Labour Party in Scotland’s conference.
    As the business editor for the publicly funded organisation Scottish Branch of the BBC, you should have been able to sort out the numbers attending that function. A quick subtraction of the media numbers from the total in attendance would reveal that the actual members of the Scottish branch of the Labour Party in Scotland struggled to reach 200.
    With all the hyperbole and negative language used at this meeting, surely we the public in Scotland could have received a bit less of the diatribe purported by you, and a bit more positive vision going forward is what is required by you, but as the Leopard can’t change its spots so the BBC in Scotland still chants the Red Flag morning and evening still no change.

  • Comment number 7.


    The Scottish Conservatives would vote against an SNP budget that included cuts due to economic decisions made by the UK Conservative party?


  • Comment number 8.

    Yip, the anti-Scottish and racist plot continues, with Condems and Labour colluding in secret and voting against anything and everything possible to twist and use to discredit the SNP no matter what other harm it may cause.

    In the meantime over at Pacific Quay we have BBC Scotland lending a helping hand wherever it feels it can, for example look at "Scottish" QT last Thursday, where the few Scots that were there were denied their say, told to shut up, how bad was that, what a disgrace.

  • Comment number 9.

    I commented on that over at Blether With Brian.

    It was that that finally tipped me over into full overt support for the SNP, there are lots of other things in the run up to which I tried to be moderate but that just pushed things over for me.

    I couldn't believe Dimbleby actually said what he did, it was a real 'double-take' moment. The other politico's couched all their answers in line with their respective party policies but Nicola Sturgeon was essentially gagged? Unacceptable.

    The blog above for me highlights the daftness of the position the Scottish Government are in, it can't go on. I have no ire for England, there are those feel a vote for independance is a vote against England but its most definitely not. Its a vote for equality, self-determination and responsibility.

    I would say all that over at BWB but you can't get a word in edgeways, its far more civilised here.


  • Comment number 10.

    That's it Rog, all one big English conspiracy!

    What about the promise the SNP made, when elected three years ago, that they'd give you a say on independence this year, eh?

    They spent decades impressing you all with their visions of an independent Scotland, but when they have the chance, what happens? They don’t even try putting the referendum bill before the parliament to vote down!

    No, they're going to try to get more seats next time to force it through. Does this look a little like a defeated poker player throwing his car keys onto the table in a desperate gamble to clear his debts? Looks exactly like that from my perspective.

    If I were Scottish I'd want independence, but I'd also see things for what they are. The culture of seeing anti-Scottish plots everywhere you look is so ingrained in you you can't see anything else. Makes me wonder who you're going to blame when you finally gain independence and nothing improves. My guess? The English.

  • Comment number 11.

    #9 was :)

    #10 "That's it Rog, all one big English conspiracy!"

    Not what I said.

    The people responsible for the lack of a referendum are not the SNP, the fact that you think that it is goes to show how deep the plot runs.

    It is a British plot dude, nothing wrong with the English, most of the anti-scottish plotters are born in Scotland, and that is so sad.

    They are Scottish representatives of the Tory, Labour and Liberal parties who work for Westminster; here is the place of corruption and plot makers, you can try to deny this as much as you like but am sure you would be wrong.

  • Comment number 12.


    "They don’t even try putting the referendum bill before the parliament to vote down!"

    What's the point?

    "The culture of seeing anti-Scottish plots everywhere you look is so ingrained in you can't see anything else."

    Rather presumptuous of you, I only see one plot, I can prove its existence and I don't entirely blame the English for it either (certainly not the public). I could show you letters of collusion but there's probably little point of that either.

  • Comment number 13.

    #9 pa_broon74

    "It was that that finally tipped me over into full overt support for the SNP, there are lots of other things in the run up to which I tried to be moderate but that just pushed things over for me."

    I'm glad to hear that, every now and then they forget which country they are in and let their gaurd down, sometimes they expose "things for what they are" and at that point a few intelligent people realise what is really going on and change their views.

    It is a pity though that some other people still don't "see things for what they are." and some of them then even have the cheek to indicate that I may be the one who is blinkered.

  • Comment number 14.

    "what's the point?"

    Because it would rally the people into seeing they were being denied their right to vote by people with their own interests at heart. The SNP shouldn't be playing games, they should be totally honest in everything they do (difficult for any type of politician). It would set them apart.

    Instead I believe they are using this as an excuse to delay a referendum they don't believe they'll win. In my opinion they are buying more time to stir up resentment so they'll be able to get what they want on the back of it. After all, heralding the successes of the Celtic Tiger didn't cut it.

  • Comment number 15.


    "Because it would rally the people into seeing they were being denied their right to vote by people with their own interests at heart. The SNP shouldn't be playing games; they should be totally honest in everything they do (difficult for any type of politician). It would set them apart."

    Well if it wasn't for the plotting this might be the case :) and would in any ordinary country, but here the press and all would just set about the SNP and ridicule them for losing a vote, so there still isn't much point. I do understand where you're coming from there but you’re wrong.

    It is not the SNP who lack honesty here, it is the others, the whole country (Scotland) is being played by Westminster and its Mass Media Mind Washing Machine. Their machine works very well and you prove that yourself.

    The SNP are up against the lot and all things considered are doing very well.

  • Comment number 16.

    Hullo Douglas,

    I think you could take it that all agree that politicians, journalists and all involved should be honest :O

    So how about BBC Scotland turns over a new leaf and packs in the “Chad Decker” style of reporting?

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 18.

    Hi Douglas
    Latest Opinion Poll available this morning. As the Hootsmon states, it shows that across the UK, Millibroon's New Old New Old Westminster Labour have overtaken the Tories.
    However, the main message in this independent poll is not even mentioned in the Hootsmon -
    "The big winner in October appears to be the SNP, which made significant gains at the expense of Labour."
    Will the impartial voice of the BBC provide this information to the Scottish public?
    Any old headline would do. A wee suggestion -
    "Scottish people see through Ian Grey's wishlist........
    Slainte Mhor

  • Comment number 19.

    i think now that france is now part responsible for defending Scotland, i think we should offer them our air bases now that england is withdrawing from scotland, plus we should now pay the defence portion of our tax to them as its only fair. regarding the bbc ploy to rewrite history as i understand it the labour party have voted for and abstained regarding budget votes as has lib dems so by abstaining they have therefore let a budget throu and their by supported a snp budget. why Douglas you knotty boy, Vive La France

  • Comment number 20.

    Its all very strange.

    This relationship developing with France, I can't help but see it as a furtherance of the whole European superstate type thing. I know its not fashionable to say that, you put yourself up for being labelled a a fruitcake.

    On the other hand, it makes sense I suppose, it saves money and stuff. That they'll be signing a treaty on nuclear bomb testing though? Really? do we still even do that? Not that I'm against the idea of nuclear weapons per se, but Scotland doesn't need them and for me, its another argument against the union.

    All this chat about aircraft carriers and nuclear weapons to me is just the UK continuing to strutt about when what its actually doing is lurching.

    On the SNP 'stirring things up'. I'm not sure where that is coming from, it seems to me the negative politicking is coming mostly from Labour and the Conservatives who've been doing the usual scaremongering.

  • Comment number 21.


    "Every day in Holyrood your MSPs are working to expose the failings of the SNP. In the chamber and committees the Labour group has harried, hounded and hamstrung SNP ministers. I want to thank every one of our Labour MSPs for their work over the past three years."

    Said Ian Gray at Oban. Oban was a train crash and there in the extract from his speech above is the evidence. The behaviour of Labour at Holyrood is disgraceful, there hooting and screeching in the chamber, cheerlead by Foulkes would not be out of place along the road in the cages of Edinburgh Zoo. He talks in a loud and ignorant voice when any SNP member is on their feet, encouraging the rest of his troop to do like wise, he is one of the worst examples of a politician ever seen, he has a lot of competition on the Labour benches. His time and money wasting written questions to Holyrood about such banal subjects as dry cleaning costs are sad, pathetic, and expensive, running in to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

    Had Iain Gray at least tried to live up to some of his rhetoric and put forward an alternative to LIT, he might have saved some credibility. So busy has he been digging in the dirt and “hamstringing” the SNP, that he has offered nothing in three years except a desire to increase taxes and the roll of the public sector in an already stretched and creaking Scotland, overburdened with the public sector, and over taxed and over governed. He is out of touch and out of time. The banner on his podium was spot on, Scotland does deserve better, and Gray is not it. Scotland cannot afford any more Labour government experiments, and Scotland certainly cannot afford any further membership of this one sided warmongering Union. It is time.


  • Comment number 22.

    20. At 10:28am on 02 Nov 2010, pa_broon74.

    Can you imagine the wah wah wah coming from the Unionist cabal if Scotland and the SNP had suggested a military pact with the arc of independence, which makes a lot of sense, especially since the noises from westminster are becoming increasingly hostile, and the threats to our maritime interests are being escalated, not least by the theft of our seas.

    In 1999 Westminster moved Scotland's Marine Boundaries from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Carnoustie. Illegally making 6000 miles of Scotland's waters English.

  • Comment number 23.

    I'm having a debate elsewhere about oil and Scotland's money.

    The gist of it is as an Englishman (and a fine one at that) he views Scotland as a region of Great Britain, since that is the case the oil isn't Scotlands since it doesn't exist as a country.

    Its highlighted to me anyway the different perceptions we have of how the UK is made up. It seems South of the border many see Scotland not as a distinct country but as a region and they think we think that way too.

    Its odd reading it from the POV of a Scottish person, almost like being married. What's ours is theres and whats theres is theres too but they don't realise we see it like that at all.

    I'm not going to start frothing at the mouth about it, its just curious.

    I also had to advise that refering to Scotland as a 'region' of GB wasn't really acceptable and was liable to get some people a bit hot under the collar.

    Not me mind. I'm with Jon Stewart on these things. ;-)

  • Comment number 24.

    This deal shows and confirms the weakness of london well demands that Scotland look to deal with it's own concerns, bbc in Scotland should start to reflect this by dealing with those issues.
    Scotland has defence concerns regarding north sea oil and gas fields plus along with norway and Iceland it has concerns regarding fishing stock conservation. plus North Atlantic and North sea shipping safety. it's the dangers that the withdrawal of deep sea tugs along with the airfields closure that concerns the Scottish Government.
    So well the English Westminster Government tries to preserve it's pretensions to global notions by this deal, the Scottish Government has real concerns for people here in Scotland.



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