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Spending pennies

Brian Taylor | 11:31 UK time, Wednesday, 23 January 2008

All around Holyrood this morning, there are eager little huddles as MSPs and the wicked media strive to discern what might happen in the budget vote tonight.

Nothing much hinges upon it. Just the odd £30bn of spending upon schools, hospitals, the police.

I exaggerate, of course. If the budget falls, then the Scottish Government reverts to the status quo ante. They can spend up to the (lower) level and pattern previously voted by MSPs.

But this is big stuff. And I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that your tribunes are approaching the decision with due seriousness, knowing that in a parliament of minorities their votes really will count.

So who’s saying what? Well, firstly, all the opposition parties are saying they want to hear what John Swinney, the finance secretary, has to say when he opens the debate.

So what? So plenty. They want to hear whether he is prepared to make concessions in their sundry directions that might encourage them to vote for the budget or abstain to allow it to survive another day, for further scrutiny in committee.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats seem the most hostile, at this stage. Labour tabled a series of proposed amendments, for example restoring ring fencing in some areas of local government spending.

They won no support for these in committee but will, understandably, try again in order to advance their own “alternative” perspective.

The Liberal Democrats favour enhanced university spending - but are also complaining that the budget is too opaque, lacking sufficient detail.

My verdict on that? They’re preparing the ground for an ultimate abstention - although they may vote against the budget today, at stage one.

The Greens want to hear encouraging words on key issues for them: carbon-proofing future spending plans; no return to air route development in another guise; less emphasis on road schemes. Warm words on these could - could - win their abstention.

The independent MSP Margo MacDonald may - may - vote for the budget. She likes the Swinney plan to recognise, financially, the pivotal role of Edinburgh as capital city. If she gets that pinned down, she may be content.

Which leaves the Tories. I think they’ll vote for the budget today. At the very least, they say that allows scrutiny to proceed. For later stages, they’re after two key concessions.

They want more bobbies on the beat and they want cuts in business rates to be accelerated. If they get those, or substantial moves in those directions, they could vote for the budget at later stages too.

But they want precise, firm guarantees.

PS: This morning, both Alex Salmond and John Swinney gave evidence – again – to Holyrood’s local government committee on the Trump application. Did the committee land an effective punch upon them? What do you think?


  • 1.
  • At 12:22 PM on 23 Jan 2008,
  • Dan Ritchie wrote:

Nicol still had 'Nick All' to add to the Trumph enquiry. Gee whizz.....

Agree the budget will go through today. Labour and Lib's will not be happy but lacking any real alternatives the Tories being a pretty inteligent bunch will see that the best thing to do is get the Budget Ratified and get on with testing out the claims made.

  • 2.
  • At 02:02 PM on 23 Jan 2008,
  • Mac wrote:

The Holyrood’s local government committee on the Trump application has been a complete waste of time and of taxpayers money.

The allegations the committee are supposed to be investigating have proven to be unfounded, but there is now an issue on how this committee itself has behaved on this matter.

Parliamentary committees are supposed to be the corner-stones of the devolved process, above party politics, scrutinising the actions of the Scottish government.

This committee has shown itself to be hopelessly partizan, cack-handed and incompetent.

If this committee investigation had been a Hollywood movie it would have gone straight to DVD.

  • 3.
  • At 02:04 PM on 23 Jan 2008,
  • Stephen wrote:

Agree with everything DAn said,

Ratify the thing asap and see if the SNP numbers hold water.

Sooner the budget is put in place the better for the confidence in the economy (lets face it it needs a wee boost) Also hastening the business rates cut would also alleviate some fears within the business community.

Playing cheap politics with Scotlands future, should be shameful for any of the parties.

Everybody wants an end to ring fencing get over it, Everybody wants more police. Even the Lib-dems didnt like the Council Tax and want a fairer system.

Lets get the thing passed

  • 4.
  • At 04:54 PM on 23 Jan 2008,
  • Murphy wrote:

But the parliament can't see what they're passing - there are no details at all. The government say it's using one and a half billion pounds of efficiency savings, but won't say how or where these are coming from - jobs cuts anyone? And if there aren't any job cuts, then how about service cuts when they can't afford everything they say they will? I feel sorry for councils - the SNP have spun this so the government gets all of the credit and none of the blame, which will be heaped on councils, who haven't been given enough money to meet all the SNP's promises. I think the opposition parties would be fools to sign up to this budget and let the SNp get away with it.

  • 5.
  • At 05:04 PM on 23 Jan 2008,
  • derek barker wrote:

wee wendy will try and score some points today but what wont change is the fact that there is a budget of 30bn,i believe the articulate Mr Salmond will sum this one up within those wise words of Rabbie,"WE HAE MEAT AND WE CAN EAT SAE LET THE LORD BE THANKET" p.s. did the committee land a punch?no! they didn't even come close to making the F.M. uncomfortable.

  • 6.
  • At 07:25 PM on 23 Jan 2008,
  • L Telfer wrote:

Wendy and her Lib. colleagues seem hell bent on opposing every SNP policy irrespective of whether it has merit or not. At least Annabel Goldie has some concern for Scotland's wellbeing even though I suspect that at sometime she's going to want her pound of flesh. Alec Salmond will no doubt deal with that when it happens just as competently as he deals with Wee Wendy and the lost Liberal boys.As for the Greens (or is it Green?) they can be considered an irrelevance.

  • 7.
  • At 08:36 PM on 23 Jan 2008,
  • Robbie wrote:

L Telfer,

If the Greens vote against Stage 3 then we have 64 votes to 64! The Presiding Officer is obliged to use his casting vote for the status quo. I.E. no SNP budget! Or to put it differently - last years budget - again!

One needs 3 parties on side to be sure of victory in Session Three. Sadly for every reasonable politician, the Greens (who sound good but are often too caught up in their personal rivalries to think in terms of achieving their policies) are just as powerful as any other party.

If the minority government want success they will have to work to gain the support of the majority of elected MSPs. Hopefully they will all make tough demands and stop these incompetents from ruining our country.

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