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Budget day

Brian Taylor | 10:40 UK time, Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Overture and beginners.

Unemployment figures out this morning form the backdrop to this afternoon's spending statement.

They show a rise in employment and an easing rate of increase in unemployment: a "fragile" recovery, according to the Scottish government.

That interpretation is accompanied by comments from the Enterprise Minister Jim Mather to the effect that the UK government is "imposing massive cuts" which are too fast and too deep.

This is part of an exercise undertaken by Scottish ministers to disavow the budget in advance - or, more precisely, to stress that its political origins lie elsewhere; with the current and previous UK governments.

John Swinney, therefore, will commend his budget to the Holyrood house with notable discontent.

He will argue it is merely the best possible within the prevailing constraints.

Opposition discontent

The core elements remain: a pay freeze except for the lowest earners; a switch from revenue to capital; one billion plus worth of apportioned cuts; a retention of share for local authorities linked to a council tax freeze and efforts to maintain police numbers; protection of the NHS budget.

Remember, also, that today's statement is very far from being the end of the libretto. Hard bargaining and Holyrood votes to follow.

Again in advance, there is opposition discontent over a one year Scottish budget, when the Treasury provided a four year plan.

There is even some muttering in Labour ranks to the effect that, if Mr Swinney will not provide long-term thinking, then perhaps the Scottish government should be obliged to step aside, allowing an early election to generate stability.

Do I think that will happen? Highly unlikely. The more probable prospect is that a deal emerges - possibly, as in the past, with the Conservatives.


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