Making the money last

Scottish money Image copyright PA
Image caption John Swinney is in the process of setting the budget for next year

These are different times, are they not? Dundee United are still the finest team on the planet but, otherwise, things are not as they were.

En passant, forgive me but writing that opening phrase has suddenly recalled for me a lyric by Lou Reed. From Sweet Jane, I think? An instant memory of university days - distinctly different times.

Anyway, Brian, enough of this Proustian twaddle. I am here to tell you about progress on the Scottish government's budget for the coming year.

What's that? Get back to the Velvet Underground? Or indeed French writers? Anything but the Budget? Ach, relax. You'll enjoy it.

Today MSPs have been ploughing their way through the Budget bill line by line. The final phase of the process, Stage Three, is due next week.

So what, I hear you say. These are different times, the SNP has an overall majority, there is no need any longer for John Swinney to win friends and influence people in the opposition parties.

Maybe so - but the Finance Secretary is still notably keen to ensure that the Budget attracts support from at least one rival. To do that, he is willing to consider amending the detail of his plans within the constrained limits of the overall total.

Why? To build and sustain the sense of a consensual effort to address Scotland's economic concerns beyond the remedies specifically prescribed by the SNP.

'Worth watching'

Mr Swinney has made clear to his political opponents that, despite his party's majority, he remains decidedly open to a deal. And very tentatively one or two of them are beginning to produce their shopping list - with the Conservatives perhaps the most likely contenders for an agreement.

Issues under discussion include housing provision, the college sector and sustainable transport. These, together with youth employment, appear to be common threads.

I would expect some limited movement on at least one of them before the Budget Bill is finalised. Housing, in particular, has generated substantial controversy and Ministers are only too well aware that boosting this sector can assist job creation, if done in a targeted fashion.

Colleges have moved way up the political agenda, not least because of the reforms outlined yesterday by the Education Secretary.

The First Minister has been pressed repeatedly on the issue at Holyrood, primarily by Willie Rennie of the Liberal Democrats but also by others.

There might possibly be some movement on that - but nothing that would give the impression that the pressure for reform has been relieved.

So, none of the political frenzy which attended budgets in the past. But worth watching nonetheless. Now, pass me that madeleine, would you?

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