The Scottish Parliament is now in recess, and the first parliamentary year since the 2011 elections has drawn to a close. In recognition of this milestone, each member of the Grayling blogging team was asked to give their personal opinion as to what the most significant event in Scottish politics since May 2010.
UK Consultation into Independence (Luke)
For me the 10th of January was the most important Scottish political event of the last 12 months. Following the SNPs historic victory in May 2011, and the subsequent inevitability of a referendum on independence, the Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore MP, arguably fired the first “real” volley of the independence debate. Addressing the House of Commons, Moore announced that the UK Government was to launch its own consultation on the legal status of the Scottish Government’s planned referendum on the breakup of the UK.
This action “bumped” the First Minister into naming the calendar month (October 2014) just over an hour later, undoubtedly accelerating the publication of its date and thus the debate. While the consultation responses have now been published to show the need for UK legislation, the consultation itself framed much of the tone and sphere of the early debate. It is only now that the pro-Union/pro-Independence camps have official launched their respective campaigns that the debate has begun shifting to content rather than process.
Local government elections (Ross)
May 2012 was a pivotal moment in recent Scottish politics. The SNP’s historic win just 12 months below was starting to create a narrative that somehow the party was going to sweep all before it.
Similarly, for Labour, the local government elections would prove a true test of their durability. In the end, the election results were a bit of a damp squib. The SNP did indeed take more seats, but Labour held on resolutely in Glasgow and Lanarkshire and in the power-sharing deals thereafter, regained some measure of control over Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Stirling and Fife. The upshot is that the SNP still has its work cut out if it is to convince voters to vote for independence in 2014 and Labour has an opportunity to demonstrate that it can deliver good government.
Moreover, the elections underscored a further trend – dismal results for the Lib Dems and flat-lining for the Conservatives. These parties face a far longer road to recovery.
Rupert Murdoch (Robert)
The seemingly never ending cycle of revelations coming from News International and the Leveson Inquiry, which have dominated the UK wide political agenda since the News of the World scandal almost exactly a year ago, somewhat inevitably washed up on the shores of Holyrood this year.
In recent months Rupert Murdoch has stated support for Scottish independence on twitter, and his personal admiration for Alex Salmond. Given the support of the Scottish Sun to the SNP during the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections, such comments would normally be good news for political leaders.
However in the past year, the value of support from the Murdoch Empire no longer appears to carry the same weight that it once did with members of the public. Furthermore the revelations that the Scottish Government gave support to News International over the BskyB bid, helped to muddy the waters of the relationship.
While both the First Minister, and the Murdochs, have stated that this support was due to the jobs that would be created in Scotland, public perception is everything, and Salmond for perhaps the first time since 2007, found himself going against the grain of public opinion. It remains to be seen whether or not the First Minister can find a successful balance between the two sides in the coming months.
Darling’s appointment as Better Together figurehead (Matthew)
This is my most significant moment or appointment of 2012 so far.
Why is this role important?
Obviously those who wish to see Scotland remain part of the UK have a lot vested in the leadership of the No campaign.
Vital characteristics required of this person would be charisma, articulation, having vision and importantly the ability to bring a diverse, detached and philosophically disparate group of politicians together under one cause.
Do these appear like the qualities of Alistair Darling?
On paper his appointment doesn’t read quite right. But what choices where there? No one in the parliament can match Salmond. Nor are there many in the MP ranks from Scotland that could raise the eyebrows of the public like the former Chancellor; no pun intended. He was the henchman of Brown, but wasn’t a Labour attack dog so doesn’t offend the Conservatives.
I’m perfectly happy to be convinced as the No campaign evolves. Darling has the qualification of having effectively run the finances of the UK during the last years of the Labour Government. Indiscretions like bringing about an economic apocalypse should be parked at the door, not that the YES campaign should be advised to drop that campaign theme.
He understands the risks Scotland would face if it went it alone. But can he give us a vision for what Scotland could be; that will be his biggest challenge.
The third option… (Sarah)
The referendum on Scottish independence is significant in itself but it is the third option which may prove the pivotal factor in Scotland’s future.
A recent IpsosMori poll suggests that 41% back the Devo Plus proposals for more powers while remaining within the UK, while only 27% back full independence and 29% would prefer to retain the current settlement. Although there is still a debate as to whether there will be a third option on the ballot, the impetus amongst Scots to remain part of the union but with more devolved powers is growing by the day and could turn in to a constitutional reality.
While Parliament is in recess, The Garden Lobby will continue to report on all the latest developments in the Scottish political landscape.