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Writing: Tom Wileman

Whilst the constant stream of Brexit news seems to be (temporarily) slowing down, the papers were kept entertained by two cabinet reshuffles in recent weeks. Firstly from Boris Johnson’s Westminster government, following the Conservatives’ resounding victory in the December general election. The SNP, on the other hand, have somewhat been forced into a reshuffle, after the resignation of Derek Mackay. It surfaced the day before the budget was due to be announced that Mackay had sent hundreds of unsolicited messages to a sixteen-year-old boy.

How do these two cabinets stack up against each other? Well, Nicola Sturgeon’s cabinet is now majority female (7 out of 12), whilst women fill just 6 of the 22 places in the Westminster cabinet. This is a slight downgrade on Theresa May’s premiership. Women occupy very high-level roles in both cabinets: Kate Forbes’ recent appointment as Finance Minister means she joins Nicola Sturgeon (First Minister), Fiona Hyslop (Economy, Fair Work and Culture), and Roseanna Cunningham (Environment, Climate Change, and Land Reform) in government. Further south, Priti Patel occupies the Home Office, Liz Truss is in the especially key role of International Trade Secretary, and Suella Braverman is the new Attorney General.

It is encouraging that a fair amount of responsibility in the British cabinet falls on BAME ministers; Rishi Sunak joins Patel in one of the ‘Great Offices of State’, following his surprise promotion to Chancellor last week. Braverman and Alok Sharma (Business Secretary) are both also of Indian origin. In Scotland, Humza Yousaf occupies the cabinet position for Justice, but there are no fellow BAME members in the Scottish cabinet. Yousaf was actually the first ethnic minority politician to be elected into the Scottish Parliament, back in 2016.

But what does any of this actually mean? Does any of it matter? Representation of all genders and ethnicities is important; it creates unique and representative perspectives on common issues. But the conduct of much of the British government seems to fly in the face of this logic. Both Sajid Javid, former Chancellor, and Priti Patel, have admitted that their increasingly restrictive policies would have barred their own parents from immigrating. This comes hot upon the still smouldering embers of the Windrush scandal, in which Carribean immigrants were wrongly detained, and often deported, from the United Kingdom. What good is representation of oppressed people, if the actions betray the ethos?

Notably, the Scottish government seems more progressive on issues of gender and sexuality, and this may be due to the prominence of women in the SNP cabinet; Scotland is the first nation in the world to offer free sanitary products in all schools, colleges, and universities, and they have consistently opposed the ‘Tampon Tax’.

Whilst both governments may have different social aims, regardless of the demographic makeup, both reshuffles share similarities; to a cynical (or maybe seasoned) observer, it appears both Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon feel compelled to consolidate power. Johnson has been accused of putting inexperienced members into ministerial positions, such as the inexperienced Sunak. Sturgeon’s position as First Minister is looking increasingly unstable, and after the scandal with Derek Mackay, she may begin to wonder how long she will have undisturbed as First Minister.

Writing: Rob Bazaral

Kate Forbes is certainly an engaging figure to follow in Scottish politics. Especially as her first budget as Finance Secretary was recently finalized, she has started her tenure as a young, ambitious, if not slightly precocious Cabinet member with what seems to be a win for both herself and the SNP.

While the disgraced Derek Mackay may have laid the groundwork for this budget, Forbes’s role in its finalisation and her achievement in getting it through Holyrood fairly quickly should not be disregarded. Especially as the Scottish budget has been approved before its UK counterpart, Forbes has suddenly become something of a celebrity for Scottish politics and somewhat of a beacon of hope for SNP devotees. But is her budget, which was introduced and negotiated so quickly, as effective and bold as it was promised to be?

This is certainly debatable: the first point of interest when the budget was unveiled was how few concessions were made to the Scottish Greens. The Greens, which have used their rather nationalist identity to find unity with the SNP, have often been able to get a number of concessions towards their goals. In the case of this budget however, there was very little in the way of items on the Greens’ agenda. Compared to 2018’s £150 million funding for councils, among many other concessions, Forbes appeared to initially unveil an extremely low £11,832.5 million. Even in budget debates in Holyrood, after the lack of funding for local councils and municipalities was heavily scrutinized, Forbes and the SNP eventually conceded extra increases to local authorities and police services as well as £45 million for low-carbon projects.

This is a major difference from previous years’ stonewalling of the budget over questionable demands, like the Employer Parking Levy, which would have made it so many employers made their employees pay for parking. It is possible that Greens’ leader Patrick Harvey is attempting to step away from the Greens’ reputation of trying to make a name for themselves by flexing their coalition with the SNP in favour of more consistent power for their party. However, on the surface, it looks to show Forbes’s deal-making abilities, achieving a win for the SNP that Mackay, who was well-regarded enough to appear as Sturgeon’s potential successor, often had to claw for.

Harvey’s reasoning for the deal being struck was largely because of a promise made by Forbes and the SNP to make buses free for under-19s, supposedly beginning in January 2021. This is a notable step towards Scotland’s goal of combating climate change; but there is little specification of how immediate the rollout for this program has to be, or how impactful on Scotland’s carbon footprint it would be for this one portion of the population to take public transportation. This has therefore been heavily scrutinised. While the budget does increase the funding allocation for environment, climate change, and land reform by £35.2 million to £461.8 million, this free bus service for under-19s seems a bit of a lackluster crown jewel.

Both Labour and Conservative MSPs bemoaned the cuts to local services, with Conservatives critcising the lack of funding for drug rehabilitation services and Labour criticising the cuts to infrastructure as well as the absence of bolder steps towards free buses for all. Both sides seemed to accuse Forbes of not seeing the larger importance of council funding in favour of broad initiatives.

Still, the budget was passed without much outcry. The Lib Dems continued to withhold support out of principle to the SNP’s larger goals of independence, and many Labour and Conservatives did the same. Only time will tell how effective it will be and it is far too early to declare Forbes the saviour of the SNP or the youth the party needs to keep its momentum and actually achieve victories for Scotland.

If anything this budget calls into question the dignity of the Scottish Greens, a party that heralds itself as the leader in environmental reforms, but settled for arguably measly concessions to keep together its alliance with a party that has stumbled time and time again with its budgets and its abilities to keep its promises. With Labour attempting to get bolder climate change legislation passed with its broader goals of public transportation and a more developed plan to better local services, managing this through stronger progressive taxation, it makes one question the purpose of the Greens in this day and age.

The SNP clearly still has the support of many Scots, whether that be to stave off Conservative influence or the residue of feeling let down; primarily by a Labour party which seems to fail time and time again and whose goals can never be truly taken seriously due to their unwillingness to collaborate with the SNP. Still, the SNP must not forget about Parliament if it wants to maintain the broader support of Scotland. If Forbes’ ideas don’t pay off, it may create an even more divided Scotland without a clear party to support its interests.

Writing: Adam Losekoot

The Scottish Budget was delivered by Kate Forbes (who has since been appointed the new Scottish Government Finance Minister) recently and much of the media attention has been upon the actions of her disgraced predecessor - Derek Mackay. However it is important that we don’t allow ourselves to be distracted by the (deplorable) actions of one man. The release of a budget is the biggest test any government faces as this is when we really get to see what their priorities are, what they view as important and whether it holds up to the promises they have made in the past.

All in all, it’s a pretty solid budget and has passed through the first stage of voting in Holyrood with relatively little difficulty. The Greens made their usual threats to withdraw support unless there was a colossal increase in funding to counter climate change and successfully got the government to introduce free bus travel for under 19s. The tories complained that the police were being betrayed by the SNP despite the fact that their own party has crippled police forces in England which are in far worse condition with regards to both personnel and funding. Labour probably complained about something but in reality, are just waiting for the next UK election so they can put all this in their manifesto and pretend Starmer/Nandy/Long Bailey came up with it, and Wille Rennie… Well, is anyone really bothered with what Willie Rennie has to say?

This budget contains an extra £645 million devoted towards childcare and the provision of further early learning services; plus £220 million in funding to help get the Scottish National Investment bank off the ground with the goal of using it to help drive Scotland’s journey to becoming carbon neutral as well as investing in local businesses. £180m towards increasing attainment in schools, over £15 billion going towards health provision and almost £290 million on public transport services. £117m towards mental health services and the beginning of a project to increase spending on infrastructure by £1.56b per year by 2025-26. Councils are set to receive an extra £95m and there will be an almost 60% increase in direct funding to tackle the social harm of drug and alcohol abuse. Police Scotland are to receive an extra £60m and a further £6.5m will be allocated to community justice services. As was the case last year, 56% of scots will pay less income tax than people earning the same wage elsewhere in the UK. I could go on but to be honest there are too many numbers already and I’d like people to finish this article and not just stop halfway.

This budget is problematic for a number of reasons though. Whilst all government budgets are built on forecasts and models as economists try to plan for the future, this one relies on far more guesswork than most: putting faith in forecasts of a stunted though notably still increasing GDP following a decrease in growth from the 3 years of Brexit negotiations (and their still uncertain outcome). This is the final budget before the 2021 Holyrood elections so naturally it’s not got much in there which could upset people. There are not any massively expensive or revolutionary schemes and, given what we’re witnessing of such projects from the government down south, that’s probably a good thing. It also assumes that the UK will have successfully negotiated a deal with the EU by the end of the year that will have no detriment whatsoever on the Scottish Budget and that all EU funding we currently receive will be fully replaced somehow.

Meaning we either stay closely aligned with the EU and continue to benefit from projects we are a part of, or the UK will take over responsibility and maintain funding at current levels. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that there is as much chance of Johnson’s government sticking with EU regulations as there is of Heinrich Himmler and Pol Pot orchestrating a snowball fight in the 8th circle of Hell (according to a google search that’s the hottest one – turns out we’re not just about politics here at Rattlerood).

A bigger problem though, is that the UK budget has not yet been released and with the surprise resignation of Sajid Javid it has been pushed back even further, with the current release scheduled for 11th March. The UK budget was due in November- which would have given the devolved administrations time to analyse the Barnett consequentials they are set to receive as well as any projects that the treasury intends to finance itself. In the absence of this, any budget is pure guesswork. This Scottish budget has been built on estimations drawn from Conservative manifesto promises in the 2019 general election. Given the circumstances this makes sense and was really the only plausible move. The question that remains: will the tories keep their promises now that they are in power? If not, things are going to become very difficult and we can expect an even more strained relationship between the two parliaments.

Westminster has a duty to all three devolved administrations, and it is failing them. To delay the budget for such a long time is utterly unacceptable. This sets a dangerous precedent and shows how little the Prime Minister and his advisors care about maintaining any kind of positive relations with the rest of the country. Instead, he and Cummings appear to be busy trying to build a cabinet which places loyalty before competence. Patel and Sunak are shining examples of their preference for lapdogs over ministers – and this isn’t even starting on Sabinsky. This budget and the obstacles the Scottish Government have had to navigate to create it are a worrying sign of what is yet to come during Johnson’s premiership, not just for Holyrood but for each of the devolved administrations.