28 January 2009

How did we get here?

Well, we're Budget-less. I could go on about what now won't happen as a result of this, but there's no point. The debate has been held, the vote has been taken and there is currently no Budget, and no financial plan for next year.


Anyway, what can we say about the parties tonight?

The SNP is, in fact, in a similar position to where it was last year - it's the other parties whose positions hae changed and in a far more aggressive direction. Nevertheless, that does necessitate a change in approach from the Government. Some might say it needs to adopt a consensual approach so as to secure deals with other parties. Others might say that deals are probably less likely than they were a year ago, so it falls to the Government to be more robust, and meet attack with attack. I'm not comfortable with either: the former approach relies on the goodwill of the opposition parties - which is not available at this time - while the latter doesn't generate the goodwill needed to get things done. Catch-22.

That said, where we did goof was with the Greens. A deal could have been done, but the approach we took was familiar to all Rangers fans. A smaller SPL club, say, Kilmarnock, has a star striker who is absolutely fantastic. Rangers want to buy him. Killie expect a seven-figure sum for him. Martin Bain tables the Gers' offer: 50p and a refillable lighter. John Swinney managed to find £22 million, then a further £11 million. When it became apparent that a deal with Labour wasn't possible, surely there could have been a further £67 million from offers to them that could have come into play? The Greens still wouldn't have supported it while we were planning to build roads that would at least get Scotland's cars moving faster rather than being stuck in queues belching out emissions at traffic jam hotspots, but they could have abstained, letting the Budget through. That was our miscalculation: £67 million and two votes.

Labour's position is odd. Firstly, it's a reversal of last year, where they basically sulked through the Budget, went on about how terrible it was and how they didn't want any part in it, only to abstain at Stage 3. This year they engaged, had negotiations, put their point across and, most importantly, gave us an idea of Labour's priorities only to vote the Budget down. Last year's approach was barmy, and this year's? Well, I can't begrudge it. After all, Oppositions oppose - it's what they do. If they don't like what's in the Budget, then in theory, it stands to reason that they can't vote for it.

However. The basic tenet of the Labour opposition has been that the SNP Government isn't doing enough to combat the recession. However, today we learned that Scotland has managed to avoid recession this quarter. Of course, this means that there's a likely six months to the beginning of the recession and it's going to be an utter bastard, but SNP policy clearly has some merit if it's staved the real troubles off for six months longer than Gordon Brown could achieve. Also, if it's in the Scottish Government's power to fight recession, then that inadvertantly damns both Iain Gray and Andy Kerr: Scotland's last recession was in 2002, when Gray became Enterprise Minister and Kerr was Finance Minister - the two economic portfolios. If it's down to the SNP to deal with the recession now, they were at fault then, and Gordon Brown is at fault for the wider UK recession at this time. If they can't admit responsibility for those then their reasons for opposing the Budget are bogus, and so I'm left with the feeling that their main beef with the Budget wasn't what was in it, but who was presenting it.

And of course, as Brown himself said today, the worst thing we can do to fight the recession is nothing. That is precisely what they voted for tonight.

The Tories are still playing the game: talking to the Government and winning concessions. They got something they could be happy with today and so stand apart as the only opposition party able to do that. And they didn't do it through temper tantrums. The only other political force capable of doing that was Margo MacDonald.

The LibDems? They've showed themselves up in fine style, haven't they? Remember their demand for a 2% cut in income tax, and sending the Chief Whip to negotiations instead of the Finance Spokesman, coupled with the inevitable flounce-out when everyone - even the Tories who normally jump on tax cuts - went pale at the thought of an £800 million black hole in the Budget, a black hole which the LibDems themselves offered no methods of filling? Well, it's now a bit rich for Liberal Democrat bloggers to accuse the SNP of arrogance, and blame the Government for the felled Budget. I'm willing to accept that miscalculations were made, but the idea that a party that made only one demand and refused to talk to anyone until it was met (a re-hash of their approach to Coalition negotiations in 2007) can sit on a high horse and damn others for their arrogance is little short of rank hypocrisy, particularly when they accuse the SNP of not negotiating, despite the fact that the LibDems were the only party not to enter into serious discussions. The LibDems increasingly remind me of the annoying little snotbag that everyone knew at Primary School, who would run around hitting people then whining, "Why are you hitting yourself?". That should be the title of the next LibDem manifesto.

This is what I don't get about them: they made a massive demand that they surely couldn't expect to be funded - they'd have had some ideas about where the money would have come from if they were serious enough to actually think about it - they refused to negotiate, they made no other suggestions and yet are still surprised and offended when they come away with nothing.

As for the Greens, they feel aggrieved and have every right to: they made a constructive suggestion, a weaker-than-acceptable alternative was put forward. What else could they do?

So the Government made one single error, and it was in the treatment of the Greens. The Tories and Margo got what they came for and supported it. Of those in opposition to the Budget: the Greens opposed the Budget out of principle. Labour opposed it out of politics. And the LibDems opposed it out of petulance. They're fit only for the playground, not for Parliament.


Caron said...

We opposed the budget because it was deeply uninspiring and wasn't going to give business and the economy the stimulus it needs.

Alex Salmond's "we'll have an election then" toy throwing hissy fit is the stuff of the playground.

I think there needs to be a touch of humility by everyone and some serious negotiation to bring this situation round.

Will said...

Ah, yes, because a "tax cut now, pay for it later" approach has worked out so well for the UK Government, hasn't it?

And what do you expect Alex Salmond to say? "Well, OK, we can only use last year's spending plans but we'll just stay here, completely paralysed"?

Your party was the only one that didn't even try to negotiate. Fact.

They show no signs of humility or serious negotiation now.

And there is currently no budget, so no chance of a stimulus for anyone or anything.

scunnert said...

You're spot on about the LibDems, but the Greens ... hmm.

The Conservatives were content to give their 17 votes for a 60 million pound Town Centre fund. The Greens demanded 1 billion pounds over ten years for a home insulation programme in exchange for their TWO votes? Clearly the SNP couldn't submit to such an outrageous demand.

As for Labour - they were going to vote this down no matter what.

Will said...

I suspect that's somewhat harsh to the Greens, Scunnert - the Tories got most of what they wanted last year, so unless there had been radical changes, their demand were alwyas going to be limited and their support was likely. The Greens were a different factor, and the billion they wanted was payable over ten years, in a measure that'd save money for households across Scotland. It seemed like a good idea, and a serious proposal worth investing serious money in. Unlike others the Government received...

Ted Harvey said...

Got back to Glasgow late tonight so I should keep this brief with two quick and broad (and hopefully still coherent) observations.

First, I think that some parties, the Greens in fact, just got a wee bit too used too quickly to the new political Scottish reality with an SNP Government... seems to me that on the Green side they may be thinking just now "cripes, we just meant to peer into the abyss - not actually fall into it!"

I mean if you're Green, do you want Scotland again dominated by Westminster Labour, complete for starters with a return to nuclear power station building and Heathrow new runway etc., etc.?

Secondly, on something that has troubled me ever since student politics days. The generic rule is that whenever there is a tie, the chair must opt for the status quo.

Yet, it can be the 'status quo' is in the form of the elected leadership seeking incremental change, whereas the opposition wants to stick with the status quo becuase they want radical change (i.e. the present lot thrown out).

OK, I know it's purist and obscure; but it is the purist and obscure that sometimes keeps us going in politics.

Being tired and emotional and having failed in my aim of coherence I'm now off to bed to prepare for another business breakfast briefing that I hope is as good as the one by DTZ last week on the prospects for UK property retail - that was a revalation - in the Chinese torture sense!

BellgroveBelle said...

Fine analysis there Will. I'm still trying to put my thoughts into words - watching Newsnight hasn't calmed me down any!

Yousuf Hamid said...

As for Labour voting, I suspect that if the appreticeships were to be increased to 23,500 then Labour would vote for the budget regardless of the other 4 proposals and we have also published our 5 proposals beforehand so there can be no claims that we would have rejected it to be spiteful.

Watching Newsnight is irritating me too - although I suspect for rather different reasons!

Will said...

I sympathise, BB, Newsnight depresses me. Thing is, News 24 (I still call it that) had a good feature on it during the 7 o'clock segment and that might have been better viewing for all of us...

Ted, I don't mind the 'status quo' rule, myself. But then I'm big on 'burden of proof', and expect the proposition to convince people of its merits. In this case that didn't happen for whatever reason so the proposition failed anyway and Fergusson did what he had to do. Having said that, I think you're right on the Greens. I think everyone was dazed by the 2007 result, and I know I saw the Green deal as a triumph for them - as did they. I'm far less sure of that now and I suspect they feel the same. But I'm not sure how they could feasibly support a Labour government either...

Yousuf, I'm hesitant to describe the Labour approach as spiteful, that's not an adjective I sought to use and so far, the Labour response has been relatively gentlemanly - especially on your own blog which has met its consistently high standards. However, I do think tactics kicked in, and I do see weaknesses in the Labour case (which I mentioned in passing) that I fear the party may not even notice while they perceive a potential political advantage. Other than that, I think they're doing precisely what you'd expect an Opposition to do in the circumstance and I do not seek to be too harsh towards Labour... not at this time, anyway...

James said...

Will, despite the position we were put in, there remains a willingness to talk to Ministers, and to try and see a final budget pass.

Thanks for the kind words (again) on our proposals, even if all the research is against you on the consequences of road-building.

Stephen Glenn said...

Actually Will there is an important thing that you said in your comments here:

"the Tories got most of what they wanted last year"

Thing is the Nat's budget is also more or less in line with the 2007 spending review's take on what would be needed for 2009-10.

You seem to take pride in the fact that the Scottish economy technically managed to avoid being officially in recession. This was by the skin of our teeth. But as recession digs in elsewhere skin of your teeth do nothingness is not going to be enough to sustain that.

That is what this budget offered.

As for the comments about sending in a bruiser in Rumbles to talk, I have never seen Patrick Harvie looking so angry as I saw him look on the TV in the last few hours. I think sending Rumbles appears to have been a meeting of like with like.

The Nats obviouly thought that everyone would eventually capitulate if they bullied them hard enough only that has backfired dramatically.

The Greens, Labour and Lib Dems all had one common theme in their reasons to vote against "It is not doing enough" that is the message that as sent loud and clear. Time for a rethink.