Letter from Edinburgh 30.01.09

In one of my columns late last year, I predicted that Tuesday would not just be the day of Lerwick’s Up-Helly-A’, it would also be the day when the Prime Minister called a UK General Election.

Well, I have been proved wrong, the polls have moved on and the Prime Minister is currently showing no sign of giving the voters their say. So I should probably give up on trying to guess when elections will be held.

But while there was no election call on Tuesday, there was an election threat on Wednesday. The phone started to buzz on the way down to Sumburgh, and I arrived at Holyrood to find a good going row.

Of course Parliament needs to pass a budget, but it needs to be the right one. I have argued since last October, when the Scottish govern­ment published its proposals, that it wasn’t an adequate response to job losses and deepening depres­sion in Scotland. So, somewhat to everyone’s surprise, on the crucial vote the Budget Bill was defeated. I say “surprised” because the Greens had apparently said they would support it. The First Minister’s reaction? If he couldn’t get his budget through, he would resign and there would be an election. Like much he threatens, he did it safe in the knowledge he would not, indeed could not, deliver.

The budget vote has con­centrated minds. The SNP govern­ment – a minority – now shows more willing to revise its proposals so that a majority of MSPs can support it. I met the First Minister yesterday to try to seek common ground. I think the prospects are good. But even if the First Minister threw in the towel, an election is not his to call. It’s not like West­minster where the Prime Minister chooses an election and even then only after going to see the Queen.

So here’s one prediction – there will be a Budget passed in the next fortnight but it will achieve more than the one which was rejected. And, over the next few years as we face these tough times, what happened this week may turn out to be constructive and positive.

The Up-Helly-A’ week in Lerwick coincides with the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns. Burns is big stuff this year because of the Homecoming Year where expats are encouraged to come back to visit their home.

The theme is closely modelled on the successful Hamefarins that are such a part of island life. So imagine my surprise in being asked to speak at a Burns supper in Orkney. I’ve had to do lots of homework and swot up a few poems that I remember (just) from O-Grade English at the Anderson High. But in the week of Up-Helly-A’ I could do without having to move from The Norseman’s Home to Tam O ‘Shanter.

Tavish Scott MSP


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