January 17, 2017 : Craig Wilson
What’s in store for 2017?Casting an eye on the big policy issues for Scotland's third sector
As is now tradition, any contemplation of the year ahead must surely begin with a recap of what has passed. By any measure, 2016 was calamitous; with the war in Syria spiralling to new levels of barbarism, a series of bloody international terror attacks, the murder of Jo Cox MP, the UK’s decision to leave the EU, the human gargoyle Donald Trump elected US President and the death of iconic celebrities*.
As current affairs become history, we see more clearly how the past affects the future. In the case of Brexit and Trump, 2017 is when we begin to reap what has been sown. The Donald will be inaugurated and we will learn a little more than ‘Brexit means Brexit’.
To start the year with a laugh, I’d encourage you to look back at some of the (off-target) predictions offered to us in early 2016 from a clamour of cocksure commentators. It would certainly seem that, for the moment at least, political forecasting is a fruitless game which can guarantee nothing but mockery at your own expense.
With this very much in mind, let’s take a look at some of the big issues we know** will play out in the year ahead.
We can safely assume that the UK will be leaving the EU. However, we don’t yet know when or on what terms. Despite the Prime Minister making clear her desire to trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017, this will almost certainly be subject to a parliamentary vote.
What type of Brexit we see is therefore subject to much debate. It remains to be seen whether we witness a velvet divorce or a bitter separation which would surely lead to social and economic turmoil.
The terms of the Brexit deal (and to what extent Scotland is involved) will undoubtedly have implications for public support for a second independence referendum. However, the First Minister ruled out any such plebiscite for 2017 – a surprise move, given that an ugly Brexit in 2017 could potentially shift the needle of support beyond 50%.
Having introduced his first Budget late last year, Scotland’s Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay, will have to win the backing of at least one opposition party to see it passed.
With Labour and the Tories unlikely to back him and the Greens and Lib Dems already saying they won’t support it in its current form, it looks likely that he will have to grant some concessions, potentially on colleges or local government funding, to gain support.
Mr Mackay also said he will use Scotland’s new borrowing powers ‘to the max’. However, we don’t yet know what the money will be used for. Going on previous form, I’d expect the money to be channelled in to capital infrastructure – an SNP favourite in terms of job creation and boosting economic activity.
With other new powers, the Scottish Government will bring forward a Social Security Bill in the summer. Some positive announcements have already been made – no doubt down to the efforts of third sector organisations and the excellent evidence they injected in to the debate.
Local Authority elections will take place on Thursday 4 May and it is widely expected that the SNP will gain further ground in council’s across the country – of which Glasgow would be jewel in the crown.
Scottish Labour has outlined a local government manifesto and we will see others published in the run up to the spring conference season.
The whole campaign takes place against a backdrop of local government and educational reform. If the SNP perform as well as expected, it will be interesting to see the friction that may arise between central government and supposedly friendly local authorities.
Of course, no country is an island*** and international winds will continue to buffet and shape the world around us.
With Trump at the helm of the USS America, the Paris Climate deal in jeopardy, an increasingly aggressive Putin flexing his muscles, the potential for further disintegration of the EU and the global economy still in flux, there is perhaps little to be optimistic about.
Have a fun 2017!
* Bad news: this trend is likely to worsen.
** Let’s be honest, we know nothing.
*** Some are, but this is a metaphor!