First, a little bit of local news.
With my Westminster colleague Frank Roy, I recently met with representatives of North Lanarkshire Council, Scottish Power and Virgin Media to discuss the new Wishaw by-pass. We highlighted the unacceptable delays and road closures, and the overspend that partly resulted from the companies not knowing where cables and piping had been laid in the past. We made it clear that the people of Wishaw shouldn’t pick up the tab. We also sought assurances that all current work would be properly recorded for the future.
In a pre-emptive strike, I also chaired a follow-up meeting with Scotland Gas Networks, Scottish Power, British Telecom and Virgin Media, to seek assurances that everyone involved in the upcoming, much larger and more expensive, Wishaw Main Street, Streetscape Project would do everything in their power to minimise disruption to Wishaw residents and businesses. Wishaw residents have put up with enough delayed works over the past year and deserve a much-need project to be delivered on time and within budget.
Nationally, the big story has of course been the referendum on separation from the UK. What we have heard so far is overwhelmingly about the process of seeking “independence”: Will the vote be fair? What will the question be? Who will be allowed to vote? Will there still be expenditure limits now that the SNP have millions for their campaign?
We have had some discussion about what will be separated, mostly conducted at the level of a kid in a sweet shop looking at the pick’n’mix – we’ll have one airbase, one naval base, one armed brigade, and can we share the money and the monarchy, but not the debts?
We haven’t heard much about what separation will mean in practice, to the lives of the people of Scotland, and the rest of the UK, including the many Scots who live “abroad” in England and elsewhere. It is difficult to determine the consequences of something that is so ill-defined.
I can tell you that it will not be a land of milk and honey where the sun always shines courtesy of you-know-who, but that apart, we have many more questions than answers.
Given that the referendum is a thousand days away, there is also the suspicion that the current shenanigans are a calculated distraction from the very real and present dangers of the Scottish Government’s handling of Scotland’s economy and budget: two hundred jobs a day are being lost in Scotland, and child poverty, which had been decreasing since 1997, is once again rising.
With local government struggling to make ends meet, it may interest you to know that Scottish Government is hitting them with the lion’s share of the cuts – higher than the rest of the Scottish budget combined.
Over the next two years the local authorities’ share of the Scottish Government budget will drop from 34.5% to 33.2% – a cut of 5.9%, compared to 0.6% for the rest of the Scottish Government budget.
In other words, the Scottish Government is not simply passing on cuts, they are hugely adding to them. Their failure in these matters leaves me wondering what chance we have of fairness in their other endeavours – such as the referendum.