The reality of the new term is now becoming apparent as newly elected and returning MSPs are inducted into Holyrood this week and formally approved as MSPs. For a full list of MSPs you can check out the official website.
While the formality of this process is open for all to see, what is less obvious is what else is happening behind the scenes. The First Minister has the task of establishing a new cabinet, many of the long-serving and experienced SNP Ministers have retired, some are not returning for this term for personal reasons or have not achieved re-election. Amongst other political parties some well know faces are also missing, so it will be for all party leaders to decide who gets a leading role in the business of Holyrood, as spokespeople and on committees and the new Programme for Government.
Behind the scenes in the civil service, everyone will be preparing briefing documents, policy statements and financial situation reports while waiting to hear who they will work with to deliver for the people of Scotland. There is no shortage of urgent issues. Naturally at the top of the list will be the recovery from the pandemic, next week restrictions are eased and Scotland is opening up again.
Other key policy issues will include, achieving sustainable economic growth, tackling child and adult poverty and inequalities across society. Policy specifics are likely to include reforms to social care, drugs deaths, health inequalities and much more. This Scottish Government will need, with partners, to deliver with urgency the transition to net zero.
Whilst all this is going on, local government and partners continue to deliver services every day across Scotland – in rural, remote, island, urban, towns and cities – in all communities come rain or shine. With this in mind, I have been reflecting on the previous Scottish Government concordat with local government and wondering what challenges public services will face over the next five years, will it be a relationship of equals and mutual respect? Only time will tell.
Looking back at 1999 and the first Scottish Parliament when I was working behind the scenes, it was quite a different political make up of seats: Labour 56, SNP 35, Conservatives 18, Liberal Democrats 17, Green 1, Scottish Socialist party 1, Independent 1. In 1999 Labour and Liberal Democrats went into a coalition to form a government. When the SNP first came into power in 2007 they didn’t go into coalition but governed as a minority party. A special advisor for Scottish Labour who I had worked with said to a group of us civil servants that he regretted the energy poured into working in coalition and not giving 100% focus on delivering for Scotland. It will be fascinating to see what is coming up next twenty-two years later, to be in coalition or not?
It is not only politicians that have to keep changing as successive parliaments are formed it is also civil servants, all public servants and civil society. I was struck by the words of Professor Michael Kenny, co-author and Director of the Bennett Institute, who said that “Existential threats to the Union, crystallised during the Scottish referendum, and exacerbated by Brexit and coronavirus, keep exposing the inadequacy of the ad hoc approach long adopted by UK governments.”
“Without a major overhaul of the way in which central government approaches its relations with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, this 300-year-old Union is at serious risk,” he said.
Analysis of the voting patterns in 2021 in Scotland shows that Conservatives gained most in areas with a larger “Leave” vote. Other parties did better in “Remain” voting areas. Whilst constitutional questions are interesting to those of us immersed in politics, I believe what the public will want to see is delivery of the recovery from the pandemic and it is incumbent on the new Scottish Government to deliver what was promised. With only a year to go to local elections in Scotland, time will pass quickly before voters are asked their opinions again.
Stay tuned to LGIU for more details as the facts emerge.