Political honeymoons seldom end well; that the Scottish National Party, which so successfully renewed its marriage vows with Scottish voters in May, has enjoyed such a relatively long love-in is down, in part, to the continuing disarray among opposition parties.
Both Labour and the Conservatives are largely focused on electing new leaders and considering new organisational structures north of the border, while the LibDems are still overshadowed by Coalition shenanigans down in London.
There is also that fortuitous beach and sandcastles mentality common during the long summer recess. In fact, the only possible sign of trouble during the honeymoon were the angry words spoken about the SNP's initial rush to "sort out" football-related violence and sectarianism before the start of the 2011/12 football season. Thankfully, the SNP were wise enough to kick the whole matter into the long grass for a more considered, level-headed discussion, and peace was largely restored.
There's little doubt that the SNP's honeymoon is now over, not least because MSPs are back in Holyrood and the Scottish Government is now having to make the tough, real-world decisions that those in power must face.
The honeymoon breaker was, of course, Finance Secretary John Swinney's budget announcement this week which, while strongly supported by the massed ranks of SNP MSPs inside the debating chamber, soon provoked outrage within the country's business community -- including some of the UK's biggest supermarket chains.
The budget was always going to be a romance-breaker. Simply put, the block grant which the Scottish Government annually receives from HM Treasury is being cut in line with the UK Government's ongoing deficit-reduction agenda. Unsurprisingly, the SNP did try to make some political capital out of this -- after all, Scottish Nationalists are well-versed in condemning British Governments that have little obvious mandate north of the border.
First Minister Alex Salmond has even suggested that the UK Government should follow his "Plan MacB" when it comes to capital investment, which he argued has already contributed to lower rises in unemployment rates in Scotland compared with other parts of the UK. "Bare-face cheek", according to outgoing Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie, given the holes already perceived in Swinney's budget by opposition parties, academics and business groups.
Only this week an analysis by the respected Centre for Public Policy for the Regions (CPPR) at the University of Glasgow suggested that there was a massive hole in the Scottish Government's calculations which would require up to an additional £849 million to be raised from business rates during the next three financial years. The Scottish Chambers of Commerce have equally been unable to make the Scottish Government's figures add up.
While the first SNP majority administration will still have far more cash to play with (in real terms) than the first Scottish government in 1999, it also inherits a lot of costly policies that have become hallowed parts of the political landscape -- such as free care for the elderly, free higher education for Scottish undergraduates, ring-fenced funding for NHS Scotland and a five year freeze on council tax rates.
Naturally enough, the Scottish Government has disputed such negative analysis; but then, it needs to. John Swinney may have proved to be a disastrous party leader during Alex Salmond's "sabbatical" (2000-2004) but, in the last five years, he has contributed significantly to the SNP's public reputation for economic competence in government -- not exactly difficult, critics might carp, in those long-ago days of plenty.
Maintaining a reputation for financial competence is vital, however, not just for a continued mandate to govern; it's fundamental to the SNP's goal of independence from the rest of the UK. Given that a majority of Scots are still against or, at best, "undecided", about independence, the last thing the SNP needs is to give unionist opponents the political ammunition that comes from financial ineptitude.
So far, the Scottish Government has responded chiefly with angry bluster and annoyance; that's never a good sign, but it will certainly not be enough to ease ordinary voters' fears and disappointment once the much-heralded "Cuts" slip from the abstract of news bulletins into voters' everyday lives.
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