MSPs are heading back to work at Holyrood while newly-elected MPs gear up to pass a Brexit deal at Westminster. After a tumultuous 2019, what does 2020 hold in store for Scottish politics?
Getting Brexit done
The first and most obvious result of the general election is that Boris Johnson’s promise to “get Brexit done” will become a reality on 31 January.
With a comfortable Conservative majority, Westminster deadlock over a withdrawal deal is a thing of the past – but that doesn’t mean Brexit is going away as an issue.
There’s still the small matter of agreeing a future relationship with the EU and laying the foundations for a trade deal – all inside an 11-month transition period.
Expect the familiar talk of no-deal cliff edges to continue through much of the year – in debate at Holyrood as well as Westminster, with much of the Brexit legislation set to cut across devolved areas.
The Scottish government are digging in over Holyrood’s consent for such bills, and will use every one of them to drive home a reminder of the 62% majority for Remain north of the border.
Normally at this time of year, Scottish Finance Secretary Derek Mackay would be locked in negotiations with opposition parties seeking support for his budget plans.
This year, there’s something missing – the budget. Mr Mackay had planned to announce it on 12 December, but instead found himself in a polling booth.
The UK government is yet to set out its plans, and this means Mr Mackay doesn’t know exactly how much money he has to spend. The knock-on effect is that councils and health boards don’t know how much money they have to spend either.
By the time Chancellor Sajid Javid confirms the UK budget, on March 11, there will be very little time for debate, scrutiny or deal-making. The Treasury insists Mr Mackay will have enough information to set out his plans whenever he wants, but he says there has been “absolutely no engagement”.
Holyrood’s budget process is meant to last months. The way things stand, it may have to be compressed into a matter of days.
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The Salmond inquiries
In March, former first minister Alex Salmond will go on trial at the High Court in Edinburgh. He denies charges of sexual misconduct by ten women.
The trial itself is entirely a matter for the justice system, not politics. But immediately after it ends, a series of inquiries will begin into how complaints against Mr Salmond were handled by the Scottish government.
The court is the only place where the substance of any complaints will be settled, but regardless of the outcome it will be far from the last word said about the matter.
The coming inquiries range from a government review of its botched internal investigation process – successfully challenged in court by Mr Salmond – a probe to establish whether Ms Sturgeon breached the ministerial code in her dealings with her predecessor, and a Holyrood inquiry into both.
The latter could potentially drag on for months, calling the first minister and her team of special advisors as witnesses in public committee hearings.
If you thought the big questions of leadership were settled on 12 December, think again. Many political party members are going to find themselves voting again in short order – for new leaders.
The Scottish Conservative leadership contest – left in deep freeze during the election campaign – has now begun in earnest.
Alongside the UK Labour leadership race, Scottish Labour have to find themselves a new deputy leader after Lesley Laird lost the position along with her seat on December 12.
The Lib Dems meanwhile also need a new figurehead after the SNP dethroned Jo Swinson in East Dunbartonshire.
In Scotland, there’s another national election coming around the corner too, in the shape of the 2021 Holyrood contest. Expect the various leadership pitches to play a big part in setting the scene for that race.
Gender Recognition reforms
Governments don’t often save up big reforms for the tail end of the parliamentary term, but Ms Sturgeon and her ministers still have one contentious domestic topic to wrestle with.
The government wants to reform the Gender Recognition Act to make it easier for people to change their legally recognised gender, saying the current system can be “traumatic and demeaning”.
However, the plan has come in for criticism from some SNP backbenchers, and the idea of allowing people to “self-identify” their gender has been the topic of fierce debate.
Ministers have put their plans out for a fresh consultation, saying there needs to be “maximum consensus” due to “valid concerns” – but remain committed to making changes.
The consultation is due back in March, and the government would have to move relatively swiftly after that to get legislation through parliament before the next election.
The Conservative majority at Westminster has largely settled the issue of Brexit. But with the SNP winning a landslide north of the border, the other constitutional battleground – independence – is very much alive.
Nicola Sturgeon wants to hold a new referendum within the year, and has formally requested powers from Westminster to do so.
But will it happen in 2020?
There are two elements to this question. The first is the logistics of actually holding a ballot, with PM Boris Johnson so far refusing to agree the deal Ms Sturgeon wants.
Fingers in ears at Downing Street won’t help the SNP get a referendum in 2020, but it might help with the second element – winning a referendum.
Here, uncertainty remains Ms Sturgeon’s biggest problem.
Even with the fog of Brexit befuddlement clearing, there are still question marks over how it will impact on the public mood. Ms Sturgeon will be hoping it could provide the boost needed to get the Yes camp over the line, but is she willing to gamble on it now, with the polls finely poised?
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