For those who thought the referendum marked the end of “constitution politics”, the appointment of the Smith Commission was a rude awakening. And for those who thought the Smith Commission would bring an end, another awakening has been sounded.
Former prime minister Gordon Brown called at the weekend for the focus in Scotland to be reset and attention to return to issues that directly concern the wellbeing of the Scottish people. But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has wasted no time in delivering her blunt riposte, warning that Labour must increase the powers on offer as the price of SNP support for Ed Miliband to walk into Downing Street next May.
She says the powers set out by Lord Smith, together with powers over welfare announced last week, don’t go far enough.
Thus, we are set for “constitution politics” to continue to dominate until the election – and for some considerable time afterwards. Ms Sturgeon’s clear determination to continue the struggle and to press for powers over Corporation Tax leaves no doubt that, while the ranks of the SNP will cheer her on, Scotland is set for more division on an issue that seems incapable of settlement – no matter the clear rejection of independence by voters in a referendum whose outcome now appears to be largely irrelevant. The likelihood is of an even more divisive period ahead, on two fronts.
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First, with rising support for the SNP and the UK Independence Party south of the Border, it looks increasingly unlikely that either Labour or the Conservatives will secure an overall majority next May. The SNP, on course for a substantially enlarged representation in Westminster, will be in a pivotal position to make or break the ambitions of the UK’s two largest parties. Ms Sturgeon has ruled out any deal with the Conservatives. And her support for Labour is likely to be limited to a more fractious “confidence and supply” arrangement.
But that would only intensify division on a second front – the growing opposition among English MPs to Scottish MPs being able to vote on English-only matters, which would now include much of the UK Budget. Indeed, the harder the SNP pushes, the more it will inflame English opinion on the issue of “English votes for English laws”.
All this is set to unfold against a backcloth of a worryingly high budget deficit and ever-rising total of government net debt, which lies at the heart of continuing public spending austerity outside of expenditure on health. The spectre of angry deadlock, political instability and (at best) lack of certainty over the UK’s fiscal position would almost certainly be of concern in financial markets and quite possibly dictate a further election later next year. Thus “constitution politics” will come to cast a long shadow over the coming 12 months.
And so the madness continues…
Move over Black Friday. Your arm may still be in a sling and the bruises may still ache, but at least you’re fit for the next round of shopping mayhem, this one from the comfort of your sofa: Cyber Monday is here.
Frenzied shoppers are about to let themselves loose on the internet to snatch those online bargains. In fact, it’s already started, with Amazon offering big discounts on some digital gizmos.
Retail experts say that at least £556 million is expected to be spent online today. Some six million shoppers are set to spend an average of £100 each – around 11 per cent more than last year. Whatever happened, you might ask, to “Austerity Britain” and “the squeezed middle”?
But perhaps the retail experts should hold back on those online spending predictions until the orders have really been placed and the goods delivered. It can be one thing to spot the seductive bargain, quite another to get that gratifying e-mail: “Congratulations! Your order is being processed!”
Take care to enter all your details correctly or you’ll be sent back to start again from scratch. Put in your e-mail address (at least twice), the delivery address if separate from the billing address, your 12-digit credit card number and security code (the internet connection is most likely to break when you’re halfway through).
What to do when finally completing delivery instructions to be told: “Product out of stock” or “Address unknown”? Wipe away those tears, rush down to the high street and start a fight. Festive cheer is all around. And they call it “retail therapy”.
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