IT MAY be ten months until the next Holyrood elections, but already the SNP seems on course for an unprecedented third term in office.
An astonishing poll this week confirmed the trends of recent surveys which put support for Nicola Sturgeon’s party at 55 per cent in Scotland – ten points up on the vote share Alex Salmond secured four years ago when he won a shock Holyrood majority.
So what are the issues which will dominate Nicola Sturgeon’s inbox if she is returned to power?
The messy businesses of sorting out the council tax and knock-on of the near ten-year freeze can surely no longer be put off. It now costs more than £500 million a year to fund the freeze through Scottish Government cash for councils to offset the loss of revenue from basic inflationary hikes.
Ms Sturgeon has established a commission to look into alternatives, but the SNP Government has previously backed a local income tax and this would appear the most likely contender. But with Holyrood poised to gain sweeping new powers over income tax next year, it remains to be seen what appetite there will be for another major fiscal shake-up.
One area where a Holyrood majority –unthinkable at the outset of devolution – will give the Nationalists a strong mandate to forge ahead is on land reform. Powerful landed interests oppose the changes which could open parts of major estates to enforced sell-offs to the local communities. But Ms Sturgeon has insisted the issue is “unfinished business” from the flagship Right to Roam reforms of the first Parliament.
Childcare is something Ms Sturgeon has placed at the top of the political agenda as she aims to get a generation of women back into the workplace. She has pledged Scotland will have an effective full-time system of childcare by 2020 under the SNP. But campaigning mothers have claimed thousands of parents are already losing out on their free current entitlement and cynics will say creating a universal system is highly ambitious.