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In January and the beginning of February, major stories in Scottish public affairs included the European Union referendum, local taxation, the future fiscal framework for Scotland, and the Scottish Parliamentary election campaign. Read below for the latest on these issues, plus a run-down of key reports and statistics published over the past month.
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The Fiscal Framework
Negotiations are ongoing between the UK and Scottish governments over the mechanism through which Scotland will receive its allocation of central government funding when additional tax and welfare powers are devolved to Scotland as part of the Scotland Bill. Following eight rounds of talks between the Scottish Government and UK Treasury, a final agreement on a new fiscal framework has still not been reached. The Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has been aiming for a deal by mid-February. For more see:
- What is the fiscal framework?
- Professor Anton Muscatelli on the options being discussed and their potential implications for Scotland’s finances.
European Union Referendum
Concerns have been raised by several Scottish politicians about the timing of the UK’s referendum over EU membership, as a June 2016 vote would clash with the Scottish parliamentary elections in May. In addition to this, many observers have been debating the possible impact of a UK vote to leave the EU if a majority in Scotland vote to stay – triggering a potential constitutional crisis. For more see:
- David Cameron urged to delay EU referendum by first ministers
- Professor Richard Rose: Will the EU referendum trigger the break-up the United Kingdom?
- First Minister Nicola Sturgeon: EU referendum in June would be a mistake
- Poll: Brexit would lead to 54% Yes vote in Scotland
Scottish Parliamentary elections
Campaigning is underway for the Holyrood parliamentary election on 5 May, with under 100 days to go until voting. So far education, public spending and tax rates have been central issues. Polls vary, however seem to suggest that the Scottish National Party (SNP) is on course to win a second overall majority, with the Conservatives and Labour battling to be the second party, and the Liberal Democrats and Greens likely to take the remaining seats. For more see:
- What Scotland Thinks: Holyrood Election Polls
- Scottish Politics: what to look out for in 2016
- One hundred days to go: education the priority for parties at Holyrood election
Local Government Funding
In late January the Scottish Government and local authorities held talks after some councils considered raising council tax levels for the first time since 2007, breaking the Scottish Government’s “freeze” on the local property tax. The discussions between the Scottish Government and local authorities’ umbrella group COSLA addressed the financial incentives councils receive to maintain the current freeze – and the sanctions they would face if they raised tax levels. The debate over tax rates comes in the context of public spending cuts and the potential impact of these on services. In December, the cross-party Commission on Local Tax Reform recommended replacing the council tax altogether. For more see:
- CSPP’s Richard Kerley: Uncertain Future for Council Tax After Talks
- Councils hit out at 'draconian' moves
- Freeze frame: examining Scottish local government’s funding pressures
The Scottish Government announced it would introduce 49 amendments to the Land Reform Bill after various groups, including SNP conference delegates, had called for provisions to go further in several areas. The legislation is currently in the detailed committee stage of its passage through parliament. For more see:
- Ministers to "strengthen" land reform law after rejecting call to take on tax havens
- Land reform proposals need work, says Holyrood committee
- SNP conference 2015: Delegates vote for more radical land reform plans
Reports and Statistics