31st December 2017

2017 – An Annus Horribilis

Steven Paterson

How will 2017 be remembered insofar as political developments are concerned? 

Naturally, it will depend on one’s perspective, and I make no claim to be any more neutral than the next person. 

Those whose goal is to frustrate the progress of Scottish political institutions and structures will no doubt celebrate a successful year in politics. 

Scotland saves the Tories

After all, although the snap General Election was a complete disaster for the Tories UK-wide, the return of 13 Tories in Scotland is the reason we still ‘enjoy’ a Tory Government at Westminster. Without them, there would not even have been the £1 billion bung of our money to buy the support of the DUP, as their ten votes would not have achieved a majority. 

2017 was a crucial year constitutionally, with Brexit looming ominously in the distance, and yet month after month is going by with no measurable progress of much extent on what post-Brexit Scotland or post-Brexit UK will look like. In a year where a snap election was called explicitly because of Brexit, it is remarkable that so little has been determined and that, over eighteen months on since the EU referendum, we are still largely guessing at exactly what it is the UK has decisively and irrevocably chosen.

So what do we actually know?  Well, finally, after months of being shamefully used as political bargaining chips, it has been accepted that EU nationals currently living in the UK will be offered the chance to remain indefinitely. This gets a guarded welcome from me, but as ever I will await the details that follow a Tory promise.

We also know, more or less, that the divorce bill to leave the EU club will be between £35,000,000,000 and £39,000,000,000. 

And that seems to be about as far as things have been moved along throughout 2017, since the doublespeak on Northern Ireland’s future relationship with the EU and the rest of the UK is being sold simultaneously as two different and contradictory things by the UK Government, however unsustainable and obviously absurd this is.

But let’s return to the heroic 13 Tory MPs, whose existence allows this Tory Government to endure. What of their achievements for their constituents and for Scotland since June? 

Well, they voted down SNP amendments that would maintain our membership of the European single market and customs union. In doing so, they defied the wishes of Scotland’s electorate as a whole and the majority of their own constituents. And they voted to oppose parliamentary scrutiny of the Brexit process, no doubt fearful that this economically harmful position would be highlighted and condemned for the foolishness that it is. 

Instead, they voted on their constituents’ behalf to forego parliamentary scrutiny and grant sweeping powers to the Prime Minister to implement drastic constitutional changes by decree.

They voted to undermine the devolution settlement that followed a referendum of the Scottish people in 1997 by allowing a blatant power grab back to Westminster as Brexit becomes a reality. The rolling back of devolution, long-coveted by the Tories, has begun. 

They supported diverting Scottish taxpayers’ money to the £1 billion bung to the DUP to keep their Tory Government in power but then claimed there wasn’t enough money to help WASPI women being unfairly affected by pension changes. 

And the Cuts Keep Coming

And thanks to them, we have Tory austerity not only continuing but being accelerated: public spending remains constrained and the Scottish Parliament’s budget is being slashed by £500 million over the next two years alone.

The heroic 13 Scottish Tories not only voted down any motion calling for action to mitigate the damaging impact of universal credit rollout but patted themselves and their Government on the back for a job well done on welfare instead, having drastically curbed spending on it. 

For example, Stirling’s ever-on-the-ball Tory MP, Stephen Kerr, said in the House of Commons on 16 November 2017: “I am an avid supporter of universal credit and am fully vested in its success in my constituency.”  Seriously? Perhaps Mr Kerr should get out and meet a few more of his constituents who are being hammered by the inadequacies of this policy and his own steadfast refusal to vote in their best interests on this issue. 

It is the season of goodwill, so we’ll leave it there for now; suffice it to say that I for one hope that 2018 is a very different kind of year to the one we’ve just had. 

Finally, I wish everyone a happy and prosperous New Year!