A new first minister and a new era of Scottish politics?

Another turbulent period in Scottish politics has come to an end, and a new chapter has begun. However, the question for newly elected first minister John Swinney and his cabinet (which is largely the same as his predecessor’s) is whether they can reach across political divides to deliver for Scotland, its people, and its industries.


Swinney has certainly signaled a change of step in leadership, bringing Kate Forbes into the heart of his government as deputy first minister and cabinet secretary for the economy. Some argue this was one of the first mistakes of Humza Yousaf’s leadership; despite limited disagreement between the two on policy areas, Forbes was widely seen as a highly competent finance secretary – the loss of her presence in government was certainly felt.


Political collaboration in Scotland

Holyrood is designed as such that those who lead only do so at the pleasure of their opponents. When nobody can command a majority, collaboration and compromise are key to staying in power and delivering policies. So, what sort of policy areas can a Swinney government expect to be able to work with others on?


Firstly, a reset (yes, another one) on the Scottish Government’s relationship with business. Both the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and the Confederation of British Industry have called for the new first minister to prioritise economic growth. Many macro-levers over the economy reside with Westminster politicians, but that doesn’t excuse those in Holyrood from exercising the powers they have meantime.


Scottish political challenges

As a demonstration of the scale of the problem the SNP Scottish Government faces; despite Brexit, austerity, and the Liz Truss mini-budget being blamed for a slowing of UK economic growth, 68% of members of the Institute of Directors in Scotland believe the Conservative UK Government is doing a better job than the Scottish Government on business and the economy. There’s no room for tweaking the edges, a Swinney government has to work across the political divide to address the very real economic challenges the country faces.


Secondly, Scotland must speed up the processes that will help the country meet its net zero targets. The current system, from conception to delivery, of renewable energy projects, few would disagree take far too long. Offshore wind projects can take around 7-12 years to complete, and in the middle of this process appears a massive under-resourcing in Scotland’s energy consenting system.


This might seem a dry area of policymaking, but speeding up these processes will boost confidence that major investors have in Scotland’s net-zero ambitions. It’s an investment project that would garner almost unanimous support from parties across the Holyrood chamber if done right and would truly make a mark on the future energy security of the country.


All to play for a Swinney government?

Controversial issues around social policies – such as gender recognition reforms – seem to have gone stale for the time being, despite strongly held views from campaigners. Independence, while not off the table entirely, also doesn’t appear to have a functional way forward in the current UK and Scottish Government constitutional stalemate.


That said, where some, just a couple of weeks ago, might’ve written off the SNP’s electoral future, there certainly now seems to be an opportunity in John Swinney for the party to be led back to more stable government. There appears to be all to play for, for Swinney and the team he builds around him, time will tell if bringing on new leadership pays off.

Lee Robb. 

Policy + public affairs strategist.


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