Leaders, leavers and local democracy

ONCE again, the world of politics in the past week has been overshadowed by events far from the confines of either Westminster or Holyrood.

There is little doubt that the political repercussions of the tragic tower block fire will be felt for months to come as details of the cause of the fire emerge.

Back in the corridors of power over the past few days, the fall-out from the snap general election continued, with the various parties flexing their muscles, or “retrenching” depending on how well they did.

The Conservatives, not surprisingly, confidently re-appointed David Mundell as Scottish Secretary, while Labour passed over their longest-serving MP Ian Murray, to hand former deputy leader of Fife Council Lesley Laird the job of shadowing Mr Mundell.

The Liberal Democrats face more UK-wide problems as they prepare for a leadership election, following the resignation of Tim Farron over a row about his religious beliefs.

The SNP held a contest to select a new leader at Westminster, following the defeat of Angus Robertson in his Moray constituency.  Many had tipped rising party star Stephen Gethins to take up the challenge, but with a wafer-thin majority of just two votes in his constituency, and a new baby, which arrived during the campaign, he decided this was not the time for him to throw his hat into the ring.

The election was by single-transferrable vote among the party’s Westminster MPs, with the voting overseen by Holyrood Finance Secretary and the SNP’s Business Convener Derek Mackay. In the event, four MPs put their names forward, with Tommy Sheppard withdrawing at the last minute, leaving Ian Blackford, Joanna Cherry, and Drew Hendry to fight it out. As most predicted, Mr Blackford won, though very narrowly over Ms Cherry, who received far more support from her parliamentary colleagues than expected.

Westminster is not technically sitting until after the Queen’s Speech, now likely to be held next Wednesday, instead of Monday, following delays in the negotiations between Mrs May’s Conservatives and the 10-strong group of Democratic Unionist MPs. What promises have been made to the DUP to guarantee their support still remain to be seen.

At Holyrood, day-to-day work continues, with a major announcement on Thursday by Education Secretary John Swinney. He plans to give head teachers “sweeping new powers” with direct control over much of their schools’ funding. This has upset many local councils and COSLA, who see this as the SNP Government taking much of the control of education away from local accountability, and a further erosion of local democracy.

However, the SNP has been heavily criticised in recent months by Opposition parties for their failure to close the attainment gap and halt Scottish education’s slide down the international league tables, so the move is not really surprising. Indeed, privately, this is something Scottish Government officials have wanted to do for some time.

Now we await the contents of Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech to allow us to estimate how long Mrs’s May’s DUP-supported Government may last.