Monday, 19 November 2007

Budget of Ambition

I've finally found a few minutes to share a few thoughts on the Scottish Government's Budget. Better late than never...

One thing struck me almost immediately about the whole process, and that is the contrast between the approach of the new SNP Government and the previous Lib-Lab Executive. The previous administration , to be fair, was not incompetent. It was, though, notable for its mediocrity, of ability and ambition. The objective seemed to be that of merely managing devolution, and consequently managing Scotland. The SNP, however, have brought a breath of fresh air to the governance of Scotland, not just in the abilities of Ministers, but also in their ambition.

John Swinney's Budget is one of ambition for Scotland. It doesn't achieve everything that the SNP wants to do in government, and indeed the Budget does not stretch to some of the things that we thought could be delivered in this term. But in the context of such a tight financial settlement from Westminster, and being forced by the opposition parties into paying hundreds of millions for a tram system in Edinburgh, I am amazed at just how much John Swinney has been able to deliver.

It is also quite bizarre to see quite how hysterical the opposition parties are getting about the delivery of SNP policies that they either oppose, or had no intention of delivering themselves. To be fair (and I do try) the Tories are behaving more like a sensible and constructive opposition party - but they have had more practice than the Lib Dems and Labour.

Take tuition fees and student debt for example. Believe me, as someone who graduated the first time round in 2001 and then again in 2004, student debt is an issue close to my heart. So, I was very pleased that the SNP campaigned on policies to scrap tuition fees (thereby reducing the level of debt students would incur in the first place), replace loans with grants and write off existing student loans. It is ludicrous to suggest that the SNP has abandoned these aims. The Government has already guaranteed that tuition fees will be abolished, and the Budget states that they are working towards the phased replacement of loans with grants (starting with part-time students) and in 2008 they will publish proposals to deal with graduate debt.

Had the Lib-Lab Executive been returned to power in May of this year, then this wouldn't be happening. Yet they would not have incurred the wrath that has been unleashed on the SNP for daring to be ambitious, and to aspire and work towards something better for our students. I think that the people of Scotland will be far more supportive of a Government that at least tries to improve our country, even if it can't fulfill all of its ambitions immediately, than a mediocre Executive that didn't even try...

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