2013 should in theory be a bit of a quiet year, with no elections and everyone focusing on Europe and the referendum in 2014. This opens up a lot of space for restructuring and planning, meaning that we could well see a few heads roll and some power coups in both Scottish and British politics. I am not entirely confident of Johann Lamont seeing it all the way to 2014. Her inability to focus Scottish Labour on anything resembling a coherent plan means that she may find herself casting nervous glances at the benches behind her as the year goes on. She is not helped by a Labour party in London who have had two years to put the New Labour years behind them but who are still basing their politics entirely on newspaper headlines and what they are not, instead of what they are.
Willie Rennie should be safe, as the Lib Dems are a marginal force at Holyrood and his mediocre performances are of little consequence one way or the other. The Tories will probably increasingly be seen in the company of union jacks, but they know their demographic and will happily stick to it. A change at the top in the SNP is unthinkable, but I would like to see more of Nicola Sturgeon in a capacity other than that of the First Minister’s clean up team. She deserves better than playing second fiddle to Alex Salmond and is far more likeable.
Even less likely is any substantive change in the way that the Greens look, though the newly formed Grindependents group holds the possibility of a more robust radical voice at Holyrood than was previously the case. In an ideal world this will mean regular questions in the chamber and improved media coverage. We can also expect a higher profile for Maggie Chapman, the party’s lead Euro candidate for 2014, and on a personal level I would like to see some of the extremely talented younger Greens of the post-devolution generation asserting themselves more as we look to build toward both the independence referendum and the subsequent Holyrood election.
The biggest casualty of the year could be the Scotsman newspaper. Sales have fallen off a cliff and without a wealthy benefactor the historic publication may well cease to exist in its current form. Without completely reinventing itself and seeking new audiences, the paper will end up as either an irrelevance or a financial trainwreck. This would leave Scotland with The Herald, Daily Record, and BBC Scotland as the only dedicated and resourced Scottish print and web media.
In a dream world 2013 would be the year in which the Edinburgh tram is finished early and an extension to the undernourished streets of Leith is granted, the new Forth bridge is put on ice and the money used to create sustainable local jobs and transport in Fife, and the government announces a system of cooperative home ownership and insulation meaning that I can afford to heat my house.
With a miserable run that includes the SNP winning Glasgow council, Nick Clegg winning his AV referendum, England winning the World Cup and the Greens getting 8 MSPs at SP11 (and the Lib Dems 10), I should probably just give up on this predicting lark but, well, here we go again.
I shall keep it brief and, indeed, minimise it to one single rehash of an old blog post but my prediction, honestly confidently held, is that Alex Salmond will stand down as First Minister and as leader of the SNP in the coming year, allowing Nicola Sturgeon to more fully take the independence debate forwards.
This will be a decision largely based on polling numbers, Nicola respresenting Glasgow and being female would surely help the SNP win over the two most challenging demographics – Glaswegians and women.
Part of the decision will be timing though, given that Alex couldn’t realistically step down in the immediate run up to the referendum in 2014 and nor during any independence discussions. The man has already been a party leader longer than Thatcher or Blair ever was, surely it’s time he wanted a break.
The handmaiden to independence should be a woman and the young, vibrant, fresh, eminently capable Deputy First Minister is perfectly placed to step up to that role in the coming year.
Mine’s just a few sincere wishes of for each of the five parties at Holyrood.
The SNP: it’s time for them to draw a clear line between their own policies and the policies an independent Scotland would pursue. The former is entirely up to them, the latter will be entirely up to the people of Scotland to choose from the options presented to them. No more “of course an independent Scotland would be in NATO”, time for “the SNP will put forward a programme of government for an independent Scotland that includes staying in NATO”. Oh, and please open up the constitutional process. As the EU example shows, governance questions cannot just be glossed over.
Labour: Relax about the constitution. The vote is coming anyway, the No side is ahead in the polls, and your constant confrontations over it do no-one any favours, especially the Labour Party. Take a deep breath and start holding the SNP administration to account for their domestic policies right now, especially their right-of-centre and centralist measures for local government and so on. There’s loads of material: it just means a more creative sort of opposition than shouting and finger-pointing at FMQs.
Tories: Hang onto the constitution. Unionism is one of the few positions you hold which is more popular than your party. Also, I’m afraid Ruth’s not cutting it. She needs to step up a gear or be replaced.
Lib Dems: Do a Murdo – go independent of your Westminster colleagues. Actually set up a proper Scottish party, not the pseudo-federalism you currently use. Then you can run at some distance from the toxic effects of the coalition, and even (shock horror) oppose some of the more regressive aspects of Westminster policy. It’ll be awkward with your Scottish MPs having such a key role in them, but the alternative looks like moderately slow extinction. It might even save one or two of them despite their positions.
Greens: Get back into proper fundraising and support for branches. We’ll never make the breakthrough, no matter how good a national campaign we run, without central support for local members and activists. Build on the growth at a Council level, perhaps by pairing sitting Councillors with target candidates. Oh, and directly contrary to my advice to the SNP, it’s time to raise money for and run a Green independence campaign, not as a substitute for participation in Yes Scotland or any post-Radical Independence Convention activities: because no-one expects the Greens to be running an independent Scotland single-handed after the next election, only the Greens are in a strong and uncomplicated position to say what that Scotland would look like without jeopardising the campaign.