Blog : Scottish Political Insider

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 12 April 2019

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 12 April 2019

Trick or treat? It has the potential to be both and you couldn’t quite make it up! A dream for the headline writers of this world, the new 31 October Halloween deadline (also our political guru Devin’s birthday but we’re saying nothing….) was announced this week and the prime minister’s acceptance that leaving the EU without a formal arrangement in place could be a disaster won out.

European Union leaders granted the UK a six-month extension to Brexit, after late-night talks in Brussels on Wednesday. European Council President Donald Tusk said his “message to British friends” was “please do not waste this time”. This message was replicated by Nicola Sturgeon who also said the UK must not waste time now a flexible extension to Brexit has been agreed until 31 October. In a tweet, Ms Sturgeon said it was “a relief” that the UK would not be “crashing out” of the EU on Friday. She added that allowing people to decide if they still wanted to leave was now imperative, and that Scotland’s interests must be protected.

The First Minister said it is essential now that this time is used constructively and not wasted, and she has called for ongoing talks over EU exit to include the devolved administrations, and for any deal agreed by the UK Parliament to be put to a second referendum. She has copied the letter to the First Minister of Wales. Details: https://news.gov.scot/news/letter-to-the-prime-minister-1

Holyrood, on Easter recess this week, will not be recalled now that the extension has been agreed.

Also, at Holyrood this week it was announced that the Scottish Parliament is calling for public feedback on business rates reforms which could see independent schools lose their charitable status. The proposals, many of which are based on the recommendations of the Barclay Review, include reducing the current five-year valuation cycle to three years and measures aimed at improving the administration of the system. Ministers also want to tackle known tax avoidance, including tactics involving unoccupied or under-used properties.

And finally…As well as supporting the homeless charity, Social Bite in Scotland, this week Homes for Scotland has led a team with charity, Habitat for Humanity to help build homes for vulnerable people in Homa Bay, Kenya. 

The dedicated team of volunteers spans the housebuilding sector, including employees of Cruden, Buccleuch Property, Mactaggart & Mickel and Homes for Scotland.  Homes for Scotland Chief Executive Nicola Barclay, who is on the build this week says: “Regardless of where in the world you live, the right to a home is one of life’s most basic needs, and I look forward to making a real difference to someone’s life.”

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie Moulsdale on 07734 932578 or julie.mousdale@perceptivecommunicators.co.uk    

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 5 April 2019

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 5 April 2019

Talks between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn to break the Brexit deadlock have been called “constructive”. Take that with a very large print of salt!

The two leaders met on Wednesday afternoon and agreed a “programme of work” to try to find a way forward to put to MPs for a vote.It is understood that each party has appointed a negotiating teamA spokesman for No 10 said both sides were “showing flexibility”.On Thursday MPs voted by a majority of one to force the prime minister to ask for an extension to the Brexit process, in a bid to avoid a no-deal scenario.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned against accepting a “bad compromise” after holding Brexit talks with Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. Ms Sturgeon was in London this week along with other political leaders in a bid to break the logjam over the UK’s exit from the EU.

At Holyrood, the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee met with client, Construction Scotland as part of the final phase of evidence gathering for their Construction inquiry. Construction Scotland Chair Ken Gillespie, Executive Director Ron Fraser and Industry Leadership Group Member, Ann Allen MBE gave evidence in a lengthy solo session in which MSPs participated enthusiastically.

On Wednesday in Holyrood, MSPs unanimously backed the general principles of the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill. The Scottish Government confirmed it will make amendments to the bill after fresh independent advice on targets has been published. A coalition of charities has called on Scottish ministers to strengthen the bill by setting a net-zero emissions target in the legislation. New advice from the Committee on Climate Change is due on 2 May.

In the business world, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) has appointed Sara Thiam, a member of the Scottish Government’s newly-formed Infrastructure Commission, as its new chief executive.  Ms Thiam, who is currently the Scotland director of the Institution of Civil Engineers, is expected to focus the think tank around skills, technology and tackling climate change.  Ms Thiam said: “In common with other countries around the world Scotland faces unprecedented environmental, demographic, mobility, educational and technological challenges.”

Next week is meant to be the start of the two week Easter recess but at the time of writing, it looks likely thatHolyrood will meet if the UK is forced out of the European Union with no deal in place, MSPs have been told. Relations Secretary Michael Russell MSP said a no-deal Brexit would be a “moment of crisis” and MSPs would need to be made aware of the arrangements that would be put in place. 

And finally, the judging and interviews for the prestigious Homes for Scotland awards took place this week.  Perceptive is shortlisted in the Best Supporting Organisation category. Perceptive client, Mactaggart & Mickel is also shorlisted for Private Developer of the Year (Medium) for its development at Greenan Views, Ayr and in the Company Innovation and Best Practice category for its game changing Employer of Choice programme.  

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie Moulsdale 

on 07734 932578 or julie.moulsdale@perceptivecommunicators.co.uk    

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 29 March 2019

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 29 March 2019

Well today should have been a landmark date in recent political history as we left the EU after 46 years of often fractious membership.  But of course even that didn’t go to plan, although we are a tad closer to getting a new Prime Minister.

The Brexit process remains in deadlock as MPs struggle to find a consensus on the next steps. The Commons failed to find a majority for a way forward after voting for eight different options on Wednesday. They couldn’t even agree on what system to use to vote as an archaic paper system was proposed by Mr Speaker, much to the confusion of just about every MP apart from Jacob Rees-Mogg. And while some senior Brexiteers have moved towards supporting Theresa May’s deal, the DUP MPs she relies on for her wafer thin majority have refused to alter their stance.

The PM won some support by saying she would resign ahead of the next round of EU negotiations if her deal passes. This means she still may bring her plan back to the Commons this week for another vote – the so-called “meaningful vote three” – despite it already being defeated twice by large margins.

The Prime Minister’s pledge to stand down if her Brexit deal is approved risks making “an already bad project even worse”, Scotland’s First Minister has claimed.  PM Boris is looking scarily likely….

Nicola Sturgeon said it could see Scotland “shackled to a disastrous Brexit driven by a Tory party lurching even further to the right”. She predicted that this would “further reinforce” the case for independence.

But true to form, Scottish Labour MP Ian Murray criticised the SNP for abstaining during a vote on whether there should be a customs union with the EU. The proposal would have passed if SNP MPs had voted for it. Mr Murray said: “Nationalist MPs sat on their hands rather than deliver a parliamentary majority for a minimum of a permanent customs union to be written into law to protect the British economy and jobs – making a mockery of Nicola Sturgeon’s pledge to support a ‘common sense solution’.”

Whilst the action was unfolding at Westminster on Wednesday evening, attendees at the first Perceptive Directors’ Club of the year were treated to what has become an annual tour of Holyrood from MSP Tavish Scott, the former leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and a Cabinet Minister prior to 2007. Our clients got an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the Parliament building and afterwards sat down for dinner and a fascinating Q&A with Tavish, no subject was off the table, including Brexit!  This article reflects many of the Brexit points raised in our discussion.  As public affairs is an increasing part of Perceptive’s client workload, we hope to repeat the tour and any Insider readers interested should simply reply to this email.

We were pleased to welcome Glasgow MSP Anas Sarwar, to client, Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC).  Chief Executive Roger Kilburn hosted the visit, sharing an overview of IBioIC which aims to stimulate growth across health, industrial, marine and agriculture biotechnology to £900m by 2025.


Next week the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee meets with client, Construction Scotland as part of the final phase of evidence gathering for the Construction Inquiry.  Ken Gillespie, Chair, Ann Allen MBE and Member and Ron Fraser, Executive Director of Construction Scotland Industry Leadership Group will provide evidence on behalf of Construction Scotland.  

One of the SNP’s most unpopular budget proposals, a new workplace parking tax, has been attacked again as the Scottish Police Federation are saying it could expose police officers to a greater risk of terrorism. The Federation said if officers stopped driving to work it could endanger them as they made their way to and from shifts on foot or public transport. Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf MSP, who was given the warning at the SPF conference in Turnberry on Thursday, said he would look at a police exemption from the levy.

And finally… in what why may be his last speech to the European Parliament, SNP MEP Alyn Smith was holding back tears of emotion as he said: “cheers colleagues, I’m not asking you to solve our domestic discussions. But I am asking you to leave a light on so we can find our way home (to the EU).”

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 22 March 2019

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 22 March 2019

The UK is likely to be offered to delay Brexit until 12 May, subject to MPs approving the withdrawal deal negotiated with the EU next week.  If not the EU will back a shorter delay until 12 April, giving the UK time to get the deal through or “indicate a way forward”.

In the meantime an online petition calling for Theresa May to revoke Article 50 has attracted over 2 million signatures. Revoke Article 50 has been trending on Twitter as people were urged to sign it. According to the Petitions Committee, the site struggled to cope with the demand, crashing at some points.  Once up and running again signatures were arriving at a rate of up to 2000 per minute.   

In Scottish politics, the government has pledged to roll back changes MSPs made to its reforms of the planning system. Ministers introduced legislation at Holyrood with the aim of streamlining planning and “empowering communities” but the process has not been as seamless as the Scottish Government had anticipated.

MSPs on the local government committee have made more than 230 amendments to the bill adding in extra powers and responsibilities for planning boards. The government has warned these could “create millions of pounds of new costs” and undermine the legislation.Local Government and Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said he was now working on fresh changes to “rescue” the bill and “remove unnecessary burdens” before MSPs vote on it for the final time,

There was a little good news for the Scottish economy as new figures showed that it grew by 0.3% in the final three months of 2018, according to official figures. The increase in the country’s GDP compared to a figure of 0.2% for the UK. The news comes as Scotland’s unemployment rate hit a record low. Finance Secretary Derek Mackay MSP said it was the eighth consecutive quarter of growth and that the country’s economy “continues to go from strength to strength”.

Mental health is back on the agenda with an independent review of Scotland’s mental health legislation is to be carried out, mental health care in Scotland is currently underpinned by laws which date back to 2003, and MSPs have faced calls for an update.Linked to this and as mentioned last week, a petition had been lodged at Holyrood urging ministers to “conduct a wide review” of legislation, in light of developments both in care and treatment and international human rights law. Mental Health Minister Clare Haughey MSP told MSPs that “the time is right” to review the law, to make sure that rules “fully reflect our ambitions and the needs of those our laws are intended to support”.

In a rather worrying development, a leading MSP has told how she fears for her safety after online threats and abuse. Glasgow Conservative Annie Wells said she has contacted Police Scotland over the social media posts. She told media representatives that in the three years since she was elected she had muted more than 1100 abusive Twitter accounts due to the violent and foul nature of the posts. Ms Wells said the majority ofthe abuse on Twitter was aimed at her simply for a being a woman. Sadly her experience is by no means unique.

And finally… One of Perceptive’s newest clients, the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) in Glasgow, welcomes senior Glasgow MSP Anas Sarwar this morning.  A former dentist and MP, Mr Sarwar has considerable interest in IBioIC’s role, as a specialist in the Industrial Biotechnology (IB) sector, is to stimulate the growth of the IB sector in Scotland to £900 million by 2025. IBioIC is one of eight Innovation Centres funded by the Scottish Funding Council and supported by Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie Mousdale on 07734 932578 or julie.mousdale@perceptivecommunicators.co.uk    

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 15 March 2019

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 15 March 2019

Just like buses… you wait for one and three come along at once, Theresa May will make a third attempt, with a third vote put to MPs, to get her EU withdrawal deal through Parliament in the next week. She told MPs that if her deal fails again to get their backing, a lengthy delay to Brexit may be needed.

No date has yet been set for the third so-called “meaningful vote” but the Commons voted by a whisker – just two votes – last night to allow her to maintain control of Brexit.  For now.

European Council President Donald Tusk has said he will appeal to EU leaders “to be open to a long extension” of the Brexit deadline, his intervention came this week as MPs voted on Thursday to try and seek to postpone the 29 March deadline to 30 June. EU leaders will meet in Brussels on 21 March where they will have the final say on the matter.

Nicola Sturgeon commented this week that the Brexit deadline should be put back long enough for a new referendum. The First Minister said the failure of the Commons to agree on a deal meant the issue should now be put back to the public in a fresh referendum.

Back to Holyrood, and MSPs have called for research to be carried out on the impact of social media on young people’s mental health. Holyrood’s public audit committee has been studying a “significant increase” in the number of children and teens experiencing mental health problems. Members wanted to find out if social media use could be a factor in rising demand for services but were told that this was “not yet understood”.

The Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee’s major inquiry into the Construction industry is continuing and this week we were pleased to support client CSIC (Construction Scotland Innovation Centre).  Chief Executive Stephen Good was questioned for an hour by MSPs on how innovation is transforming this vital industry which contributes £21bn every year to Scotland’s economy. Client Construction Scotland will also give evidence on 2 April.

A must visit for anyone interested in the construction industry is Scotland Build 2019 which starts next week (20 – 21 March at the SEC Glasgow). Now in its fourth year, the conference is Scotland’s leading and largest construction show dedicated entirely to opportunities in building, construction, architecture and design across Scotland. Three members of Perceptive’s team will be leading workshops on political influence, LinkedIn and crisis communications at the Skills Hub on the Wednesday – tickets are free and there’s still time to register to come along: https://oliverkinross.circdata-solutions.co.uk/RFG/publish/SBUILD19/

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie Moulsdale on 07734 932578 or julie.moulsdale@perceptivecommunicators.co.uk    

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 8 March 2019

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 8 March 2019

Another week goes by and we are still none the wiser on the UK’s Brexit position. EU officials have urged the UK to submit fresh proposals within the next 48 hours to try and break the Brexit impasse. EU officials said they would work non-stop over the weekend if “acceptable” ideas were received today to break the deadlock over the Irish backstop.

The UK has said “reasonable” proposals to satisfy MPs’ concerns about being tied to EU rules had already been made… So, who knows, by Monday we might be closer to getting an outcome… or, and much more likely, we could be even further away from understanding how the UK will leave the European Union.

On Tuesday this week, Scottish and Welsh politicians joined forces in a bid to encourage the Prime Minister to change her position on Brexit. An identical motion was debated simultaneously by the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd, the Welsh Assembly, culminating with co-ordinated votes. Sponsors said that it underlined opposition to Theresa May’s deal, demand a delay to Brexit and call for “no deal” to be ruled out. The UK government maintain that the PM’s deal was a good one for Scotland and Wales. 

Away from Brexit and the person in charge of promoting the UK’s financial industry around the world has said there is great potential for Scottish firms to expand abroad. Peter Estlin, Lord Mayor of the City of London, said he wanted Scots firms looking to expand and to join him on foreign trips to places like China to promote and push their business.

And closer to home, Project Heather – Scotland’s new stock market company – was formally launched in Edinburgh.  Perceptive attended and we maintain closeworking links with the venture’s research partners, former MPs Roger Mullin and Michelle Thomson. Bourse Scot, the company behind it, has revealed a partnership with European stock market operator Euronext. It is led by experienced broker and entrepreneur Tomás Carruthers and is in discussion with Scottish Enterprise to secure Regional Selective Assistance, with a view to creating around 60 jobs.

There was some bad news for Scottish Business this week as the best hope for bringing major contracts to Scotland for the building of multi-billion-pound offshore wind farms failed to win a vital order, according to unions. BiFab is believed to have lost out on an order for offshore platforms to yards in Belgium, Spain and the UAE. Unite and the GMB say the failure to place any of the order in Scotland is a “scandal”.

The first ever affordable housing development in the village of Killearn by Rural Stirling Housing Association was formally opened by Stirling MSP Bruce Crawford this week.  Built by long standing Perceptive client Mactaggart & Mickel, the properties benefit from a modern, efficient and sustainable air source heat pump heating system. In addition, the exacavated rock has been reused to build a dry stone dyke around the site boundary. 

Jamie McLean, head of contracts and timber systems at Mactaggart & Mickel said: “This is the first new development in Killearn delivering much-needed quality affordable housing and is our first partnership with Rural Stirling Housing Association.”

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie Moulsdale on 07734 932578 or julie.moulsdale@perceptivecommunicators.co.uk    

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 15 February 2019

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 15 February 2019

Despite Holyrood being on recess for a week, it has been another fascinating seven days in Scottish and UK politics as we move ever closer to the 29March. In one of the more bizarre Brexit sub plots, ITV News reported this week that one of its correspondents overheard the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, Olly Robbins, saying in a Brussels bar that the EU was likely to allow an extension to the Brexit process.

On the back of this, the Prime Minister played down reports that she could force MPs to choose between backing her deal or accepting a delay to EU withdrawal. Providing a soundbite that perhaps sums up Brexit perfectly, Mrs May told the Commons that people should not rely on “what someone said to someone else, as overheard by someone else, in a bar”.

The Scottish Government has stepped up its preparations for a no-deal Brexit as it again called on Theresa May to rule out the possibility. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she still believes no deal can be avoided. However, she said her government had a duty to plan for the possibility as best it could. Speaking after a meeting of the Scottish cabinet in Glasgow, Ms Sturgeon told BBC Scotland that Mrs May was attempting to “run down the clock” to try and “blackmail” MPs into backing her deal “at the very, very last minute”. The Scottish Government statement can be read here: Brexit

The Scottish Government’s Chief Economic Adviser has published a report on the state of the economy. The update focuses on the risks of a no deal Brexit, as well as Scotland’s strengths in terms of international trade. The report suggests that a no deal Brexit would lead to a “major dislocation” in the Scottish economy and “significant structural change” in the longer term.

It was announced this week that a Holyrood committee is to examine hospital safety following the deaths of two patients from an infection linked to pigeon droppings. The health committee inquiry comes in the wake of the deaths at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. The patients died after contracting a fungal infection linked to the droppings.

The new TV channel, BBC Scotland, has revealed the first full line-up of the on-air team behind its flagship news programme. “The Nine” has a 15-strong core team of journalists, including four dedicated to Holyrood and Westminster, who will bring the national and international news to Scotland in the nightly hour-long broadcast. Broadcasting starts in April. Heading the team are presenters Rebecca Curran and Martin Geissler and Chief News Correspondent James Cook joins the Nine from his post as BBC News North America Correspondent.

Another sensitive policy area for the coming spring session at Holyrood will be the SNP’s so called parking tax whereby businesses will pay a levy for ‘free’ workplace parking places. Environmental campaigners have written to Scotland’s five political party leaders expressing support for the levy. The letter sets out the key reasons the plans are backed by environmental and transport groups and aims to dispel myths around the Levy. The Conservatives have continued to oppose the measure. They claimed that teaching unions would demand car park tax refunds for their members. 

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie McLauchlan on 07734 932578 or julie.mclauchlan@perceptivecommunicators.co.uk

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 8 February 2019

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 8 February 2019

Nicola Sturgeon had her say on Brexit this week, saying that contingency plans for Britain’s departure from the EU with no deal were “genuinely astonishing”. The First Minister was addressing an audience at Georgetown’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security in the US as part of a trade mission. Ms Sturgeon said the UK government was trying to renegotiate the EU Withdrawal agreement “with the clock ticking” despite the EU saying it would not accept such a renegotiation.

Unsurprisingly she called for a second referendum on EU membership and stated her case for a further vote on Scottish independence.

Theresa May was back on the Brussels express on Thursday to press (sic) unimpressed EU leaders for legally binding changes to the Brexit deal. The PM insisted the UK will not be “trapped” in the backstop – saying the plan must change if it is to win the support of MPs who urged her to seek “alternative arrangements” when rejecting the deal last month.

Quite worryingly, as Scotland’s Brexit Secretary Michael Russell confirmed on Wednesday, there are only 19 sitting days of the Scottish Parliament left before the UK is due to leave the EU on March 29. The Brexit Secretary pointed out that leaving the EU will hit agriculture, health and social care sectors in Scotland, and that the Scottish Government will not replicate the UK’s myriad of notices by saying “we will do all we can to make sure the public get clear information”.

All this information is available at www.mygov.scot/eu-exit (should make interesting reading!)

During a debate at Holyrood on Wednesday, Mental Health Minister Clare Haughey MSP announced that the Scottish Government has set a target of reducing the country’s suicide rate by 20% by 2022. Suicide prevention charity Samaritans had claimed the Scottish Government was not taking the issue seriously enough. Ms Haughey insisted Scotland has “made real progress in reducing deaths by suicide”, but said there was “far more to do” to tackle the issue.

Also at Holyrood this week, MSPs agreed the remit for an inquiry into the Scottish government’s handling of harassment complaints against Alex Salmond. Several inquiries were set up after the government admitted its investigation of internal complaints had been flawed. A special nine-member committee will consider the actions of officials as well as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

And finally…. Client Shawfair LLP was delighted to arrange a site tour of what will become a new town of 4000 houses just a few minutes south of Edinburgh for local MSP Colin Beattie.  Mr Beattie arrived in jeans and climbing boots. This turned out to be a wiser call than his minder, Perceptive’s political guru Devin Scobie, whose rather smarter business attire wasn’t quite up to a hike in a bracing wind to ‘take in the scale of the site’!

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie McLauchlan on 07734 932578 or julie.mclauchlan@perceptivecommunicators.co.uk

Scottish Political Insider & Scottish Budget special – Friday 1 February 2019

Scottish Political Insider & Scottish Budget special – Friday 1 February 2019

As we enter a new month, the Brexit narrative continues to stall. In Westminster on Tuesday, a majority voted in favour of a non-binding amendment that rejected a no-deal Brexit. They also voted in favour of an amendment that called for the backstop to be replaced with “alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border” in Ireland, but otherwise supported Theresa May’s deal.

However, this good news for the PM was swiftly followed by bad news from Brussels as senior EU politicians said they will not reopen the legal text of the withdrawal agreement that they negotiated with the UK. The saga continues with the outcome still unpredictable.

Scotland’s Brexit Minister Michael Russell also stated this week that 36 “critical” legislative measures will be pushed through the Scottish Parliament ahead of 29 March in a bid to protect the economy from a no-deal Brexit. The Scottish Parliament may need to schedule late sittings to deal with the extra work and Committee and Chamber business may also take place concurrently. 

The Scottish Budget was debated in Holyrood on Thursday. An overview of this is shared below.

Glasgow Airport bosses have called for urgent action to improve transport links with the city centre. Managing director Mark Johnston, is due to meet Scotland’s transport secretary and local council leaders to discuss this.  Mr Johnston told the BBC Scotland: “We’re the only airport in Europe that has road as its only means of access. The recent studies have shown that the congestion is only increasing on the M8. We have the funding available through the City Deal, so I think there’s a genuine acceptance that something needs to happen.”

It might be that you’ve not heard of industrial biotechnology (IB) before but the chances are it has benefitted your life. Whether it is turning food waste into green energy or improving the way we manufacture food, drink, vaccines and antibiotics, IB offers advantages for us all.

In client news, Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) held its annual conference in Glasgow this week and on Thursday welcomed Trade and Innovation Minister Ivan McKee MSP to deliver a plenary session. The Minister highlighted the role of IBioIC to help stimulate the growth and success of IB technology in Scotland to £900 million by 2025. He also encouraged everyone working in the sector to ‘maintain a dialogue’ with all Scottish government departments.

And finally… The Scottish Parliament’s Business Bureau has unanimously agreed to establish a committee to consider the Scottish Government’s procedures and handling of the Alex Salmond case. It will be a nine-member committee with – controversially – an SNP Convener and a Scottish Conservative Deputy Convener. 

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie McLauchlan on 07734 932578 or julie.mclauchlan@perceptivecommunicators.co.uk    

Scottish Budget January 2019

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay MSP has announced a deal to ensure support for the Budget at all parliamentary stages has been reached with the Greens. The deal was reached after the Cabinet Secretary agreed to a series of reforms to local government spending and finance, including an agreement to consult and implement legislation to allow local authorities to introduce a transient visitor levy; devolving Non-Domestic Rates empty property relief to local authorities in time for the next revaluation; and plans to bring forward a three year funding settlement for local government from the 2020-21 Budget onwards. 

It was also announced that the Government will convene cross-party talks on a replacement for council tax with a view to publishing legislation by the end of the current parliament. A letter confirming the Green’s support has also been published.

New measures for local authorities

In his speech to the Parliament, the Cabinet Secretary gave a commitment to increasing the power and funding of local authorities. He said the new measures would be “the most significant empowerment of local authorities since devolution”.

·       Council Funding: The Cabinet Secretary announced £90m of increased funding for local government. This would be delivered through flexibilities in the Budget and additional funding from “unexpected” Barnett consequentials due to UK NHS spending. However, he said this would not reduce NHS funding and the health budget would be £4m higher. Councils would also be given more flexibility on setting council tax rates, which could rise by up to 4.79%. Additionally, he said the costs of the teacher pay offer would be transferred to ease local government finances.

·       Local Tax Reform: Derek Mackay said “the present council tax system must end”. He committed to cross-party talks on abolishing the council tax. However, he indicated this would be for the next Parliament to implement

·       Tourist Tax: Members were told there would be a consultation and legislation which would allow local authorities to implement a tourist tax.

·       Workplace Parking & Empty Properties: The Cabinet Secretary said councils would be given powers to apply a workplace car parking levy, following Green amendments to the Transport (Scotland) Bill. The NHS estate would be exempt from these measures.

·       Empty Properties: The Scottish Government will commit to devolving the Non-Domestic Rates Empty Property Relief to local authorities in time for the next revaluation.

·       Financial Flexibility: The Cabinet Secretary said the Scottish Government would work with COSLA to move towards three-year budgeting.

·       Environmental Measures: Derek Mackay said there would be a move towards a 10p minimum levy for single use carrier bags. He also said there would be a consultation on tackling the use of disposable drinks cups. Members were told that Scottish Ministers would consider whether revenue from these sources should be transferred to local authorities.

·       Other Announcements: The Cabinet Secretary also reiterated the Scottish Government’s previous commitments on the Budget, including in relation to income tax rates, education funding, social security, business rates, affordable housing, childcare, the Scottish National Investment Bank, support for town centres, police and fire service funding, and mental health support.

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 25 January 2019

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 25 January 2019

This week the Court of Session overturned a decision by Scottish Ministers to refuse planning permission for development of 600 homes which would be delivered with a £20 million dairy, a new primary school and public park at Aithrey Kerse in Bridge of Allan. Graham’s The Family Dairy in partnership with client, Mactaggart & Mickel Homes lodged the appeal last year further to refusal by Stirling councillors, a decision which was upheld by the Scottish Government. A key element of the appeal was that Scottish Ministers had failed to give proper consideration to the fact that the Local Development Plan process which has resulted in a Plan which continues the housing shortfall in Stirling.

Brexit continues to dominate UK politics and in Scotland, the talk of Brexit is now being followed quickly by discussions around a second independence referendum. Still the policy closest to her political heart, SNP leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is looking to make this happen as quickly as she can. This week she pledged to set out her plans for a second independence referendum “in the coming weeks” even if the Brexit deadline is extended.

The SNP leader had previously said she would have to wait for the “fog” around Brexit clears before she sets out a timetable. However, on Wednesday, she told MSPs that she would speak soon on the matter, even if talks over Brexit are extended beyond the 29 March exit date.

Predictably, the Tories said “now is not the time” for another independence referendum.

Another Committee debate which caught the eye this week was around supporting entrepreneurship in Scotland. Public Finance and Digital Economy Minister – and SNP rising star – Kate Forbes MSP says the Scottish Government has “ambitions to become a world leader in entrepreneurship and that in Scotland, prioritisation has been to tackle the gender gap and to encourage young people in the sector, and this has led to demonstrable benefits.” The minister praised the work of Entrepreneurial Scotland as being at the heart of what the government wants to achieve.

The minister finished by saying there are headwinds approaching the Scottish economy which will pose difficulties, citing the CBI Scotland analysis which warned a no-deal Brexit could cost Scotland £14bn a year. The analysis can be read in more detail here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-46959076  But not everyone agreed, Veteran Highlands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant says there is little to agree with in the Scottish government motion and that “statements of intent alone do not build the environment to thrive.”

In some (rare) good news for the country, unemployment in Scotland has fallen below the 100,000 mark for the first time. Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the number of people seeking work fell to 99,000 between September and November last year. This makes the jobless rate 3.6%, a record low, with more than three quarters of working age Scots now in a job. The UK unemployment rate is 4.0%, its lowest point since 1975.

But less good news for Alex Salmond, who has been charged with attempted rape and sexual assault. He appeared before an Edinburgh sheriff to face 14 charges, including two of attempted rape, nine of sexual assault, two of indecent assault and one breach of the peace. The former First Minister made no plea during the hearing and was released on bail, but outside court, Mr Salmond said he was “innocent of any criminality” and added: “I have great faith in the court system in Scotland.”

And finally…  SNP Education committee, Clare Adamson, praised the young people who gave evidence this week after the committee considered a petition calling for all instrument tuition to be made free to schoolchildren. The convener says there will be debate in the chamber soon and asked the committee whether the petition should be closed. Lib Dem MSP Tavish Scott suggests it would be polite to keep the petition open whilst the subject is clearly still live and the committee agreed.

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie McLauchlan on 07734 932578 or julie.mclauchlan@perceptivecommunicators.co.uk

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 18 January 2019

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 18 January 2019

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 18 January 2019

Brexit has been dominating the political agenda this week – and how could it not? In Scotland, it’s not surprising to know how our 59 MPs voted as the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal was emphatically rejected by 432 votes to 202. Only 10 Scottish MPs voted for the deal, and all of these for votes were from Scottish Conservative MPs. Every other Scottish MP voted against.

On Wednesday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon travelled to London for Brexit talks as Theresa May survived a confidence vote. Scotland’s First Minister wants a new referendum on Brexit so the UK can stay in the EU. But unsurprisingly she also said it was “increasingly clear” that “Scotland’s interests will only be protected with independence”.

In other Scottish political news this week, the Finance and Constitution Committee recommended that the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (Scotland) Amendment Order 2018 be approved. This will impact homebuyers who are purchasing a second home such as buy to let or holiday homes. From the 25 January 2019, these purchases will be subject to additional dwelling supplement tax at the increased rate of 4%, rather than the rate of 3% now.

On Wednesday, the Finance and Constitution Committee took evidence from Finance Secretary Derek Mackay on his budget. Mr Mackay insisted that the Scottish Government has reinstated the “short changing” of £55m to the health budget. There will be a package of funding transferred to local government to help implement Frank’s Law and the cabinet secretary also noted during the Committee that the local government’s request for more cash for social care will be met.

Businesses will be able to access more than £100 million to help them expand and unlock investment through the next phase of the Scottish Growth Scheme, after an announcement by the Scottish Government was made earlier in the week.  SMEs across Scotland will have the chance to apply for financial support, which includes microfinance loans of up to £25,000, debt or loan finance of up to £100,000, and equity investment in deals of up to £2 million. As part of this phase of the initiative, Scottish Enterprise has also introduced a loans scheme in the range from £250,000 to £2 million, or up to £5 million in exceptional circumstances, for growth-focused SMEs with a viable business plan and a clear ability to repay the debt.

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie McLauchlan on 07734 932578 or julie.mclauchlan@perceptivecommunicators.co.uk

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 11 January 2019

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 11 January 2019

The Scottish Parliament resumed business this week (Tuesday 8 January) and on the same day former First Minister Alex Salmond was again making the headlines. At the Court of Session in Edinburgh, the Scottish Government admitted acting unlawfully while investigating the harassment claims being made against him, the Government conceded that it breached its own guidelines by appointing an investigating officer who had “prior involvement” in the case. The full extent of Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘prior knowledge’ is yet to come out in the wash …

The first Chamber debate of 2019 focussed on ultra-low emission vehicles. The Scottish Government as expected highlighted what it sees as successes in the sector and its efforts to increase the size of the charge point network. Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said 6% of new cars sold in Scotland in 2018 were ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs). But Labour’s Colin Smyth said the take-up of such cars was “below where it has to be if we are to meet our ambition on this issue”. Also, Liberal Democrat Liam McArthur claimed Scotland “falls well short” of what had been achieved in other countries.

Life Sciences was also a big talking point at Holyrood this week. Trade, Investment and Innovation Minister Ivan McKee, one of the new Ministers appointed last summer who has surprised many by his enthusiastic start, says several hundred life science companies employ almost 40,000 people in Scotland and the minister adds that the sector has the capacity to benefit millions of people and save lives.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie agreed that the life sciences sector has been a major success story for Scotland but he is deeply worried about Brexit. He said the sector needs access to the best staff across Europe and the world, and requires the transfer of materials. He highlighted 70% of research assistants at the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research are from the EU, with its staff representing 30 different nationalities.

Visitors to the capital will soon need to pay more for the privilege after a City of Edinburgh Council consultation on the introduction of a Transient Visitor Levy showed significant support for the proposals from both residents and businesses. The summary document sets out the responses of more than 2,560 individuals who took part in a survey or attended a discussion forum. Overall, 90% of residents are supportive of a tourist tax, while 51% of Edinburgh accommodation providers, who would have to enforce the proposal, also support it.

As mentioned in last week’s SPI, the team at Perceptive will be keeping a close eye on Holyrood’s Economy, Energy, and Fair Work Committee as it starts to hold a major inquiry on the construction sector in Scotland. 

The Convener of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee Gordon Lindhurst MSP had this to say on the inquiry: “The sector has its challenges and we want to hear views and suggestions on how these can be overcome. We also want to find out how we can encourage young people to work in the industry, and we’ll be holding consultation work with businesses and colleges over the coming months.”

And finally… the twitter handle @holyroodmouse was created this week after a bold mouse was seen climbing the skirting boards whilst the education committee was in full flow, the fury creature went unnoticed until It was flagged up by the Lib Dems who posted a video on Twitter for all to enjoy:https://twitter.com/scotlibdems/status/1082950838593699840

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie McLauchlan on 07734 932578 or julie.mclauchlan@perceptivecommunicators.co.uk    

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 21 December 2018

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 21 December 2018

This will be our last Insider for 2018 and we hope you have enjoyed our weekly observations on the Scottish political scene over the last 12 months.  Thank you to everyone who has given us feedback and encouragement!  Our first Insider of the New Year will be sent on Friday 4 January 2019 so from all the team at Perceptive, may we wish you and yours all the very best for a peaceful Festive Season and a prosperous New Year.

The year finished with a further tussle over Brexit (just 98 days to go) and strong words from the Scottish Government.  They said that they are working on plans to help Scotland cope, as much as possible, if the ‘tragedy’ of a no deal Brexit takes place. In a keynote speech to Holyrood, Constitutional Relations Secretary Michael Russell MSP urged the UK Government to immediately rule out ‘no deal’ and made clear that, while the Scottish Government would do everything it could, there would still be severe damage to the Scottish economy and society.

He also confirmed to MSPs that the Scottish Government Resilience Committee (SGoRR) has been mobilised, convened by Deputy First Minister John Swinney, to consider the level of immediate response required. Planning is ongoing to deal with:

  • Severe disruption of goods at UK borders due to new customs arrangements in a ‘no deal’ scenario
  • Food security and the ability of Scottish food and drink producers to export their goods to the EU
  • The supply of medicines, medical devices and workforce for health and social care

The Scottish Parliament closed its doors at lunchtime yesterday with Chamber business resuming on Tuesday 8 January. Business was quieter this last week as the various parties held their annual drinks events. The Parliament canteen has to deal with a backlog of uneaten snacks – formerly known as Gingerbread Men but in these enlightened times, now just ‘Christmas biscuits’ and as such, strangely less popular!

Still on a festive note, and a photograph by veteran photographer Harry Benson CBE has been chosen as the First Minister’s 2018 Christmas card. The image of the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow will be auctioned next year with the proceeds going to four charities – Who Cares? Scotland, Maggie’s Centres, The Salvation Army Scotland and The Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice. You can see it here

Elsewhere and Alex Salmond has won a legal bid forcing the Scottish government to hand over documents related to the sexual misconduct case against him. Lawyers for the former First Minister successfully argued that redacted emails and notes connected with the case should be independently reviewed. He is pursuing a judicial review into the process used to investigate complaints against him. A QC will now consider if the full documents should be released.

The Ghost of New Years still to come? Predicting the political future is never easy and we were amused to read a line from the last Insider of 2017 which could just as easily apply to 2019: 2017 has been a terse year for Scottish politics and, as Brexit rumbles on, 2018 looks likely to hold more of the same until some sense of direction is established.

What we do know is that barring a very late change of heart, 2019 will see the UK leave the European Union on 29 March. We predict a new UK Conservative leader and quite possibly another snap General Election.  And look out for a new UK Lib Dem leader (probably Jo Swinson) and a version of UKIP-lite from Nigel Farage.

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie McLauchlan on 07734 932578 or julie.mclauchlan@perceptivecommunicators.co.uk

Scottish Political Insider Special – Wednesday 12 December 2018

Scottish Political Insider Special – Wednesday 12 December 2018

This Insider Special started out as a Scottish Budget special but events overnight have yet again reminded us that any forward planning in these febrile pre (Br)exit days is pretty pointless.   Prime Minister Theresa May is facing the toughest day of her short Downing Street tenure as she faces a No Confidence vote triggered by her own MPs.  We suspect she will survive (as Mrs Thatcher did initially) but only just – and then go in the spring.

Closer to home and the day’s main domestic focus should be the Scottish Budget statement, to be made by Finance Secretary Derek Mackay MSP later this afternoon.  Live updates will be reported via the BBC: BBC Budget link

Derek Mackay has a reputation for being one of the shrewder – and sharper – brains in Nicola Sturgeon’s Cabinet team.  He has made clear that today’s statement will not be defined by Brexit, which is maybe just as well as no-one has a clue what is happening today, never mind in a year’s time.

The Scottish Government is much less ‘leaky’ than Westminster and they do not indulge in the slow drip-feed of perceived good news to the same extent that Philip Hammond and his team do.  Nevertheless, one or two carefully placed interviews this week have made it clear that investing in public services and growing the economy will be prioritised in spending plans to help protect Scotland’s prosperity as far as is possible in the face of continued uncertainty over Brexit.

In one interview Derek Mackay said: “I will set out the Scottish Government’s spending plans for the year ahead. The Budget will protect vital public services and prioritise spending on health, education and economic investment. The 2019-20 Scottish Budget will support the vision in our Programme for Government by ensuring we remain focused on delivering for today and investing for tomorrow.”

Parliamentary arithmetic means that the SNP minority administration must strike a deal with at least one other party.  Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems have all ruled this out already – so it is widely expected that, once again, Derek Mackay give in to demands from the Scottish Greens for a raft of unpopular tax rises as the price of a Budget deal. And although specifics are hard to predict, it is likely we will see a further freeze to higher levels of income tax thresholds. This follows last year’s decoupling from point where the 40% income tax rate applies.

We will include a link to a full summary of today’s Budget statement in our usual Friday Insider but, as ever, if anyone has any specific queries, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

 

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie McLauchlan on 07734 932578 or julie.mclauchlan@perceptivecommunicators.co.uk

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 7 December 2018

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 7 December 2018

The Scottish Parliament voted by 92 to 29 this week to formally reject the UK government’s draft Brexit deal. SNP, Labour, Green and Lib Dem members at Holyrood backed a motion rejecting the proposals, as well as the prospect of leaving without any deal. However, the parties have not come to a consensus on an alternative plan. The vote was held as MPs at Westminster continued to debate whether to accept the withdrawal plan agreed between UK and EU negotiators.

In a week that saw multiple Commons defeats for the UK Government, we heard that the UK should be able to unilaterally cancel its withdrawal from the EU, according to an advocate general of the European Court of Justice. A group of Scottish politicians including QC Joanna Cherry MP has asked the court whether the UK can call off Brexit without the consent of other member states. The Court of Justice (ECJ) will deliver its final ruling at a later date.

The advice from advocate general Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona comes as the House of Commons begins five days of debates on Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposed Brexit deal, with a vote due to be held next Tuesday. In a written statement, the ECJ said Mr Campos Sanchez-Bordona’s opinion was that if a country decided to leave the EU, it should also have the power to change its mind during the two-year exit process specified in Article 50 of the EU treaty.

New fire safety measures for high rise buildings in Scotland are to be introduced next year in response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy. A review was ordered in the wake of the London blaze, which killed 72 people. The changes will include measures to improve evacuation from high rises and making sprinkler systems mandatory in all new-build flats. Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell MSP said this would add to “stringent safety regulations” already in place. The changes will be brought forward via legislation in 2019, with ministers planning amendments to a members’ bill from Labour’s David Stewart.

Still on housing matters and the Scottish Government has published the results from the latest housing conditions survey. It includes statistics on fuel poverty, energy efficiency, the condition of housing and other descriptors of occupied housing stock. The results show overall fuel poverty remains at similar levels to 2016 findings, but changes are evident in subgroups including local authority housing, households using gas as the primary heating fuel and households primarily using oil.

Glasgow South West MP Chris Stephens visited Perceptive client, Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, seeing first-hand the ground breaking work on precision medicine which tailors medicine to patients’ individual genetic profiles.

Charity Action for Children this week claimed one million children under the age of 10 in Scotland and England are facing “Dickensian” levels of poverty as they prepare for Christmas.   The charity will be running unofficial food banks over the Christmas period for families it says lack fresh food, suitable clothes and, in some cases, money to pay for heating. Action for Children is calling for the chancellor to end the freeze on children’s benefits so that rising prices do not push more families into poverty.

And finally, rather than sending Christmas cards, this year we will be making a donation to one of the seven charities which Perceptive has assisted with pro-bono communications support. The charity will be chosen by Perceptive clients and employees. You can cast your vote by completing this survey  which takes less than a minute. We will share the winning charity next week.

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie McLauchlan on 07734 932578 or julie.mclauchlan@perceptivecommunicators.co.uk

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