In another week of political change, which saw Austria narrowly avoid electing Europe’s first far right head of state and the Italians vote heavily not to ‘update’ their politician-heavy constitution, Scottish domestic politics took something of a back seat as all parties prepare for a bit of a breather over Christmas.
Pre-Christmas politics paused on Wednesday when news broke that Alex Johnstone, the widely respected Scottish Conservative MSP, had died at the age of 55. Mr Johnstone – who represented the North East of Scotland in an unbroken record of service going back to the formation of the Parliament in 1999 – passed away after a short illness. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson led tributes to Mr Johnstone, the last Tory from the 1999 intake, saying he “embodied politics at its best”.
Brexit occupied several days of somewhat dry legal debate in the Supreme Court. Lord Keen – the UK’s government’s Advocate General – said triggering Article 50 would not alter the “essential structure” of devolution. The Scottish Government, however, believes that Holyrood should be consulted before talks between the UK and EU begin, but Lord Keen said that was “fatally undermined” by powers over foreign affairs being reserved to Westminster. The UK’s highest court will deliver their verdict on the historic Brexit legal challenge next month.
The SNP appointed joint campaign co-ordinators for next May’s all-out council elections. Housing and Local Government Minister Kevin Stewart MSP and Glasgow City Council opposition leader Alison Hunter will hope to continue the party’s steady growth across Scotland’s 32 local authorities. Glasgow is once again the SNP’s prime target and with Labour’s majority already eroded to zero thanks to some by-election losses and defections, Cllr Hunter is a strong bet to oust Frank McAveety as leader.
We will look at the May council elections in more detail next year, but a nod to Independent candidate David Cheape who won a seat on Angus Council after a very rare non-Thursday election earlier this week. It was triggered by the death of SNP Provost Helen Oswald, who died in October. The by-election was held on a Monday in order to have taken place ahead of the six-month cut off where vacancies are not filled before the next all-out elections.
Transport Minister Humza Yousaf – already having a bad month over the ongoing ScotRail difficulties – has been caught driving a friend’s car without the proper insurance. He was stopped by police as he drove between Inverness and Ullapool by officers carrying out routine checks. These showed that Mr Yousaf was only insured to drive his own vehicle. The Transport Minister said a misunderstanding following his split from his wife had caused the “honest mistake” and that he would admit the offence.
And finally … Mairi Hedderwick’s original artwork for last year’s First Minister’s Christmas Card, based on her hugely successful Katie Morag books, went under the hammer at a special auction this week. It raised £1000 for good causes.
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