Left Foot Forward’s Devolution Correspondent Ed Jacobs looks ahead to what 2013 has in store for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
With the signing of an agreement between David Cameron and Alex Salmond, 2012 should have been the SNP’s year, finally securing in writing the confirmation a referendum on Scotland’s future will take place in by 2014.
Despite, however, the first minister’s declaration in his new year’s message that the nationalists have a “positive vision” for an independent Scotland, the fact remains: there are doubts over its position in the EU if it went alone; accusations the SNP are “wilfully misleading” Scotland over its proposals to keep the pound; and former NATO secretary general, George Robertson, concluding the SNP could not be supportive of NATO membership whilst remaining opposed to nuclear weapons – all serving to raise serious doubts over the credibility of the nationalist’s plans for independence.
Unless they can pull some sort of rabbit out of a hat, the pro-independence camp will continue to struggle to make any significant breakthrough in the public’s mind, raising the prospects even Alex Salmond – the grand master of Scottish politics – has bitten off more than he can chew.
Watch Alistair Darling closely this year; as chair of the Better Together Campaign, I expect him to be increasingly vocal, with calls for him and Salmond to go head to head in a grand debate over Scotland’s future.
Watch also Scottish Labour’s position vis-à-vis tution fees. Already, Johann Lamont has raised questions over whether free tuition fees, along with a host of other universal benefits, are affordable, and 2013 could be the year the party develops some pretty unpopular policies, likely to cause increasing tensions within the party north of the border.
2012 ended for Northern Ireland on a low, with the discovery of a bomb under a policeman’s car in Belfast on December 30th. This, however, seemed to end a year which has seen age old tensions over identity resurfacing, with violent protests by unionists over the decision by Belfast council not to fly the Union flag every day of the year whilst simultaneously, Sinn Fein have sought to breathe new life into their historic mission to see Irish unity.
If 2012 is anything to go by, 2013 looks set to be a year in which matters of and debate over “identity” will come to the fore.
Meanwhile, amidst ongoing calls for a full judicial inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane – despite the lawyer led review by Desmond de Silva QC – his murder looks set to continue to be a faultline in Northern Ireland with 2013 potentially the year the sores from the past lead to the establishment of some sort of ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’.
After a period of what could be described as a decline – including failure in 2011 to win an outright majority in elections to the Assembly – local elections last May were undoubtedly a clear and unambiguous sign Labour in Wales is back, and back in a big way.
Education is set in 2013 to be a major battleground in Welsh politics. With an education minister, Leighton Andrews – who is not shy about spoiling for a fight, particularly with Westminster - expect the Welsh government’s review of qualifications in Wales to suggest some fairly radical changes to the path being trodden by the Tory/Liberal coalition at the other end of the M4.
In the same vein, Wales can expect to become a trailblazer for the rest of the UK, using its full law-making powers to, amongst other things, legislate for a system of presumed consent for organ donation.