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What could 2023 hold for Scottish politics?

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2022 could scarcely have been a more dramatic or eventful year in politics – featuring three prime ministers, a Supreme Court showdown over independence and industrial unrest amid a cost of living crisis.

But with no elections or indeed referendums marked on the calendar for 2023, are we in for a quieter time of it? A glance at the government’s bulging in-tray might suggest not…

 

Balancing budgets

Every year starts with fiscal wrangling, in the build-up to MSPs agreeing the Scottish government’s annual budget in February.

The SNP-Green administration has the votes to pass any proposals it likes, but the debate will still be an intense one this year given the backdrop of a recession and a cost of living crunch.

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Local authorities will set their budgets first. They have been given free rein to raise council tax rates, and given they have already voiced concerns about their allocation from central government it looks likely that many could opt for sharp increases.

Another cash-raising option for councils in future may be the establishment of “tourist taxes” in certain areas, with the government promising to table a Local Visitor Levy Bill in the coming year.

MSPs will pass the budget bill in February, as well as a rates resolution which will give effect to the planned tax rises from the start of the new financial year at the end of March.

Talk of the economy is unlikely to end there, of course. First Minster Nicola Sturgeon’s 2022-23 programme for government focused almost entirely on tackling the “humanitarian emergency” she warned was looming.

A major part of that programme was a rent freeze and evictions ban, and MSPs will need to decide in the coming weeks whether those temporary measures should be extended beyond March.

Passing legislation

 

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Turning to bills of a different sort, there is plenty of legislation in the pipeline at Holyrood.

One of the government’s flagship pledges for this session of parliament has been to set up a National Care Service, essentially doing for care what the NHS does for health.

But the plans have been dogged by questions over how much it will cost and exactly how broad the new body’s remit will be. The government wants to pass a “framework bill” as a foundation on which to add further details, but MSPs from all parties have been clear they want to hear more specific plans as soon as possible.

Ministers are planning big reforms in the justice sector too, including the abolition of the not proven verdict in Scotland’s courts.

A pilot project is also planned which would remove the use of juries in rape trials, as well as the establishment of a specialist court to deal specifically with sexual offences.

An education reform bill is also expected to set up a replacement for the Scottish Qualifications Authority and a new inspections body, in the wake of a series of reviews of senior-phase schooling.

Ms Sturgeon famously made closing the attainment gap between schools in better and worse-off areas her “number one priority”, so there will be much scrutiny of the progress towards that – even if the way pupils are assessed may be changing.

There are also some notable members’ bills under consideration.

Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur is set to table legislation on assisted dying for terminally ill adults, and already has members of every party behind him.

Green member Gillian Mackay meanwhile has won the government’s backing for her proposal to set up buffer zones around sexual health and abortion clinics, meaning it looks all but certain to progress.

And Labour’s Paul Sweeney is drawing up plans for overdose prevention centres – otherwise known as safe consumption rooms for drug users – in a bid to cut the nation’s record death toll.

The legality of such facilities has been in dispute for some time, but the Scottish government’s top law officer, Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain, has said she will give “fresh consideration” to any plans.

Delivering on promises

 

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2022 ended with a series of marathon sittings at Holyrood as MSPs finalised gender reform legislation.

This concluded a political process which began in the SNP’s 2016 manifesto, so has been a long time coming – but it may not be over yet, with the UK government and campaign groups pondering a legal challenge in the coming weeks.

A broader question may be whether the Scottish government can continue to deliver on long-standing commitments in the coming year.

One which is tied to the cost of living concerns is a plan to roll out free school meals to all primary pupils. This was originally scheduled for August 2022, but one teaching union now says it has been pushed back to 2024.

An updated Climate Change Plan has also been promised, in a bid to hit the government’s ambitious targets for net-zero carbon emissions by 2045.

A key part of that will be debated in the coming days. MSPs are due to sign off a new planning framework in January which will prioritise environmentally-friendly applications such as wind farms and other renewable energy projects.

 

ferry under construction

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The government will also be keen to get the deposit return scheme up and running, amid further speculation that the recycling system may need to be watered down if it is to go live in August as planned.

And ministers will be desperate to avoid any further delays to the two lifeline ferries for island communities being built at the Ferguson shipyard in Port Glasgow, given how regularly the project is raised at Holyrood.

One of ships is due to be finished in the summer, while the “practical completion” of the second is now scheduled for December 2023 before it enters service in 2024.

And while there may not be big reforms planned for the health services, there will be much scrutiny of how well it can get back to something resembling normality given the dire warnings from some union leaders.

The government has put tens of millions of pounds towards improving waiting times, and how that affects the experience of patients using services will ultimately matter far more than the political rhetoric around it.

Constitutional politics

 

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2023 is that rare beast in Scotland: a year with no big electoral events expected.

That is in itself rather controversial given the Scottish government really wanted to have an independence referendum in October, but has hit a brick wall in the form of a UK government which refuses to engage with the idea.

The SNP is due to focus on how the constitutional question can be put to the public at its spring conference in March.

There is some debate within the party about whether a Westminster election is the best vehicle for a “de facto referendum”, and about how such a contest could actually deliver independence.

That UK-wide ballot is not expected until 2024, but with Labour and the Conservatives also building their platforms ahead of the struggle for Downing Street there will be no shortage of politicking throughout 2023.

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Petr Pavel: Polyglot, war hero, and the new Czech president – Euronews

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Ex-general Petr Pavel has won another gritty campaign — this time at the ballot box.

The bearded 61-year-old, a decorated veteran who took part in a high-stakes peacekeeping mission in the Balkans and represented his country as a top-tier NATO general, was voted Czech president on Saturday, beating billionaire ex-prime minister Andrej Babiš.

With the ballots from 97% of almost 15,000 polling stations counted by the Czech Statistics Office, Pavel had 57.8% of the vote compared with 42.2% for Babiš.

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Though Czech presidents wield little day-to-day power, Pavel will have influence over foreign policy and government opinion, as well as the power to appoint prime ministers, constitutional judges and central bankers.

True to his military past, he has vowed to bring “order” to the Czech Republic, a 10 million-strong EU and NATO member, hammered by record inflation and economic turmoil due to the Ukraine war.

“I can’t ignore the fact that people here increasingly feel chaos, disorder and uncertainty. That the state has somehow ceased to function,” Pavel said on his campaign website.

“We need to change this,” he added. “We need to play by the rules, which will be valid for everyone alike. We need a general sweep.”

From Communist to war hero

Following in his father’s footsteps, Pavel underwent a military education in former Czechoslovakia, which was then ruled by Moscow-backed communists.

He joined the Communist Party, like his billionaire rival Babiš, and soon rose through the army ranks, studying to become an intelligence agent for the oppressive regime.

Critics fault him for his communist past, though Pavel has defended himself by saying party membership was “normal” in his family and called it a “mistake”.

When the Iron Curtain crumbled in 1989, Pavel chucked out his party ID but went ahead with the intelligence course.

Amid the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, Pavel — trained as an elite paratrooper and holding the rank of Lieutenant Colonel at the time — helped evacuate French troops stuck in the midst of combat between Croats and ethnic Serb paramilitaries in Croatia, earning him the French Military Cross for bravery.

“We got into several tense situations and he always managed them with deliberation and calm,” said retired Czech general Aleš Opata, who served with Pavel.

He later studied at military training schools in Britain, gaining a master’s from King’s College London.

After his country joined NATO in 1999, Pavel soon climbed through the alliance’s ranks, becoming its top military official in 2015. 

With a chest full of decorations, he retired in 2018.

What are his political views?

Pavel ran as an independent and was the strongest of the three candidates backed by the liberal-conservative coalition SPOLU of now-former President Miloš Zeman.

He has argued for better redistribution of wealth and greater taxation of the rich while also supporting progressive policies on issues such as same-sex marriage and euthanasia.

Positioning himself as a counterweight to populism, Pavel anchors the Czech Republic in NATO and wants to align his country with the European Union.

“The main issue at stake is whether chaos and populism will continue to rein or we return to observing rules… and we will be a reliable country for our allies,” he said after narrowly winning the first election round.

A staunch supporter of Ukraine, Pavel’s political rivals have alleged he would drag the country into a war with Russia.

“I know what war is about and I certainly don’t wish it on anyone,” said Pavel. “The first thing I would do is try to keep the country as far away from war as possible.”

Often sporting jeans and a leather jacket, Pavel is a polyglot, speaking Czech, English, French and Russian, and loves motorcycling.

He holds a concealed weapon licence, allowing him to carry a firearm, and he is married to a fellow soldier, Eva Pavlová.

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Canadian and American Politics

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THIS SURVEY EXPLORES CANADIANS’ AND AMERICANS’ PERSPECTIVES ON CANADIAN AND AMERICAN POLITICS.

Our latest North American Tracker explores Canadians’ and Americans’ perspectives on Canadian and American politics.

It examines Canadians’ federal voting intentions and Americans’ approval of President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris.

Download the report for the full results.

This survey was conducted in collaboration with the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS) and published in the Canadian Press. This series of surveys is available on Leger’s website.

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CANADIAN POLITICS

  • The Conservatives and Liberals are tied: if a federal election were held today, 34% of Canadian decided voters would vote for Pierre Poilievre’s CPC and the same proportion would vote for Justin Trudeau’s LPC.

AMERICAN POLITICS

  • 42% of Americans approve of the way Joe Biden is handling his job as president.
  • 40% of Americans approve of the way Kamala Harris is handling her job as vice-president.

METHODOLOGY

This web survey was conducted from January 20 to 22, 2023, with 1,554 Canadians and 1,005 Americans, 18 years of age or older, randomly recruited from LEO’s online panel.

A margin of error cannot be associated with a non-probability sample in a panel survey. For comparison, a probability sample of 1,554 respondents would have a margin of error of ±2.49%, 19 times out of 20, while a probability sample of 1,005 respondents would have a margin of error of ±3.09%, 19 times out of 20.

THIS REPORT CONTAINS THE RESULTS FOR THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS AND MORE!

  • If federal elections were held today, for which political party would you be most likely to vote?  Would it be for…?
  • Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the way Joe Biden is handling his job as president?
  • Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the way Kamala Harris is handling her job as vice president?​
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Legault won’t celebrate 25 years in politics

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Premier François Legault does not intend to celebrate his 25-year political career this year.

He became Minister of Industry in Lucien Bouchard’s PQ government on Sept. 23, 1998, but was elected on Nov. 30 of the same year as the representative for L’Assomption, the riding in which he is still a member.

In a news conference on Friday at the end of a caucus meeting of his party’s elected officials in a Laval hotel, the CAQ leader said that neither he nor his party had any intention of celebrating this anniversary.

“I don’t like these things,” he said.

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He pointed out that he is still younger than the former dean of the National Assembly, François Gendron. And smiling, he alluded to the U.S. President.

“I’m quite a bit younger than Mr. Biden, apart from that!” he said.

Legault is 65 years old, while the President is 80.

However, Legault is now the dean of the House. According to recent data, he has served as an elected official for 20 years, 6 months, and 27 days so far.

The premier was quick to add, however, that he has taken a break from politics.

He resigned on June 24, 2009 as a member of the Parti Québécois (PQ), then in opposition. But he was elected as an MNA and leader of the then-new Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) on Sept. 4, 2012.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Jan. 27, 2023.

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