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Asking more of the right questions...

The Week in Scotland in review

In a recent episode of the West Wing Weekly podcast, the presenters admitted that they had to stop and start again with the recording. The reason? Close to the end of the tv episode 18th and Potomac, there’s a completely unexpected event - the death of the President’s secretary, Mrs Landingham. The presenters admitted that, when coming to review the entire 42 minutes of the programme, they simply found it hard to focus on any of the story prior to that point. It felt like all the important issues that would normally exercise the minds of the characters – and indeed the podcasters - were now utterly irrelevant. So they gave up for 24 hours, regrouped and started again. And I did much the same this week.

It’s not the place of this particular blog to ponder what our reaction should be to this week’s terrible events at Westminster, but I was struck by some of the ideas expressed by Cyrenians CEO Ewan Aitken in his blog. He reminds us that we shouldn’t expect to find some new process or policy “which would prevent something similar from ever happening” and urges us not to dehumanise those who perpetrated or encouraged this attack. I’m not finding his suggestions easy, but I’m going to challenge myself to try.

So, irrelevant as it might seem, here’s what else was going on in Scotland this week…

On Tuesday evening, sandwiched between the First Minister’s conference speech and this week’s referendum debate, University of Glasgow Principal Prof Anton Muscatelli delivered a lecture on Brexit and the future of the Scottish & UK economy. As a member of the First Minister’s Council of Economic Advisers and chair of the advisory Standing Council on Europe, when Anton speaks, it’s generally worth a listen. He talked through three scenarios for Brexit: a “cliff-edge” Brexit (where no trade deal was reached and the UK would have to adhere to WTO rules), a hard Brexit or a single market Brexit (which would require a policy change from the UK Government). Suggesting that a hard Brexit was looking increasingly likely, given the UK Government’s stance on immigration controls, he put forward the view that a single market deal would provide a good interim solution but also argued that “a bespoke solution within the UK is possible. The EU can accommodate variable geometry”.

Also on Tuesday, the Scottish Government published their new digital strategy, Realising Scotland's full potential in a digital world, which sets out a plan to boost the number of digital jobs by 150,000 by 2021. Previewed in the First Minister’s conference speech, with the announcement of a new digital skills fund, the plan includes a new digital schools programme and funding for community digital projects.

My business partner and I have a technique to stop taxi drivers ranting to us about politics. Sometimes – with our dials set to feisty - we embrace the opportunity, but there are times when we’re tired and already have a head full of political discourse (to put it politely). So, in those circumstances, when the taxi driver asks what we do for a living, we’ll say “I’m an auditor” and the conversation generally stops fairly abruptly. I hope my auditor friends don’t shun me for this admission, but in fairness – and in their defence - never has the role of audit bodies felt more important. 

As we place ambitious expectations on our stretched public finances in an increasingly digital world, it is crucial to know that there are people whose role it is to get under the skin of these less-public processes. Working alongside fact-checking services and investigative journalism, we also need the reassurance of knowing that key aspects of procurement, spending and governance are being independently scrutinised and reported. As a prime example of this, Audit Scotland published a progress report this week on how the Scottish Government was preparing to manage Scotland’s new financial powers. Even if it’s not a priority read, you might want to have a copy to hand next time you’re looking for peace in a taxi…

What's coming up this week:

  • The Scotland’s Choice debate on a second independence referendum, postponed after Thursday’s terrorist attack, has been rescheduled for Tuesday afternoon (28th March).
  • As we head into Easter recess (Friday 31st March) and the purdah period ahead of the local government elections, the Scottish Government will make four important statements on Thursday 30th – on the new mental health strategy, transvaginal mesh implants, unconventional oil and gas and the controversial enterprise and skills review.

This blog was commissioned by PubAffairs and first appeared at www.publicaffairsnetworking.com

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