Nicola Sturgeon is talking about how the SNP will win a referendum in the next couple of years. David Cameron is visiting European capitals to try and get buy in for his EU reforms. George Osborne is warning us that the economy is still not fixed. And Labour is indulging in some self-immolation.
The Christmas and New Year break didn’t seem to put anyone off their current path then. As we see it, there will be three key phases in 2016 and the way the parties have started this year gives an indication of what lies ahead.
The busiest month of the year across the UK and the most important month in Scottish politics. The SNP go into the election knowing that anything other than another Holyrood majority would be seen as a failure. Their stewardship of the country remains largely trusted, Swinney has avoided any controversy over the use of new tax powers and the Opposition doesn’t have the strength, individually or collectively, to disturb their bandwagon. By starting the year talking about the possibility of winning a referendum, Sturgeon is throwing a little meat to the newly converted members of the SNP that they remain as committed and convinced about independence as ever. She’s asking them to stick with her, rather than split away to the Greens or Rise, and trust her approach to winning the next time the plebiscite is called.
On the same day Corbyn’s leadership will be thoroughly tested for the first time. The likelihood is that Labour will regain City Hall in London for a combination of reasons (it remains a Labour city, Sadiq Khan is a strong and credible candidate, Zac Goldsmith is no Boris Johnson) but any failure to maintain the 7-point gap [CHECK GAP/LINK] Labour enjoyed over the Tories at the last local elections would be seen as the beginning of the end. The local elections in 2012 proved to be the high water mark of the Ed Miliband leadership.
An EU referendum in June is still being mooted though it’s looking less likely than it did before the Christmas break. Either way, we’ll be well into unofficial campaign by this point. By not knowing the date of the EU referendum we’ve ensured that the campaigns have already begun as neither the In or Out camps will want to be left behind.
Through their early actions Cameron and Osborne are both prioritising Europe – Cameron knows it’s his legacy and Osborne understands it’ll be his future. By visiting European capitals at the turn of the year Cameron is demonstrating to the public at home his dedication to making the EU work for the UK and he’ll be stressing to EU leaders how perilous the situation could be if they don’t help him out. On the other hand, Osborne is stressing that fixing the economy is still not complete [LINK]. He’s preaching security and stability, and while using them in the context of the UK economy, those two words will be inextricably linked to the EU referendum debate.
Corbyn will have been in power for a year. The party, it’s policies and the language it uses will all, by this time, be in his mould. He’ll have had the May elections to demonstrate how a Labour policy offering under his leadership will be received by the public. On the other side of the fence the Labour right, centrists, moderates will have had a year to gather their thoughts and prepare themselves to remove Corbyn as leader.
At this point, the expectation is that if Corbyn’s opponents don’t remove him at this juncture then there will be insufficient time before the election to recast the perception of them in the wider public. The question for non-Corbyn supporting Labour MPs at this point will be: do they represent their 300,000 members or do they represent the 9 million plus voters who supported them at the last election?
For us at the Scottish Politics Review these will be the major phases that shape the political year and we’ll be watching them closely to provide thought provoking and original comment on it all.