WHATEVER comfort may be drawn from Scotland's unemployment rate being marginally lower than that of the UK as a whole is likely to be short-lived.
In four years' time, it is likely to reach 9.7%, the highest rate since 1993, according to the latest forecast by the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR). The outlook is one of rising unemployment over the next five years for every part of the UK except the south-east and east of England, with the areas most dependent on public sector jobs the worst affected,
As public sector jobs are cut, George Osborne's austerity prescription will become more unpalatable if, instead of bringing about the promised economic resurgence in the private sector, it results in growing long-term unemployment.
Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP for mid-Bedfordshire and right-wing campaigner for deeper welfare cuts and against Lords reform, would normally have little resonance in Scotland but in identifying the combination of arrogance and privilege as a dangerous combination for both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, she makes common cause with people increasingly worried about increased costs and job security.
Labour's success in the council elections both north and south of the Border was largely a reaction to the sharp squeeze on household budgets and the lack of prospects for those out of work, especially for young people. Today's CEBR forecast is a further indication that with the UK now back in recession and employment statistics inevitably lagging behind economic recovery, the Coalition Government's austerity plan is the wrong medicine, particularly for Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the north-east of England, where the public sector is a vital part of the larger economic picture.
Alex Salmond has recognised both the value of capital projects in creating jobs and the frustration with the Westminster Government in once again criticising David Cameron for refusing to increase capital spending in Scotland. With a majority at Holyrood, however, he must demonstrate positive policies rather than complain about being hamstrung by Westminster if he is to gain support for independence in 2014.
Labour's recovery in the Scottish council elections amounted to a warning to the SNP not to take voters for granted.
The success of Boris Johnson in the London mayoral election demonstrates the importance of a powerful personality but while likeability was the key factor in the head-to-head contest, the closeness of the vote indicated strong support for Labour policies.
In declaring their parties were open to discussions with all political groups, both Mr Salmond and Johann Lamont, Labour's Scottish leader, showed a welcome recognition that the requirements of local government should be determined on an individual basis. In an election determined by single transferrable vote and where the total of independent and minority party candidates was greater than the number fielded by the largest party, the result should be a nuanced reflection of public opinion. At a time when party membership is declining and the "plague on all their houses" tendency is growing, cross-party co-operation offers the best chance of representative democracy in action. The lesson for politicians – of all parties and at all levels – is to listen to the people.
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