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Sunday, September 26, 1999 Published at 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK


UK: Scotland

A busy week in Scottish politics



A week is indeed a long time in politics. And for politicians in Scotland it has been a busy one as well. The opening chapter started with the SNP's annual party conference, mid-week focus switched to the dramas of the Hamilton South by-election and the closing chapter was dominated by allegations of links between a Scottish lobby firm and Scottish ministers.

BBC Scotland Political Editor Brian Taylor casts a look back at the events.

For the SNP, Annabelle Ewing's showing in the Hamilton South by-election helped deflect what might have been tricky questioning on strategy.

Those who fretted over the strategy in the Scottish election are happier with what they believe is a renewed stress on independence.

Alex Salmond had a good conference week with a good conference speech following murmurs about his leadership.

But observers question whether he set out a clear strategy.

In practice this conference opened rather than settled the SNP's strategic debate.

The delegates took a look at their own position and collectively decided that their political glass was half full rather than half empty.

But their topping up strategy is still to emerge. Simultaneously, the SNP must work hard in the new devolved parliament while decrying its claimed limitations.

Caution over lobby story

I think there has to be a certain caution about the allegations made in the Observer newspaper on Sunday.

If there is concern and anxiety attaching to a government minister then we are dealing with a very serious question. But that has to be proved.

On the one hand this could be evidence of influence at the highest level of government.

But on the other hand it is possible - and it looks likely on the face of it - that it is evidence of a slightly excitable PR officer claiming influence beyond the influence that is actually there.

I must stress that an investigation will be the right way of examining which of those alternatives is accurate.

Henry McLeish is right to think that the lobby system is out of control. And that raises a separate question, about lobby companies more generally.

Is the lobby system acceptable, is it going too far and is it in need of regulation by the parliament?

I think it is possible that that will be the avenue the debate goes down.

In the first place there is the question of whether any substantial influence was offered by a minister - the politicians insists it wasn't.

By-election turn-off

The lobbying affair comes at the end of a week in which Labour scraped a win at the Hamilton South by-election.

I share the concerns of senior politicians across all political parties that perhaps the people are simply turned off by politics, political partisan debate is not engaging with the public generally.

That was true in Hamilton, and it was even truer in Wigan where turnout was just 25%, it was true at the Scottish parliament election it may well be true at the next UK General Election - and that it is a source of anxiety to all the parties





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