Page last updated at 17:46 GMT, Thursday, 16 October 2008 18:46 UK

Pressure on 'popular' government

Alex Salmond

By Andrew Black
Political reporter, BBC Scotland news website

There comes a time when every government - no matter how popular it is perceived to be - comes under pressure.

The SNP has seen some of that pressure of late, on policies including local income tax and alcohol law.

Yet, ministers have been driving forward their new legislative programme, while coping with the crisis of confidence in the banking sector.

When it emerged Scottish-based HBOS was to be taken over by Lloyds TSB, First Minister Alex Salmond wasted no time in attacking "spivs and speculators" for targeting a bank given a clean bill of health by the financial regulator.

A clampdown on short selling was announced and Mr Salmond embarked on a high-profile drive to ensure the takeover produced the best outcome for Scotland.

Looking to Westminster, the SNP has been formulating a plan to repeat its stunning Glasgow East by-election victory when it comes to Glenrothes

His outspoken criticism was derided by opposition parties who said HBOS' troubles came more from its exposure to the mortgage market.

The Scottish Government also announced its intention for a bill to scrap the council tax for a 3p local income tax.

This plan still lacks enough support at Holyrood to get through, although the Liberal Democrats are keen to try to reach an agreement over the policy.

In a further boost, MSPs agreed a parliamentary motion demanding that 400m in council tax benefit should still be paid to Scotland, if the alternative is introduced.

And if that fails to do the trick, Mr Salmond will opt for a good, old fashioned guilt trip, telling opposition MSPs they would just have to explain to their constituents why they opposed plans to make families better off.

The plan for building major public projects, such as schools and hospitals, has also been raising temperatures.

The Scottish Futures Trust, the government's alternative to PFI tie-ups with private companies, has been progressing, with the merchant banker Sir Angus Grossart being appointed as the face of the programme.

Free meals

Ministers insist PFI has not delivered value for money for the taxpayer, but critics of the futures trust say the not-for-profit system, which would work through the issuing of local authority bonds, still lacks too much detail.

Plans to raise the age limit for buying alcohol from 18 to 21 are also in trouble, after MSPs backed a motion rejecting the plan.

Student group NUS Scotland said the plan would demonise young people, but, pointing out alcohol problems cost Scotland more than 2bn a year, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill hit out at other parties for failing to come up with their own proposals.

One area of health policy ministers were able to announce, though, was free school meals for five to seven-year-olds although Council umbrella group Cosla was forced to dismiss concern from some local authorities who claimed there really was no such thing as a free lunch because they did not have enough cash to implement the policy.

Looking to Westminster, the SNP has been formulating a plan to repeat its stunning Glasgow East by-election victory when it comes to Glenrothes.

And, of course, there is the ever-present issue of the independence referendum.

Now that a new Scottish Labour leader has effectively ended the "bring it on" policy, which offered backing for an early independence vote, the Nationalists may have to try a new strategy to get the policy passed by parliament.

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