Page last updated at 12:53 GMT, Tuesday, 5 January 2010

2020 vision: State of the nation

Holyrood

As the Noughties come to a close BBC Scotland looks ahead 10 years to consider what the country could be like by 2020.

By Brian Taylor
BBC Scotland political editor

The Roman poet Horace - or Quintus Horatius Flaccus to give him his dominican name - was responsible for the odd ode. Dozens of them, in fact. He was big, BC.

Many of you will be familiar with his advice: "Carpe diem." Generally translated as "seize the day", it inspired a whole genre of comparable verse. Think Herrick and his predilection for gathering rosebuds - although, to be blunt, his objective went somewhat beyond the floral.

However, the latter half of Horace's line is perhaps less well known. Here's the full sentiment: "Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero."

That means something like "and place the least possible trust in the future".

Shakespeare was similarly sceptical about the value of dwelling too much on what is to come. In Hamlet, he has poor Ophelia note: "We know what we are but know not what we may be."

In Scotland, the underlying issue of the constitutional future. Will Scots opt for independence - or settle for the variable speed promises of further devolved powers?

So one should approach the task of speculating about 2020 with some trepidation.

I am tempted to say that, by then, Dundee United will be about to bag at least their third league title of the decade - and leave it at that.

However, perhaps it might be possible to delve a little more deeply although, in truth, I will be writing about current trends which might develop: the fundamental basis, as I understand it, of futurology.

In politics, the current core theme is one of uncertainty. Anxiety over the economy and public spending. Doubts over the competing offers by the rival parties to deal with that anxiety.

Continuing concern over the war in Afghanistan, linked to the emerging history of the conflict in Iraq. The decade ahead seems likely still to be one of global tension.

Spending questions

In Scotland, the underlying issue of the constitutional future. Will Scots opt for independence - or settle for the variable speed promises of further devolved powers?

Scotland will be more dependent than ever on the service, finance and knowledge sectors as emerging global competitors strengthen their position.

Public spending, already tightening, will be constrained still further, most specifically over the next four or five years.

It has been forecast that spending will fall in real terms by between 7 and 13%, from the next Comprehensive Review Period starting in 2011.

That presents Scotland with two options. We can, collectively, undertake a fundamental examination of spending priorities, charting a new direction. Or we can be swept along with the tide of cuts.

The danger of the latter approach is that the easiest targets for cuts are not always, indeed seldom, the correct priority for the wider economy or social service provision.

By 2020, it seems inevitable that there will have been a wider review of spending needs across the UK

It is to be hoped that Scotland 2020 will have decided to prioritise core spending and to withdraw from inessential areas.

For such a review to work, nothing can be excluded. Scotland will have to challenge each element of public spending. Do we need this? Really need this? If we do, can we provide it in another way? More cheaply?

By 2020, it seems inevitable that there will have been a wider review of spending needs across the UK - that is, if Scotland remains within the UK.

Given Scotland's current spending lead, that review is unlikely, from first principles, to be advantageous to those of us north of the border.

I would envisage, however, that this review will be mitigated in impact by two factors: by a robust defence mounted by the Scottish government at ministerial and official level; and by a reluctance on the part of UK politicians to jeopardise the Union by drastic, instant cuts imposed on one signatory of the 1707 Treaty.

More fundamentally, it seems inevitable that, by 2020, there will have been a referendum on Scottish independence. Opposition parties can thwart that now at Holyrood, arguing that it is a costly distraction during a recession. However, it seems unlikely that this stance can, will or should persist forever.

So that referendum will be held. And the outcome will be ... the choice of the Scottish people.



Print Sponsor



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2013 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific