So here we go, into Scotland’s year of destiny. Our lead feature, with its spread of predictions for 2014 – there could of course have been others – ranges from the outlook for the profession and the country as a whole, to specific practice areas.
Without exception there are challenges to be faced. It might also be said that a positive attitude to overcoming these is well in evidence; without that, the chances of pulling through must be much reduced. Think muddy assault course if you like!
As for the big picture of the independence referendum, whatever the opinion polls indicate, the political temperature will only increase as time goes on, whether or not the public feels much better informed as a result.
Somehow the business of government will continue through it all. The Scottish Government will certainly be preoccupied with the possible effects of its actions on public opinion, and will not be minded to make concessions to the legal profession if it takes a different line. But as recent events have shown, taking a positive stand on professional values can have sometimes have an effect even where parliamentary opposition has failed.
This time last year the Law Society of Scotland faced a crisis for (reluctantly) accepting a package including the collection by solicitors of summary criminal legal aid contributions, which a majority of members affected wished it to reject. The legislation was passed; but has yet to be brought into force, partly due to the Society having issued professional guidance that appears to have left ministers worried at what happens to those who fail to pay up.
The rationale has been explained, in a blog by Ken Dalling, in terms of sound professional practice, and members affected have been supportive, so we wait with interest to see whether the talks currently continuing between ministers and the Society can come up with any alternative formula that satisfies both sides. In any event it can be hoped that the Government will take more heed in future if the Society warns of practical consequences of its policies.
A positive attitude, indeed an innate optimism, has also been shown by the Scottish Human Rights Commission, in launching its National Action Plan at a time of almost unremittingly negative coverage for the subject, even if the atmosphere in Scotland is fortunately less hostile. But thank goodness someone is prepared to keep trying to push forward.