TO PARAPHRASE Dr Johnson, it is never difficult to distinguish a Nationalist politician with a grievance from a ray of sunshine. And this was proved at this week’s Budget in the House of Commons, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, announced an additional £350 million in funding for the Scottish Government.
Now, one might have expected this announcement of additional money, to be spent entirely at the SNP’s discretion, would be greeted with enthusiasm by Scotland’s representatives in the House of Commons. Instead, there was simply silence, which was followed by much humour on the Conservative benches, whose occupants were astonished at the lack of welcome of these additional funds which their own constituents would have been so grateful for.
But perhaps we should not be surprised. After all, additional funding announced this week is just the latest evidence of the “Union dividend”, a term we became so familiar with during the independence campaign of 2014. Expert after expert showed how Scotland benefitted by being part of the wider United Kingdom when it came to finance and resources, receiving much more per head of population on public services funding.
Of the £350 million announced, £144 million will be paid in the coming financial year (2017-18). This adds to a Scottish budget at its highest level in history, despite all the complaints from Nationalists about “Westminster cuts”.
The Scottish Finance Secretary Derek Mackay is even luckier than we previously thought. As a sweetener to the Greens ahead of his own budget negotiations, he was able to source £191 million from his own magic money tree (pictured). Less than three weeks later, he found an extra £42 million to help him address some of the concerns from businesses facing substantial business rates hikes. And now he has an extra £144 million at his disposal, giving him a whole range of options.
What is absolutely clear is that, with all these hundreds of millions of pounds, there was absolutely no need for the SNP and its Green cronies to make Scotland the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom. This is a move that will drive away jobs and investment, and punish hard working people, sending out signals to the rest of the world that Scotland is a bad place to do business.
So Derek Mackay can, if he wishes, choose to reverse these tax increases and put us back on a level playing field with the rest of the UK. He would have money left over to help address his devastating cut to local authority budgets. He could even find support to fund local rates relief schemes, for businesses who have not been given any help thus far.
Only this week, the independent and impartial Accounts Commission highlighted how the SNP has reduced local government investment by almost 10% in real terms since 2010. So in a period when more money has been coming from Westminster, less of it is finding its way out of Holyrood.
This wasn’t the only good news in the budget. The decision to freeze fuel duty for the seventh year in a row means motorists save as much as £10 every time they fill up their car.
The personal allowance for income tax is being increased to £12,500, lifting millions out of tax altogether. And, with the living wage now up at £7.50 per hour, 100,000 people in Scotland will get a pay rise.
The economic background is encouraging too. This week the IMF revised its growth forecast for the British economy upwards once more, confounding those who argued that a Brexit vote would lead to a disastrous Budget with devastating consequences for the public finances.
While the UK economy continues to perform strongly, there are still problems in Scotland. Our economy grows at only one third of the UK rate, and the Scottish Government struggles to bring forward any initiatives to try and address the problem. Simultaneously, the mismanagement of the SNP in government continues to be exposed.
This week we learnt of the failings of Police Scotland’s i6 IT project, which will end up costing the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds, as well as leaving frontline officers with badly out of date resources. This follows the crisis with IT systems within NHS 24 costing £130 million, and the well-documented technology problems processing CAP payments for farmers, a short-coming which has starved the rural economy of hundreds of millions of pounds.
These are all examples of SNP waste, which, if avoided, could have funded the low tax, high wage economy that Scotland craves.
The Scottish Chambers of Commerce this week welcomed the additional funding to the Scottish Government, but warned the SNP to use it wisely. It described a “major opportunity” for the Scottish Government to put the cash “to good use in growing the Scottish economy”. This is an opportunity which much now be seized by Ministers here, otherwise the good work of the Government south of the Border will be of no benefit to Scotland.