I AM no particular fan of the singer Morrissey, late of The Smiths, in relation to either his music or his politics. But, just occasionally, he gets it right.
Last weekend Morrissey was performing at a gig in Glasgow, and reportedly asked his audience: “Do any of you actually like Nicola Sturgeon? Those hands will be in anybody’s pockets.”
Given his expressed views in the past, the singer seems an unlikely ally for Conservative critics of the SNP’s Budget. And yet, the depiction of the SNP First Minister as someone with her hands in the pockets of taxpayers in Scotland seems remarkably appropriate.
The Scottish Government’s Budget Bill completed its parliamentary passage on Wednesday, when as expected the SNP and Greens combined to force through their “pay more, get less” measures. It was a Budget prepared against a backdrop of the UK block grant to Scotland increasing from this year to the next, a fact confirmed by the Scottish Parliament independent researchers, confirmed by the Fraser of Allander Institute, and conceded by the SNP Finance Secretary himself.
Graphic courtesy of Scottish Parliament Information Centre
It was a Budget which broke a promise that the SNP made not to increase the basic rate of income tax, as a consequence of which over one million Scots will be paying more tax than equivalent workers south of the Border, sending out the message that Scotland is the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom. As from April, everyone earning more than £26,000 - 45 per cent of Scottish taxpayers - will be paying more tax than their equivalents living in the rest of the United Kingdom. The overall burden of income tax will be higher in Scotland than it is in other parts of the UK.
SNP speakers in Wednesday’s debate seemed to want to portray their tax increases as affecting only the rich. They claim that anyone earning less than £33,000 would be paying less tax than they currently are as a result of their proposed changes.
What they didn’t say is that figure is where it is because of the actions of a UK Conservative Government – by increasing the personal allowance that everyone benefits from. It is action by the Conservatives at a UK level since 2010, effectively doubling the personal allowance, that has lifted millions of the lowest paid out of tax altogether.
What the SNP Budget means is that a nurse in Scotland earning £30,000 will pay £40 more than a nurse living in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. A primary school teacher, social worker or paramedic earning £35,000, will pay £90 more. A police officer or secondary school teacher earning £40,000 will pay £140 more, and a GP earning £70,000 will pay over £1000 more.
These individuals are simply not rich. Indeed, in many cases, they might be the only income earner in their families. A household income of only £26,000, covering one or two adults and a number of children, is hardly a generous sum. This is not about taxing the rich, instead it is about penalising hard-working families, and those who can ill afford to pay additional sums.
And the consequences for our economy could be severe. The Scottish Retail Consortium has warned about the likely impact on consumer spending, due to families having less cash in their pockets. The Scottish Chambers of Commerce has repeatedly warned about the threat of Scotland being perceived as a relatively high taxed economy, and how that might impact on business investment and consumer behaviour.
And, while taxes are going up, services are being cut. Across Scotland this week, local authorities have been meeting to set their budgets. And cuts are being made – in the number of teachers, classroom assistants, scrapping school crossing patrollers, closing or reducing the hours of recycling centres or libraries – all across the country people’s experience are that they are receiving poorer quality public services, at the same time as paying more.
For example, the SNP/Labour run Fife Council has made £5.2 million of cuts from its education budget, including £100,000 from the budget used to support disabled children, £950,000 for specialist support in schools, £390,000 from reducing the number of nursery teaching posts, and a cut of £380,000 in out-of-school care services. All this at a time when the Scottish Government claims that education is its top priority.
On top of that, there is no money in the Budget to pay any salary increases for local authority workers. Those employed by the Scottish Government and its agencies, and in the NHS, will all benefit from increases of up to 3 per cent – but for local government, nothing has been provided.
Councillor Gail McGregor, COSLA’s resources spokeswoman, said on Tuesday, “Because quite simply with no money in the settlement from Scottish Government for pay, any pay rises for council workers will only come from cuts to services or council tax rises”.
This was an SNP/Green Budget that broke an SNP promise not to increase the basic rate of tax, but also delivered cuts to local services. It is a Budget that demonstrated the SNP First Minister has her hand in the pockets of Scotland’s taxpayers.
It is no wonder that, to paraphrase Morrissey, Heaven knows we’re miserable now.
Photo: As one might expect, Morrissey didn't just have a go at Nicola Sturgeon... but given the nationalist reaction who knew?