The New Worker
The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 8th January 2016
For decades the Scottish National Party (SNP) have been clamouring to acquire legislative powers for Scotland. Now that they have them they are strangely reluctant to use them.
In his 2016/17 budget statement the SNP Finance Minister delivered a budget that was virtually identical to the slash and burn budget from UK Chancellor George Osborne weeks earlier.
Whereas the SNP website describes the budget as “defending and shielding the vital public services that the people of Scotland depend on”, the reality is very different.
The budget will result in a one billion pound cuts programme in Scottish local government over the next two years. There will be a six per cent reduction to the local government spending grant while the eight year council tax freeze will remain in place. This will result in about 40,000 public sector jobs being lost over the next four years. He also demanded “relentless reform” in the public sector. This is a polite way of pushing for cuts and privatisation.
The Scottish TUC General Secretary said: “this was a hold steady budget designed not to frighten the horse in advance of the Scottish parliament elections.” He denounced the SNP for neglecting reform: “Serious reform of local taxation is avoided in favour of continuing the regressive Council Tax freeze”, adding that: “The scale of cuts being imposed on local government will mean significant pain for vulnerable people”. The STUC Assistant General Secretary Ann Henderson fleshed this out by adding: “A slightly lower council tax bill when a community has lost its community centre or local nursery, is no compensation. The reductions in subsidies to local bus services, particularly in outlying areas and rural communities place low-paid workers in the impossible situation of choosing between running a private car and meeting family bills.”
The SNP had previously promised to abolish the Council Tax in favour of a progressive tax but it does not want to see its well-heeled supporters having to dip into their pockets, especially as elections to the Scottish Parliament are coming up. He also conspicuously failed to use his brand new powers to vary the rate of income tax.
Redistribution from the rich is clearly now not the agenda. His sole gesture was to add a crippling additional three per cent tax on second homes. Well-heeled couples can easily dodge it by putting properties by putting the second home in the spouse’s name.
Swinney also chose not to exercise the extra borrowing powers he had earlier been screaming for — which could have raised up to £280 million. This sum could have done much to meet the SNP’s pathetically low annual target of building 8-9,000 “affordable homes”.
The SNP trumpet loudly that they do not implement the bedroom tax in Scotland but this only involves a comparatively small sum of £53 million.
The civil service union PCS complained that Swinney’s public sector pay policy, which limits salary increases to one per cent, is in real terms simply a pay cut.
David O’Neill, president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said that Swinney’s cuts of £350 million allied to his continuing council tax freeze will have “a devastating effect on childcare, roads maintenance and refuse collections”.
Alex McLuckie, GMB Scotland’s senior organiser, said that the budget paved the way for further privatisation of homecare services and ward closures in hospitals.
Andrew Burns, Labour Leader of Edinburgh City Council, said that up to 2,000 employees may have to lose their jobs as a result of what he called a very negative settlement, even for a city with an annual 5,000 population increase.
Brian Smith, Glasgow City Council Unison Branch secretary, said that Swinney’s announcement that there would be a “floor to the level of cuts in Glasgow” simply meant that there would be a minimum of £121 million in cuts over the next two years, which would threaten 3,000 further job cuts to the city.
Because the eight year council tax causes grave difficulties to local authorities and causes misery amongst those who depend on council services, it gives the SNP a chance to blame the Tories at Westminster for policies that they choose to implement in Edinburgh. Labour councils have not been noted for making much of a stand.
This correspondent’s Labour council has a brilliant strategy for opposing the cuts — it has sent out a leaflet to householders asking their views on how to save £28.8 million. They have a choice between reducing the number of Community Warden posts to save £100,000, or tightening the criteria for school footwear and clothing grants to save £150,000. One almost feels nostalgic for the weekly Trot demand for a “General Strike to Overthrow the Tory Government Now” of the eighties.
Needless to say, not a single “left” SNP MSP or MP has made the slightest criticism of the Osborne— Swinney budget delivered at Holyrood, although they were vocal about Osborne’s solo Westminster effort.
Hidden in the small print of the budget was a six per cent cut to the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), which is responsible for flood-forecasting and risk management. Although the SNP government is very keen on centralisation, in 2007 it washed its hands of flood defences and passed the buck to Scotland’s 32 local authorities, despite Labour’s warnings at the time against the removal of ring-fencing for flood defence budgets, and councils struggled with underfunding following the SNP’s council tax freeze. As is standard practice, the SNP government blamed the reduction in SEPA’s budget on cuts passed on from Westminster, but obviously repainting road signs with Gaelic is a greater priority than flood control.
Further evidence that the Scottish bourgeoisie are not greatly burdened comes from the revenue from the SNP’s Land and Buildings Transaction Tax, which they introduced to replace Stamp Duty. It was supposed to bring in £235 million per year but is facing a £40 million shortfall as a result of abolishing Stamp Duty on lower priced properties. Labour’s Public Services spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “The SNP has a history of getting its sums wrong, whether on oil or now on the property tax” and called for an independent financial watchdog “so that we don’t have to rely on the SNP government numbers”.