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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Budget Blues

by our Scottish political affairs correspondent

THE ANNUAL Scottish Budget was delivered uneventfully last Thursday afternoon. This was a change from last year when the Budget Secretary resigned just hours before when that morning’s Scottish Sun published no less than 270 text messages he had sent to a 16-year-old boy. This scandal continues to this day because the now disgraced Derek Mackay is still a salaried MP and expenses claimer.

This lack of excitement, however, allows us to focus on the content (and non-content) of the Budget delivered by the Finance Secretary Kat Forbes. In all she announced spending of a record £45 billion, of which £37.2 billion came from the UK Government. It included £400 million of effective cuts, which she did not have time to mention but were noted by opposition politicians.

The largest of these was the More Homes initiative, which is supposed to increase affordable housing stock in Scotland, which lost £268 million; whilst the allocation for rail infrastructure had £68 million cut from it, so it’s back to the car then.

In the Justice allocation the budget for victims’ services dropped by £500,000 but that for offenders received an extra £2.3 million. It is to be hoped that this does not encourage an influx of criminals. Another £47.4 million went to Ferguson Marine, in order to get the two long overdue huge ferries presently under construction or rotting away at Port Glasgow.

Scotland’s trade unions were not impressed. Public sector workers were offered a three per cent rise for people earning under £25,000, with only one per cent for people earning up to £80,000 per year (capped at £800). Speaking for the latter group, Allan Sampson of the FDA, said: “Faced with an opportunity to reward and repay public servants for their heroic efforts over the past year, the Scottish government has instead chosen to mirror the UK government’s approach of restriction and restraint.”

Representing workers further down the food chain, GMB said the increase “would not amount to more than a tenner a week for most”, with Unison saying it fell short of a decent pay rise for public sector workers.

Larry Flanagan, General Secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), said the Budget simply announced “an effective pay freeze [which] will be met with deep disappointment by Scotland’s teachers, who have been working flat-out throughout the pandemic to offer as much support as possible to young people”.

The business lobbies were equally unimpressed. They were annoyed they would not get an extension to business rates relief.

There were of course winners, by increasing by £4 million to £15 million for “government business and constitutional relations” to say nothing of £26.5 million allocated for “international and European relations” – meaning more money will be spent on foreign junkets, which is of course a high priority for the SNP ministers.

The budget also saw the SNP make an apparent abandonment of decades’ worth of policy. They announced that they would scrap overseas business support for fossil-fuel companies so as to win brownie points before the COP26 summit in Glasgow this year. If these noble principles were to be followed to their logical conclusion that would mean they would ditch the ‘Its Scotland’s Oil’ slogan expounded for decades and that the fundamental importance of North Sea Oil as the foundation for the Scotland’s economy has been abandoned.

SNP greenery always needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, however. The Greens pointed out that: “Once again, we’re hearing commitments on a green agenda while the motorways and trunk roads budget goes up, as it has relentlessly,” and that “the main new measure on public transport is the one the Greens secured a year ago and which the Scottish government hasn’t implemented yet.” No doubt he will still vote for it when the time comes.

Labour’s interim leader Jackie Baillie said: ‘The SNP’s timid response to the economic crisis is like playing Russian roulette with the future of our economy,” adding that: “The decision to allow the wealthiest Scots to benefit most from the tax system and to maintain a real-terms pay freeze for thousands of public sector workers is not only deeply unfair but economically illiterate as it reduces the spending power of thousands of people.”