Scottish independence: The Scottish Government has done “everything possible” with its limited powers to counter Westminster’s “relentless austerity agenda” in its last budget ahead of the independence referendum, Finance Secretary John Swinney has insisted.
Mr Swinney published his budget bill ahead of a Holyrood debate on Wednesday as he said he “could do yet more to strengthen our economy” with independence.
The bill includes £55 million for free school meals, £59m extra for childcare on top of £191m previously pledged, £77m for business rates relief and £20m to cover benefit cuts from those affected by the UK government’s bedroom tax.
However, SNP ministers says that the “Westminster decisions are cutting the Scottish Government’s discretionary spending power by more than 11 per cent in real terms over five years, with the Chancellor having confirmed additional cuts to come”.
Mr Swinney said: “This budget demonstrates the benefits of decisions being made in Scotland, by those who care most about its future.
“The budget will help us to ensure Scotland is the best place for our children to grow up, that we offer the most competitive environment for business within the UK and that people in Scotland are protected from the worst effects of Westminster’s welfare cuts.
“The budget confirms the funding needed to deliver the Scottish Government’s commitments to expand the provision of free schools meals and childcare, to offer the most competitive business rates regime in the UK and help those affected by Westminster’s bedroom tax.”
Mr Swinney claimed the Scottish Government was constrained in its budget by a lack of economic powers devolved to Holyrood.
He said: “Within our limited powers, this government is doing everything possible to tackle the effects of Westminster’s cuts to the Scottish budget on our economy, their damaging welfare reform agenda and their relentless austerity agenda.
“With the full powers of independence the Scottish Government could do yet more to strengthen our economy, to create more jobs and to make the kind of transformational investment that would help thousands of people back into work. That is the opportunity on offer to the people of Scotland in 2014.”
However, Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone claimed the SNP administration was “misleading” Scots with its claims that it lacked powers to deliver economic growth.
He said: “The SNP government has certainly not done all it can to grow the economy.”