Gordon Brown: Austere future under SNP

THE party is failing Scotland’s poor, with its budget figures totally at odds with the leadership’s rhetoric on battling Tory austerity measures, argues Gordon Brown.
Gordon Brown writes for The Scotsman. Picture: GettyGordon Brown writes for The Scotsman. Picture: Getty
Gordon Brown writes for The Scotsman. Picture: Getty

Who would have thought that, just days into a six-week campaign, the party supposedly brimming with confidence about its case and its appeal, the SNP, is seeing its “tax and spending” arithmetic unravelling – unable to answer basic questions about their two biggest policies: how they will end austerity and deliver social justice?

Having said they want an immediate “end to austerity” with the slogan “enough is enough”, they have been caught out adopting Conservative spending plans for the coming year. Their publicly-stated commitment to zero additional spending ​in 2015 – set down in a document the Scottish Government exchanged with the Treasury – means that, no matter how many SNP MPs are elected and no matter what their role in government is, they would follow the Tory spending line – and do absolutely nothing to end austerity before April, 2016.

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But they have also been found wanting when it comes to welfare. All of their spending plans for each of the next five years right through to 2020 – as sent to the Treasury – have one thing in common: not a penny is going to help pensioners, raise unemployment benefits, assist families with child benefits or come to the aid of disabled people and those most in need.

Nicola Sturgeon said she would remove the cap on social security benefits. Picture: GettyNicola Sturgeon said she would remove the cap on social security benefits. Picture: Getty
Nicola Sturgeon said she would remove the cap on social security benefits. Picture: Getty

Far from being fearless defenders of the poor, their figures show them to be accomplices in Tory welfare vindictiveness.

Indeed they have outlined a UK budget strategy to 2020 that does not even include one penny to get rid of the bedroom tax, despite all their rhetoric about it. And when Nicola Sturgeon said on Tuesday she would remove the cap on social security benefits, she should have been honest with those who look to her and admitted there is no provision in the SNP’s spending plans to do so. The S​NP won’t only break up the UK – they will break the hearts of the poor.

And the new excuses now being offered by the SNP would be viewed as comic if they were not tragic for those looking for relief from austerity. For when pressed, Stewart Hosie said that they could not spend any new money to end austerity for a whole year after 7 May because the financial year had already started in April and nothing could now be done. A worrying message for someone looking for urgent relief from their dire need. Are leaders really going to try to tell people there’s nothing to be done for a whole year because the financial year has begun and with budgets irrevocable fixed they are powerless to address emergencies?

On Wednesday, the SNP resorted to another device to justify why they will spend so little to tackle welfare austerity. John Swinney claimed that the real answer to fiscal austerity is fiscal autonomy, which could, he said, now be delivered by 2020. Unfortunately their plans for fiscal autonomy do not add up either and would mean austerity max.

SNP policies are not helping to counter poverty in Scotland. Picture: Robert PerrySNP policies are not helping to counter poverty in Scotland. Picture: Robert Perry
SNP policies are not helping to counter poverty in Scotland. Picture: Robert Perry

To make up for losing the Barnett allocations and social security transfers, Scotland would have to find another £7.6 billion yearly either in higher taxes or spending cuts, for Scotland would immediately lose the extra £1,200 more spending per head ​above that of ​the UK – the £10,275 per head spent for each of us compared with £8,936 in the UK and just £8,678 in England – and they would also lose its higher share of UK tax revenues.

In fact with just 8.3 per cent of the UK population, we receive 9.2 per cent of total UK public spending – a bonus from the sharing of resources on the basis of need that we would immediately surrender. So while last year’s spending on health per head in England was £1,994 it was £2,151 in Scotland because of our extra needs. Social security spending which was £3,778 in England last year was £4,134 in Scotland, and pensioners ​receive £500 million more yearly than ​would be allocated on a population share – all wiped out when fiscal autonomy becomes a new form of fiscal austerity.

Under fiscal autonomy, Scotland has to pay for all of its services itself out of taxes we raise here in Scotland – but even if we include our geographic share of North Sea revenues which according to Mr Salmond would be £7bn annually but are now a tenth – £700m – total public sector revenue is still well below what we currently spend ,​

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Why have the SNP refused to offer short-term emergency help in their budget plans and ruled out an end to austerity for more than a year?

They want to go into the Scottish elections next year saying Westminster has failed to end austerity and that Westminster can never be trusted to deliver social justice to the Scottish people.

It is exactly the same approach that led Mr Swinney to say he would not act on the bedroom tax even when they had the power to do so because that would let Westminster off the hook – except austerity in 2015 is now their policy. They are thinking more of the electoral needs of the SNP than the social needs of the poorest Scottish people. Instead of being fearless defenders of Scotland, they are accomplices in continuing Tory austerity.

Independence matters more to them than social justice. More powers for Scotland ​are of more importance to them than what ​any ​powers can achieve. While ​Labour supporters wake up in the morning thinking how we can advance social justice, ​Nationalists wake up thinking of how they can achieve a separate state. Even after eight years in office they take no responsibility for the persistence of poverty.

The claims about social justice and austerity are of course part of their bigger claim: that the real battle is between Nationalism and the outside forces who ​do Scotland ​down – while their real complaint should be about globalisation which – ironically – needs to be managed not by secessions but by even more co-ordinated ​international ​action​.

For the day after independence the SNP would have to face exactly the same problem that others have to confront but for which Nationalists are wholly ill-prepared – how to manage the global economy fairly and how to win the battle to deliver economic opportunity​ and social justice ​in a world of ​global financial ​markets.

Unable to give priority to ending austerity or preventing welfare cuts ​and thus letting the Scottish people down, ​the SNP’s arguments are exposed as ​both a deception and ​a diversion from the real war that has got to be waged – to make globalisation work in the interests of the many and not just the few.

Gordon Brown was prime minister from 2007 to 2010