Even before the party manifestos are published, voters are awash with pledges on public spending, cuts in personal tax – and earnest commitments to reduce the budget deficit and debt. How can this all stack up? Election campaigns routinely succumb to spending fever. And long before polling day, voters become wearisomely sceptical of the spending pledges. Complex and highly conjectural arithmetic on “savings and efficiencies” and opaque projections of growth benefits barely begin to provide credible answers as to where all the money is to come from.
In this election, there has been good cause to break from this dissembling tradition.
Annual government borrowing is running way over the target that the coalition set itself in 2010. The grand total of government debt continues to grow: it is set to hit £1.5 trillion this year. And the annual debt interest charge is also growing – this year it will extract £46 billion out of the government accounts – a figure forecast to rise to £57.4bn by 2019-20. For Scotland, the fiscal arithmetic is even more problematic. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, full fiscal autonomy would cost Scotland £7.6bn, with a budget deficit markedly higher than that for the UK.
Given this backcloth, it almost beggars belief that the extra spending pledges keep piling up.
These include an increase in the minimum wage, extension of the Living Wage, a £175 million anti-poverty fund, an extra £9.5bn for the NHS across the UK, an £800m fund for “social justice”, uprating of child tax credits and child benefit and free school meals extended to 135,000 pupils worth £330 per child. Add to this cross-party commitments to housebuilding and extra police officers. The Conservatives, meanwhile, have pledged big cuts to Inheritance Tax. It’s not as if we can rely on a North Sea bonanza. The oil price has collapsed – and with it projections of tax revenue, whether for Westminster or Holyrood.
Little wonder the latest TV encounter between party leaders in Scotland saw heated exchanges on how these pledges would be met. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said she wants Scotland to take full control of taxation to grow the economy. To the unionist parties’ response that this would create a £7.6bn hole in finances, she says they are reviving “Project Fear” and any shortfall would be met in part by borrowing.
Isn’t this where we came in? The election campaign would be better served by greater transparency in how promised benefits are to be funded. The manifestos that will be flourished this week must provide robust answers to basic questions on how each and every pledge is to be financed.
Better still would be a candid admission across all parties that there is more to the responsibilities of government than letting rip with spending and borrowing. It only adds to the public disengagement with traditional politics. And its consequences – in terms of the financial legacy – we already well know to our cost.
Andy Murray’s service more than alright
It was a typical Scottish church wedding scene – with traditional Scottish weather – but there was nothing typical about the bridge and groom at Dunblane this weekend.
With tennis star Andy Murray and his longterm girl friend Kim Sears, this was Scotland’s wedding of the year, and the traditional backcloth made it all the more poignant and special.
No Hollywood razzamatazz, no mock medieval castles backdrops with Elton John, or showbiz freaks or celebrity wannabees.
Andy’s downbeat summation that his wedding was “alright” may not have been an ace serve to the world’s media, but it was certainly “alright” for the thousands of Dunblane locals who turned out for the wedding of their local boy who has put the town on the world map.
He has honoured Dunblane. Now here was an occasion for the town to honour him.
Weddings are both highly personal yet public affairs. They draw together families and friends for an occasion of solemn pledges and shared happiness.
Smiles radiated from every photograph.
The Wimbledon and US Open-winning player was greeted by a huge cheer from the gathered crowd as he entered the venue with his brother Jamie.
The 12th-century cathedral was the perfect setting.
And even if the all-too-predictable shower of hailstones sent the guests and the public scurrying for cover, it soon turned to bright April sunshine.
Oh, how the weather can be like a tennis tournament.
And the event overall? Great service… grand slam occasion… game set and match.
“Alright” barely got over the net.
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