The Scottish Government budget that takes Scotland (further) down the road to financial ruin - Brian Monteith

If you think times are tough then, to borrow from Bachman Turner Overdrive, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes delivers the Scottish Budget to the Scottish Parliament
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes delivers the Scottish Budget to the Scottish Parliament

Yes, Covid-19 has wrought personal catastrophe across communities irrespective of class or creed; and our government’s response to it has piled, needlessly I would argue, even greater unnecessary pain and economic destruction on top of it that will take a generation to fully recognise.

But we need to accept it can still get worse. I can say this without fear of contradiction because we have just had a Scottish Government budget that takes Scotland (further) down the road to financial ruin – with the populace paying the price. I can’t say if the Financial Secretary is malevolent towards us, she is a practicing Christian after all and should at least in these modern times be advocating peace and goodwill to all genders. Yet I look at where we are heading and am left asking if she has been taken over by spirits that would damn us all to poverty and squalor.

Does she or her colleagues need an economic exorcism, delivered by the high priest and treasurer of the United Kingdom, the economically ecumenical Rishi Sunak? Time and again Scotland is bailed out yet the policy mistakes of raising taxes that reduce revenues is repeated.

Before I go down a painful rabbit hole of mixed metaphors let me explain our problem. Scotland – alone in the UK – is gripped in a constitutional death spiral (sorry). We had a referendum to clear-up where we stood within the United Kingdom and we decided to stay. Not just by the mere 3.78 per cent margin of the Brexit referendum but just short of a full 11 per cent. And that when the advocates of change had selected the wording of the question, nominated the date, dictated the length of the campaign, the age and residential qualifications of who could vote – and swore to respect and abide by the result.

But they did not; they collectively keep fighting even though the country loses a limb every time Sturgeon, Swinney or Forbes sallies forth.

What this means is that, like practically all other policy decisions of the Holyrood Government, choices are made about what will nominally advance the cause of independence rather than establishing economic circumstances that would make that aspiration possible (ending the deficit). Yet again the idea is to keep “independence” fixed on the horizon and therefore unattainable while they stay in power.

So we can have an increased welfare payment for the poorest Scottish children (essentially funded by poor English taxpayers) but nothing done to reduce the burgeoning deficit that would make independence the financial equivalent of walking naked into a furnace. Scots of all means would be toast.

Forget cries of “Tory austerity”; such hackneyed claims are nothing other than an empty cliché. The Conservatives have passed on to Scotland the biggest Holyrood budget ever and yet rather than restore public services Forbes is actually cutting Local Authority budgets in real terms having already cut it by £937 million over the last seven years, thus challenging them to increase Council Tax to make up the difference. But wait, even before this round of cuts many libraries have been closed and the most basic of Council services have been cut beyond the bone and into the marrow. This is all about priorities, but faced with such choices Forbes chooses not you, dear reader, but her political class.

Rather than give priority to schooling so the young might learn better than their parents did; rather than keep our libraries open so knowledge can be accessible for all; rather than provide ambulances so the sick can be saved – Forbes chooses embassies. The budget for Constitution, external Affairs and Culture budget is rising to an astonishing £350m to be splashed around on projects, junkets and swanky get-togethers that further the aspiration of independence (while abandoning the SNP’s pledge to free school meals).

It means offices abroad for the SNP’s political class to fly out to and have cocktail receptions with the political class of other countries, with the First Minister in attendance acquiring more selfies to Tweet and curate for a solo show at Goma and Moma. Such a turn of events should make Scots looking for a good education for their children, a library to find the truth and an ambulance to take a parent to hospital sick to the stomach.

In a timely intervention the Scottish Government’s own Independent Fiscal Commission has revealed over £500m of extra taxation the SNP has raised from Scots has not added to the wealth of the nation because the economy that Forbes & Co. has built actually reduced tax revenues. Incomes have risen more slowly in Scotland and the tax base has shrunk. Scottish politicians can feel good about themselves thinking they have soaked the Scottish rich but as this column has repeatedly warned it has simply meant less money to spend on helping people.

As a result of SNP policies its own commission has warned of a £750 million shortfall on increased social security spending by 2024/25 at the same time as a fall in tax revenues of £190m next year rising to £417m by 2026/27. The commission points out this problem is “a wider Scottish problem” – in other words made in Scotland by the SNP.

Such tough times were always assured by choosing independence, now Forbes wants to acclimatise us by delivering it early – no doubt blaming the UK for the discomfort she is about to visit upon us.

Forbes has declared war on the Scottish people. Sometimes things have to get worse before getting better, for Scots that means experiencing unadulterated SNP austerity, independence or not.

Brian Monteith is editor of ThinkScotland.org and a former member of the Scottish and European Parliaments.