In her introduction the First Minister recognises the hard work of those frontline workers in the NHS and those delivering vital services like supermarket workers, third sector and council workers, police and community organisations.
All the people who put themselves on the frontline. Who put themselves and their families at risk to make sure that society didn’t collapse, that our most vulnerable citizens had the support they needed, throughout one of the most difficult periods we’ll ever live through.
And yet those same frontline workers now face a tax hike from the UK government that will disproportionately be paid for by people on the lowest incomes. Wages up to £50k will be taxed at 13.25 per cent. But for income over £50k the rate is 3.25 per cent. So the wealthy will hardly notice. It’s scandalously unfair that families who are already struggling are now being asked to shoulder the cost of the pandemic.
You won’t often find me quoting Boris Johnson but he’s right when he says that nobody had a global pandemic in their manifestos. But now it is the responsibility of governments to respond.
And the responses couldn’t be more different.
While the UK government is punishing people on the lowest incomes, the Scottish government is responding with compassion and care. Putting policies that protect and support the most vulnerable front and centre. Recognising the devastating impact of climate change, and that this is our moment to invest in lasting change that reshapes our economy – investing in skills to support good quality, green jobs.
Crucially, there’s significant funding for councils to make sure access to those jobs is possible for everybody. There’s investment of a £60m in a youth guarantee fund, and £25 million for national transition training – for people who’ve lost their jobs, or whose jobs are at risk.
The UK government’s response is to slash support for people who’ve become unemployed. The cut to Universal credit of £20 a week is the single biggest cut to social security since the foundation of the welfare state. That’s the Tory idea of ‘building back better’. Taking £1000 a year away from households on the lowest incomes.
In Edinburgh one of our greatest challenges is housing, and so the Scottish government’s commitment of £3.5bn to build 110,000 affordable, sustainable homes could not be more welcome. We’ll be making the case for many of those homes to be built in Edinburgh.
Alongside this there is a £50m commitment for homelessness. And a strategy for the private rented sector including rent controls. In Edinburgh 20 per cent of people who become homeless come from the private rented sector. High private rents push people into poverty while housing has become unaffordable for many. This policy will transform lives.
While the Scottish government enshrines the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and reiterates a commitment to tackle child poverty, including through the new Scottish Child Payment, the UK government approves a “turn-around” tactic for sending back migrant boats. Risking the lives of vulnerable asylum seekers, including children. Horrifying, cruel and a ‘blatant breach of human rights laws’ according to the French MP for Calais.
It’s clear that there is an irreconcilable divergence between the policies of the UK and Scottish governments. One is seeking to nurture a recovery for all, and the other happy to build that recovery on the backs of the people who have already sacrificed the most. It’s no wonder that the latest poll again puts independence ahead. The only future for a fairer, greener Scotland is also an independent one.
Kate Campbell is SNP councillor for Portobello/Craigmillar