Much has been written about the Scottish Government’s draft budget and I’m sure there will be many more column inches filled in the following weeks until it is finalised.
However, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the SNP Scottish Government’s decision to raise income taxes, one thing is indisputable: they have the powers at their disposal to do so. This may seem a fairly obvious point to make, but the SNP have always claimed they didn’t have the powers to make a difference in Scotland or they couldn’t make different decisions to the Tories at Westminster.
Now that they have used these extensive powers they will have to take the responsibility and accountability that goes with making decisions.
Laws like the Scotland Act of 2016 may mean little to Scots but they do all add up to making the Scottish Parliament one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world. The SNP can claim this is not the case as much as they want, but when they use the devolved powers of the Scottish Parliament, they prove themselves wrong.
They have made a political living from complaining bitterly about the powers they don’t have while not using the powers they do have. This was no more stark than when SNP MSPs in the Scottish Parliament voted down a Scottish Labour motion to lift the pay cap for our hard-working public sector workers. I was astonished when SNP MPs then backed a Labour motion at Westminster to lift the public sector pay cap in England.
So now that the SNP have actually used the powers they claimed they didn’t have to raise income taxes on Scots, will they start to use the other powers they claim they don’t have? What other powers you may ask?
Well, the Scotland Act, which brought in these income tax powers, also devolved the ability for the Scottish Parliament to effectively design and implement its own Social Security provisions.
The Scottish Government, should it wish to – and this is the key point – can top up any social security benefit that is still reserved to Westminster and can introduce new benefits in social security areas that are devolved.
Guess what? That means they can resolve the inequality in women’s pensions should they wish to do so. Alas, they claim they have no powers to help the “WASPI” women (Women Against State Pension Inequality) as pensions are still specifically reserved. However, they could introduce a new benefit for these women that would provide the compensation to them that they are campaigning for – although they have delayed taking these powers until 2021 because of lack of capacity to implement them. So, apart from the message of this Scottish Government budget being another huge slashing of local government resources and the retention of public sector pay restraint for most, the other key message is that the Scottish Government is starting to use the extensive powers that we all campaigned for after the independence referendum.
That means the blaming of others for the failings of the SNP government can stop and they can face the accountability of the electorate for the choices they make. I’m sure we will still hear the SNP cries of “we cannae”, “it wisnae me” or “it’s all Westminster’s fault” but the public will no longer be fooled that powers do not exist for Scotland to take a different approach.
Could we now say that the politics of grievance is dead? I doubt it, but it is certainly diminished.