A Tory budget

AFTER all the rhetoric from the SNP on their desire to create a fairer Scotland and independence being a chance to rid us from Tory governments for ever, Finance Secretary John Swinney’s budget was always going to be a test. He failed.

Instead of taking Scotland down a different path, the SNP now has virtually the same tax policy as the Tories. The easy thing for the SNP to do would have been to end the council tax freeze, as it is an inequitable policy which has made the rich richer. Mr Swinney failed to meet that challenge.

Raising income tax was always going to be difficult as the new powers he has on this are crude when compared to what will come when the Scotland Bill is enacted. However, government is about leadership and Mr Swinney should have at least had Scotland consider the benefit of increasing income tax and channelling the money directly to where it is needed most if we are to tackle inequality at source: education. Again, he failed to meet this challenge.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Anyone who wants to create a fairer Scotland will quickly conclude Mr Swinney’s budget has done nothing to cut inequality. The SNP appears to specialise in T-shirts and bumper stickers on tackling inequality, it’s a real shame its policies don’t match.

Where is the Scottish alternative to austerity we were promised?

(Dr) Scott Arthur

Buckstone Gardens, Edinburgh

Mr Swinney talks of the need to “work in partnership” with local authorities in order to manage the coming year’s financial settlement. Some “partnership” this where a large proportion of the budget cuts are simply passed on to our councils, enabling the central SNP government to look good ahead of May’s elections, and leaving local authorities, and the critical local services they provide, to suffer.

The cynical calculation that he has made is that in order to protect the SNP’s popularity ahead of coming elections, he will give no hint of future income tax increases, and instead leave our councils to suffer the pain arising from the reduced funding available to Scotland.

Keith Howell

West Linton, Peeblesshire 

You ask (leader comment, December 17) on Mr Swinney’s budget: “Who wants to pay more taxes?”. Nobody wants to, but we need to. An increase of 1p on income tax would generate £580 million – significantly more than the £350m Mr Swinney has cut from the budget of local authorities. So why did he not increase income tax? Because, he claims, it would not be “progressive”. It would impact disproportionately on lower earners. While this is technically correct the differential would be minuscule. 

Assuming that higher earners could cope what would be the impact in simple monetary values of a 1p increase on lower earners? Someone earning the average wage of £27,000 would pay about £3 more a week while those earning less would pay smaller sums reducing to zero at the threshold point of £10,600. Would this be a sacrifice people would be willing to make in order to avoid what local government umbrella group Cosla calls a “catastrophic” budget for jobs and services? 

It seems all we have got from the SNP is austerity with a Scottish face.

Colin Hamilton

Braid Hills Avenue, Edinburgh

You have to admire one thing about the SNP government. It’s consistent. Nicola Sturgeon constantly talks anti-austerity radicalism yet walks a neo-liberal Blairite agenda.

We all know the SNP retuned its rhetoric in the period running up to the referendum, successfully attracting diehard Labour voters to its separatist cause by professing a radical Scottish alternative.

Yet by consistently delivering broadly conservative policy, the Nationalists manage skilfully to retain middle class voters. And John Swinney budget’s exemplifies the SNP’s unswervingly centrist strategy, par excellence.

The SNP shows its real concerns are with populist universal rather than targeted benefits. Entitlements such as free school meals for younger primary school pupils and free prescriptions for all remain.  Untouched are free university education and free bus travel for pensioners. The council tax is frozen yet again. All this disproportionately benefits the middle classes. Plus no vote-losing change to income tax.

Despite SNP claims, Mr Swinney’s budget shows scant interest in offering much needed focused support to the less well-off in our society.   

Like every politician, the First Minister is obsessed with power and naturally wants to win next May. She clearly regards universal benefits not anti-austerity policies as the easiest route to election success.

But let us never forget, what obsesses Ms Sturgeon even more is independence. A healthy win May is imperative to keep her second referendum dream alive.

Martin Redfern

Royal Circus, Edinburgh

Closing chapter

Communities in Fife will welcome the comments of writers Ian Rankin and Val McDermid on the local authority’s decision to approve the closure of sixteen libraries(your report,17 December).

It has been a disgraceful episode in the 20-year-old history of Fife Council and the arm’s length body which drew up the plans, Fife Cultural Trust. Neither body seems to have listened to anything put forward during what now appears to be a bogus consultation exercise. 

The scale of these closures – from Crail to Kinghorn, from Abbeyview in Dunfermline to Glenrothes – will surprise many who may have thought the council was interested in tackling deprivation, promoting rural development, enhancing literacy levels, and providing each community with a viable focal point.

The supposedly cash-strapped authority compounded the anger with a decision earlier this year to buy a building in the north of ­Kirkcaldy for a hefty six figure sum to ensure the viability of pay-TV specialist Paywizard.

The first people to occupy this building were the officials of Fife Cultural Trust, previously located in different places throughout the region.

This reinforced the view that the luxury of officials had priority over the needs of communities. When people are being told the trust cannot afford £7,000-£8,000 a year to keep a library open, it comes as a slap in the face to see waste on this scale.

What has been evident in these last months has been the narrow view among officials and councillors at what a local library is for.

A council that bleats continually about the need for involvement and participation was found seriously wanting when it faced a real challenge like this one. But it is not too late to heed the warnings of two of Fife’s famous writers and reverse these plans before more damage is done to its reputation.

Bob Taylor

Shiel Court, Glenrothes

Darling job

Former Labour Party Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling is to join the board of directors of Morgan Stanley, following closely on the heels of ex-prime minister Gordon Brown, who is to act as an adviser to the global investment firm Pimco. The American multinational bank Morgan Stanley, which operates in 42 countries, is known for rewarding its board members handsomely. Last year, the 11 non-employees on the board of directors were paid between $85,000 and $115,000 as well as another $250,000 in stocks. Mr Darling will be profiting at the same time that many of Morgan Stanley’s workers are being laid off, with an additional 1,200 job cuts recently announced.

Mr Brown will join a team of five “well known experts in economic and political issues” at Pimco, including former US Federal Reserve Bank chairman Ben Bernanke and Jean-Claude Trichet, ex-president of the European Central Bank.

In joining the world of high finance, Messrs Darling and Brown are emulating Tony Blair, now estimated to be worth more than £125 million.

The seamless journey of New Labour’s senior figures into the corridors of the financial elite underscores its character as a party of big business.

The appointments of Darling and Brown could be construed as payment for services rendered, and a recognition by the financial elite that they can rely on representatives in the Labour Party to protect the financial system.

Alan Hinnrichs

Gillespie Terrace, Dundee

Real switch-off

There has been some local publicity recently over payments made to Strathy North wind farm, which has been operational now for just over one month and in that time has been paid nearly £600,000 to switch off because the electricity it would otherwise have generated has nowhere to go.

This wind farm is near the far north coast of Sutherland and may well soon be accompanied by the slightly larger Strathy South wind farm, which was the subject of a Public Inquiry and not yet decided. Two other large wind farms are also proposed near the north coast. But if Strathy North is not needed what justification can there be for adding more and how much will they be paid not to generate?

To date, UK wind farms have been paid more than £182 million to switch off. Yet the region consuming the highest amount of electricity must be the south-east of England so why is so much being generated in Scotland? Even when all the transmission lines scarring this once beautiful country are built, the electricity cannot be used where it is most needed. Where wind farms are located near a city it seems much of the electricity they could generate is still not required; the two Whitelee wind farms are close to Glasgow but have been paid over £41.5m to date to switch off.

Can no-one in the ruling party see how crazy, destructive and wasteful their present energy policy is?

Brenda Herrick

Castletown, Thurso

Stock answer

I was disappointed but not surprised by the comments of the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, Bertie Armstrong on new quotas (your report, 17 December). Apparently the improvement in stocks is all down to the industry!

Recent memories of massive fraud in illegal landings calls into question any belief in self-regulation. As for the thought that the discards ban needs to “take account of the reality on the grounds”. I trust this is not shorthand for should be ignored. Mentions of “flexibility” and “greater understanding” are not very reassuring.

LV McEwan

Kirkhill Road, Edinburgh