Nicola Sturgeon: Scottish Budget an example of '˜strong and stable government'
The First Minister spoke out in favour of the “strong and progressive” package of measures put forward by her Finance Secretary Derek Mackay.
He insisted his Budget proposals for 2019-20 sought to “protect what matters most”, with increases in spending for health services and education.
However, the lack of an SNP majority in the Scottish Parliament means Mr Mackay will need to find at least one other party to back his tax and spending plans - and all four of them asked questions of the Finance Secretary.
The Tories accused Scottish ministers of bringing forward a “pay more, get less Budget”, claiming some Scots will pay more in taxes while receiving fewer public services in return.
Conservative finance spokesman Murdo Fraser said anyone earning more than £26,000 would pay more tax than their counterparts south of the border.
“That’s the price of living in the SNP’s Scotland,” he said.
While UK Chancellor Philip Hammond is to increase the threshold for the higher rate of income tax - which is 41p in Scotland but 40p in the rest of the UK - to £50,000 from April next year, Mr Mackay said the threshold for this would remain frozen at £43,430 for workers north of the border.
He said his Budget decisions would allow the government to “invest in essential public services, particularly the NHS, while ensuring 55% of income taxpayers in Scotland pay less tax than those earning the same income in the rest of the UK”.
Ms Sturgeon tweeted that it was “a strong and progressive @scotgov budget in difficult circumstances from @DerekMackaySNP - protecting public services, supporting the economy and delivering fair tax”.
She added: “What a contrast to the Westminster shambles. This is what strong and stable government really looks like!”
The Scottish Budget was unveiled less than four months before the UK is due to leave the European Union - with Mr Mackay stating he “may be required to revisit the priorities” if Britain is forced to quit the European Union without a deal.
“The Scottish Government cannot completely protect Scotland from the recklessness of the UK Government,” the Finance Secretary said.
“But the decisions we have taken in this Budget ensure that we protect what matters most.”
His Budget package includes almost £730 million more for health services in 2019-20, along with £180 million of investment aimed at improving attainment in Scotland’s schools.
This includes £120 million of funding which goes direct to head teachers to spend as part of the “transformational” Pupil Equity Fund, Mr Mackay said.
In addition there will be £5 billion of capital investment next year - including £1.7 billion for transport infrastructure and a new £50 million Town Centre Fund to support struggling high streets.
But Mr Fraser said: “While people are paying more in taxes, they will face poorer local services.”
He accused SNP ministers of “penalising hard-working families” and said the growing gap in income tax rates north and south of the border would “make it harder to recruit talented people” to work in Scotland.
The Tory insisted: “None of this was necessary - there was absolutely no need for more SNP tax rises.
“UK Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered an additional £950 million in Barnett consequentials in his last budget.
“The SNP government should have used that instead of further raiding the pockets of Scotland’s workers.”
Labour’s James Kelly claimed Scotland was being “let down by Nicola Sturgeon’s timid government and Derek Mackay’s timid Budget”.
He argued: “Public services are at breaking point, head teachers are writing to parents about unprecedented cuts, one in four children in Scotland are living in poverty and our rail system is in crisis.”
Mr Kelly went on: “Derek Mackay has kept a slush fund of over £300 million in reserves while children are going hungry and services face cuts.”
Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie - whose party’s six MSPs have backed the last two Scottish budgets - said there was no mention of their key demand of local tax reform.
Rising demand for local services means councils “urgently need the power to raise the funds themselves”, Mr Harvie stated, adding: “Why was there no mention in this Budget of the need for reform of local taxation?”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “This Budget fails to address the challenges which are holding Scotland back.”