Richard Leonard: Scottish Budget shows how far Holyrood has fallen

Writing for The Scotsman, Scottish Labour Richard Leonard, shares his views on the 2017 budget.

The Scottish Parliament was created as a vehicle for change – not cuts.

A Labour government built Holyrood and delivered the devolution settlement in the profound belief that public services are best run by those who use them.

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It was created so that Scotland could take different choices, build a brighter future and deliver real change.

Scottish Labour Leader Richard Leonard (Picture: John Devlin)

Today’s budget shows just how far the Scottish Parliament, under the SNP, has fallen from that pedestal.

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Where the SNP government should have chosen to invest, it has chosen to cut. What the SNP government should have protected, it has left endangered. The people the SNP government should have inspired, have instead been left frustrated and angry and worse off. Where Nicola Sturgeon should have shown courage, she revealed her timidity.

Scottish Labour Leader Richard Leonard (Picture: John Devlin)

The price of this – the failure to use the Scottish Parliament as a vehicle for real change – is paid by the people of Scotland.

It is paid in the billions cut from schools and libraries, in lost jobs and dashed dreams under the past ten years of SNP rule. The SNP’s cuts of today are borrowing from the hopes of tomorrow – and they will leave a hefty deficit.

Scotland has 3,500 fewer teachers since the SNP came to power. It has schools without books. It has thousands of local government workers made redundant. Since 2011 the SNP has sucked £1.5 billion from our lifeline services and yesterday the Scottish Government could have changed all of that.

But instead, when councils asked for £545 million so they could maintain current service levels, the SNP gave them a cut of £135m in their day to day budgets instead. That is an effective cut to councils and lifeline services of nearly £700m.

And while they trumpeted their so-called “progressive” new tax policies, they did not ask those with the most, those with the broadest shoulders, those with the wealth, to pay their fair share. Instead they retreated from the radical change required and as a result will raise just an extra £164m. Nowhere near enough to stop the cuts.

And all because the SNP refuses to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to their maximum for their primary purpose – to deliver real change.

What we have in Holyrood is a government that is not just too timid to act to end austerity, but in fact actually chooses to sharpen it and pass it on to the poorest in our society.

If we are truly serious about tackling austerity – about growing our economy and eradicating poverty – then this not the time for the reticent, management politics of the SNP. Scotland needs real change and a radical plan to deliver it.

That radical plan means investing in our public services. It means creating the good, secure work that people young and old across Scotland need and want.

It means making sure our public sector workers are paid properly. It means tackling the challenges and seizing the opportunities of automation, by providing our young people with the training and skills they need for the jobs of the future.

It means ensuring our elderly people do not have to choose between heating and eating and can enjoy dignity in retirement.

Here in Scotland, we have the powers and the vehicle to deliver that radical plan.

The SNP has refused, time and again, to take that chance. Todayday’s budget, despite it being dressed up as progressive, saw the SNP fail to take that opportunity once again.

And proved without doubt that it is only with Labour and our radical plan for change, that the Scottish Parliament can deliver for the many, not the few.