Stand-off at Holyrood now threatens to derail budget

Derek Mackay will continue talks with the other parties. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Derek Mackay will continue talks with the other parties. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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Holyrood is facing the growing prospect of a budget breakdown after opposition parties warned they will vote down finance secretary Derek Mackay’s spending plans.

But Nicola Sturgeon’s spokesman warned that any move to reject the budget will be met with the wrath of voters at a time of “maximum” Brexit uncertainty.

Discussions will continue today between Mr Mackay and the Tories, Labour, Greens and Liberal Democrats in an effort to resolve the impasse ahead of tomorrow’s crunch vote. Business leaders yesterday warned a budget stalemate could hit the economy.

The SNP’s regular budget partners – the pro-independence Greens – are standing firm in their demand for more cash for councils in the 2019-20 spending plans and reform of the council tax.

It comes after senior Nationalist MSPs Bruce Crawford and Gillian Martin warned that voting down the budget could mean a general election.

But Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “This is a vote on the budget, not a vote of confidence. There are both supporters and opponents of the SNP who seem to think it’s about bringing down the government. It’s not.”

He urged Mr Mackay to “give ground” in order to secure a deal.

If the budget falls, as it did in 2009, ministers can reintroduce it and try again to reach agreement with the opposition. The vote on Thursday is only stage one of the process.

A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said yesterday: “It’s imperative that we do see progress on the budget because this [rejecting the budget] would be – at a time of the maximum amount of Brexit uncertainty – unconscionable.”

He added: “We’re intent on passing the budget and I think people across Scotland will be astonished if they see opposition parties playing political games and jeopardising frontline funding for schools and hospitals and everything else.”

Labour’s James Kelly said the budget was “not fit for purpose” over measures on tax and council cuts.

“We need to send Derek Mackay back to the drawing board and that means every party voting against the proposals on Thursday,” he said.

The annual £30 billion budget includes an additional £730 million investment in health services north of the Border and £180m aimed at boosting attainment in schools.

Tax changes will increase differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

From April, taxpayers south of the Border will only pay income tax at the 40p rate if they earn more than £50,000 a year.

In Scotland it is proposed people will pay the higher rate of 41p on earnings above £43,430.