What political parties are saying ahead of the budget

Finance Secreatry Derek Mackay
Finance Secreatry Derek Mackay
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Thanks to Chancellor Philip Hammond’s decision to make what was previously the Autumn statement his main financial speech, politicians and journalists in Scotland now get two set-piece Budget events within a month.

Derek Mackay will follow his Westminster counterpart Mr Hammond when he reveals his draft budget proposals for the next financial year at Holyrood on Thursday.

The Finance Secretary will present a range of options for spending, and more importantly, raising the money needed to pay for Scotland’s public services.

SNP proposals launched in advance of both budget statements make it almost inevitable that some form of tax rises will be announced.

After the speech, the negotiations with other parties will begin, with the minority government led by Nicola Sturgeon requiring some opposition support to pass the budget.

Here are the positions of the parties ahead of that horsetrading.

The Conservatives

Ruth Davidson’s party are the second largest in the Scottish Parliament, and have had their numbers bolstered at Westminster from just a single MP to 13.

Under the tenure of Ms Davidson’s predecessor, Annabel Goldie, the Conservatives were arguably the most willing to work with the last SNP minority government, then headed by Alex Salmond.

Now, with Ms Davidson having her eye on gaining the keys to Bute House, not just influencing its occupant, any budget deal like the ones struck between 2007-11 is highly implausible.

After their recent election successes, the Tories are unlikely to change their formula, and have made any tax rises a red line ahead of any budget negotiations.

READ MORE: What outside groups are saying ahead of the Scottish budget

Instead, they insist that the Scottish Government can raise revenue not through the changes proposed to the income tax bands, but by ‘cutting waste’.

The party’s finance spokesman Murdo Fraser has outlined several examples this week of what he terms Government waste, which we can expect to remain the key theme for the Conservatives throughout the budget process.

Labour

Labour’s position on the budget is much harder to determine, with new leader Richard Leonard still yet to assemble a shadow cabinet.

Their parliamentary tactics, at least, were easier to divine, as the party forced a vote in Holyrood in September which meant the parliament backed the principle of raising tax.

READ MORE: Lesley Riddoch on the budget

The SNP abstained on the motion, maintaining that in advance of the budget they would keep an open mind, as Labour urged them to choose a side on the issue of ‘progressive taxation’.

The party still seems wedded to their manifesto ahead of the election of 2016, in which they slipped to third.

That manifesto raised taxes on every basic rate payer who earned more than £20,000 a year, making any negotiations with the SNP potentially difficult, as Nicola Sturgeon’s party want to guarantee that no-one earning less than £31,000 will pay any more in tax under any of the four proposals for taxation they are considering.

The others

In keeping with their long standing campaign pledges to pay for specific policies, the Liberal Democrats in 2016 aimed to raise all income tax rates by a penny to pay for education.

At the UK-wide snap general election in June of this year, Tim Farron had finessed Willie Rennie’s pledge to increase income tax to fund the NHS.

Like the Labour proposals, that could mean a deal is hard to get, but not impossible if, for example one of the Scottish Lib Dems’ main policy specialities gets a funding boost – mental health, for example.

The Greens, for their part, are likely to push for the top rate of tax to rise, as they continue to outflank their fellow independence supporters in the SNP to the left.

While they remain the most likely partners in backing the budget, as they did last year, Patrick Harvie’s party can push a hard bargain knowing that the SNP’s options are limited, and Nicola Sturgeon is keen to avoid a budget collapse that could trigger an election.

No matter how the parties line up, it is clear all will have a part to play after Derek Mackay presents his budget to a parliament that remains divided on so many key issues.