The Prime Minister promised to end austerity. The Chancellor said it is “coming to an end.” The Budget proved simply to be yet another rebranding exercise. The Tories are good at making promises, but they are bad at keeping them. The Resolution Foundation pointed out that, to end all spending cuts through all Departments by 2022-23, the Chancellor would need to spend £31 billion. Ten years after the financial crash, nothing has changed. The Chancellor continues to balance the books on the backs of the poorest in society. And that is before we even consider the impact of Brexit, which, incidentally, merited only a passing mention in the Chancellor’s speech.
Household budgets face tougher times as Brexit goes from holding the economy in its teeth to biting down and spitting out those who can afford it the least. That is not an outcome that we want to see for people in any of the UK’s nations, but Scotland actively voted to avoid it. That is why we in the Scottish National party believe that the power over the future of the people of Scotland should be in their hands, not in the hands of a Government who are wilfully ignoring the wishes of the Parliament in Scotland.
The way in which the Government are playing their hand is making the case for independence for Scotland for us, but let us see whether they can at least do a few small things to make life a bit more bearable. We welcome the freeze on whisky duty, a perennial call from those on the SNP Benches, but the Government must now commit to ruling out the use of geographical indicators as a bargaining chip with the EU. Scotch whisky must remain fully recognised everywhere.
With the costs of the movement of goods and people facing increases owing to Brexit, the UK Government must work with the Scottish Government to fix the issues over the highlands and islands exemption and allow the transfer of air passenger discount to Scotland in a workable format. Incidentally, the Chancellor’s Budget contained a veiled threat to allow for a dangerous increase in that tax, which would further hit Scottish travellers. The UK Government must also ensure that EU funding will continue until the end of the current multiannual financial framework and that Scotland must not be worse off in any respect of those funding allocations. Crucially, they must respect devolution.
Freezing fuel duty is also to be welcomed, but what is not welcome is the freezing endured, especially by those on low incomes in the highlands and islands, who still get a red raw deal through higher electricity unit charges and unregulated off-grid gas and heating oil. When will they get fairness? When will they see the change that they deserve and need?
Despite attempts to rebrand the message—the Chancellor now calls austerity “financial discipline”—after a decade, Tory austerity is far from over. Instead it continues to be more dogma and neglect. In contrast, the Scottish Government are using their limited powers to build an economy of the future with measures to unlock innovation and drive increased productivity, and they would do even more if they had the power to do so.
Scotland’s 2019-20 resource block grant is down nearly 7%, £2 billion in real terms, compared with the 2010-11 figure. That is even after the additional funding announced. Even the £602 million headline increase fails to mention the £53 million of existing budget.