Setting a budget is this Parliament’s most important responsibility. The budget determines how much money is available to spend on the national health service—the most precious institution in this country. The budget allocates funding for nurseries, schools, colleges and universities—the institutions that will give our young people the skills that they need to compete for the jobs of the future and, indeed, to grow our economy. The budget decides how much money our councils receive, which has major consequences for the funding of vital local services such as social care.
In an age of austerity, a Government’s budget requires more scrutiny than ever before, not less, yet less scrutiny is exactly what the SNP is attempting to deliver. Derek Mackay’s decision not to publish the draft budget until December will severely limit the ability of the Parliament’s committees to scrutinise the budget properly.
In addition, by refusing to provide as much information as possible in advance of the publication of the draft budget later this year, Derek Mackay is treating the Parliament with contempt, particularly as he is going back on a promise that he previously made to the Parliament. The late publication of the chancellor’s autumn statement has consequences for the Scottish budget—of course it does—but that is not sufficient justification for Derek Mackay’s refusal to publish indicative figures and budget scenario planning information. In response to an intervention, the cabinet secretary suggested that we were looking for absolute figures. Of course we recognise that that is unreasonable. We are asking for indicative figures and the ability to look at different scenarios—that is all that we are calling for today.
As the Finance Committee confirmed, the consequentials from last year’s autumn statement impacted just 0.5 per cent of the Scottish block grant. Given the cuts that we face, that is not an insignificant amount of money, but it cannot be used as an excuse to avoid scrutiny of the Government’s spending decisions.
We are only having this debate because the committee’s convener—a member of the governing party—rightly would not accept the finance secretary’s attempt to avoid parliamentary scrutiny as much as possible. To quote Bruce Crawford, it is “unacceptable” that the finance secretary is
“not prepared to publish any such scenario planning information in advance of ... the draft budget.”
I am pleased to support Patrick Harvie’s motion, which urges the Government to come forward with budget scenario planning before the October recess. I have yet to hear anything from the cabinet secretary in response to Patrick Harvie’s intervention as to whether that clarity will be provided. At the last count, the motion had received the support of the majority of MSPs across the chamber.
I say to the cabinet secretary that there is an irony about the two debates that we are having this afternoon. We support the Government’s efforts when it comes to debating the impact of Brexit on Scotland’s economy—we have lent the First Minister our support on that. Each time that we have a vote in the chamber on an issue such as the impact on higher education, the First Minister takes that message out of the Parliament and presents it to other European countries as the will of the Parliament. How can the First Minister rely on the will of the Parliament when she is beyond it but not listen to the will of the Parliament while we are in it? I ask Mr Mackay to reflect on the seriousness of the motion that Patrick Harvie has lodged.
The Parliament must hold the Government to account for the budget that it seeks to pass, and the Labour Party will certainly do that. I have three specific questions for the finance secretary. Will he commit to producing a three-year spending review so that public services and all organisations that are dependent on Government funding can plan ahead? Will he guarantee that next year’s draft budget will revert to being published in September, as in previous years? Will he support Labour’s calls for the Scottish Fiscal Commission to independently scrutinise all Scottish Government accounts, including spending commitments?
The Labour Party will not vote for any budget that meekly passes on cuts or even doubles them, as has been the case with local government. The First Minister promised voters that she would be an anti-austerity champion; instead, she has become an administrator for that austerity. Therefore, when the Scottish Government presents the budget to Parliament, Labour will lodge amendments to introduce a 50p tax on those who earn more than £150,000 to invest in our schools and nurseries, and we will seek to add a penny on income tax to pay for public services. That is making decisions for Scotland that the Tories would never make and using the powers in this place that we have argued for. That, together with our other tax proposals, will enable us to stop further cuts to the public services that we all rely on.
Given the full range of powers that the Scottish Parliament now has, the Scottish National Party faces a clear choice: accept a Tory budget from Westminster or go our own way with proposals to grow the Scottish economy and protect our schools and hospitals. More and more cuts to Scotland’s budget harm our country’s growth and risk jobs and prospects for our young people. We need to invest to provide the next generation of Scots with the chances that they need to succeed. If the SNP minority Government does not accept those proposals and forces another austerity budget on Holyrood, we the Labour Party will vote against it. If the SNP wants support, it will need to look to the Tories for that. Labour will not and cannot help the SNP to pass an austerity budget.