We are a parliamentary democracy. We do not elect our Government directly; Government emerges out of Parliament and is accountable to it—not the other way round. Effective and robust parliamentary scrutiny is the very lifeblood of our democracy, so any attempt to dilute that effectiveness and to undermine Parliament’s ability to do its job of holding the Government of the day to account for its policies, decisions and actions should be tested against the highest standards. If they are found to be wanting they should be resisted. The cabinet secretary’s proposal not to publish the draft budget until the middle of December manifestly fails that test.
The finance secretary first brought his proposal to the then Finance Committee in June. On that occasion his excuses for seeking the evisceration of effective parliamentary scrutiny included that this Parliament, in comparison with its predecessors, has increased spending powers, particularly on social security. However, as those responsibilities are to come in later years of this session, and not in the current budget cycle, it was obvious that the cabinet secretary was pulling a fast one or—if that is not parliamentary language, Presiding Officer—pulling the wool over the eyes of the then Finance Committee.
As the committee said in its letter of 21 September to Mr Mackay, we did not consider that the reasons as set out in June would have been sufficient to justify delaying the publication of the draft budget. It was only much later, and in some evident desperation, that the finance secretary turned to the SNP’s favourite excuse for inaction—Brexit—as the all-too-convenient hook on which to hang his shoogly plans. I do not believe a word of it. What I believe are the words of the Finance and Constitution Committee’s independent adviser, who said that the effects of the UK Government’s fiscal decisions on the Scottish Government’s budget are likely to be “minor”, “marginal” and “limited”.