Budget (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

– in the Scottish Parliament on 23 February 2017.

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Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

The first item of business this afternoon is a debate on motion S5M-04168, in the name of Derek Mackay, on the Budget (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

I am delighted to lead this debate on the budget bill for 2017-18.

First, I confirm that I responded formally to the Finance and Constitution Committee report on the budget on Tuesday. I commend the Finance and Constitution Committee and all the subject committees for their constructive approach. Our process, in future, will continue to adapt to our new powers, and I look forward to seeing the output of the budget review group, and to working together with all members of Parliament to ensure that our future processes are fit for our new powers and responsibilities.

The Budget (Scotland) Bill is of huge importance to Scotland. The decisions that we make today underpin the work of our vital public services, our commitment to sustainable economic growth and the support that we provide to communities and individuals across the country. The bill before us seeks Parliament’s approval for an additional £900 million of expenditure that is focused on the positive vision for Scotland that was established in our programme for government. That vision is focused on stabilising and growing our economy, empowering our communities, protecting the environment and promoting equality and improving our public services.

The budget that we will vote on today includes areas of compromise where, as a minority Government, we have worked hard to secure support for the bill in order to deliver on our commitments and protect Scotland’s hard-won social contract. I thank once again those who engaged constructively in those discussions. As a result of that, I believe that the bill offers a balanced approach that is right for our economy, for jobs and for our public services, as well as providing stability and continuity for the public and taxpayers at a time of economic uncertainty.

As we debated on Tuesday, the Scotland Act 2016 powers mean that there is a much more direct link between Scotland’s economic performance and the revenues that are available to fund public spending. The decisions that we make must have economic growth at their heart. In the draft budget, I confirmed our £500 million Scottish growth scheme, funding for city deals and interventions such as funding for the new innovation and investment hubs in Dublin, London, Brussels and Berlin. Our support was also confirmed for the Aberdeen, Glasgow and Highland deals, which will total more than £760 million in the years to come, and we are continuing discussions on the Lothian growth deal, the Tay cities deal and the Ayrshire growth deal.

We are using all the economic levers that are at our disposal and I am pleased to confirm further progress today. I have this week confirmed the Scottish Government’s formal approval of Fife Council’s tax incremental financing scheme, which will enhance the Fife energy park and is projected to unlock more than £11 million for the Scottish economy and create more than 220 construction jobs. As well as taking forward the Fife scheme, I look forward to receiving applications next week for the two fresh TIF opportunities that are announced in the budget.

Overall, in 2017-18, we will see investment of around £4 billion in key infrastructure projects up and down the country, including projects across our roads and transport programmes, such as the improvements to the M8, M73 and M74; the Queensferry crossing, which will complete this year; the A9; the Aberdeen western peripheral route; and, of course, the Edinburgh to Glasgow rail improvement programme.

We will invest to deliver ambitious targets on affordable housing and in the key area of digital infrastructure, including our commitment to reach 100 per cent broadband coverage.

There are actions to address the climate change challenge, including actions to improve energy efficiency, reduce bills, create jobs and reduce emissions.

To assist the work of our enterprise agencies, our draft budget provided an increase in resources for Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and at stage 1 of the budget process, I confirmed that there would be an additional £35 million for Scottish Enterprise to support loans and equity investments.

A fair and competitive business rates regime is, of course, crucial to our economy. The draft budget took a range of early measures ahead of the revaluation, including cutting the tax rate and extending the small business bonus to deliver our commitment to ensure that more than 100,000 businesses pay no rates at all.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Will the minister consider reopening the closing date for submissions to the Barclay review of business rates so that, as a result of what has happened recently and the Government’s recent initiatives, businesses can have more input to that review before there is a report to the Government?

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

I am staggered. I have never heard Mike Rumbles make such a contribution—a constructive suggestion—in the chamber before. In that spirit, it is absolutely right that I engage with Ken Barclay and others to consider further how we will look at the issues that require to be addressed as a consequence of what has happened. I am certainly open-minded about doing that. I do not think that I have ever seen Mike Rumbles smile at me in the chamber before, either.

The additional measures that I have taken, which the business community has warmly welcomed, will help a further 9,500 business premises, and our £660 million of investment in rates relief will ensure that seven out of 10 premises in Scotland will pay no, the same, or less rates from 1 April.

The Tories and Labour have failed to support any local rates relief schemes so far. They should deliver on their rhetoric and back the Government schemes so that we can provide relief across the country.

Photo of Ross Thomson Ross Thomson Conservative

I refer to my register of interests. I am an Aberdeen City Council councillor.

If the Scottish National Party had been paying attention, it would know that Aberdeen City Council has set aside £3 million for business rates relief. Given that that council had less than 24 hours’ notice to digest Derek Mackay’s statement, it is looking for more detail on the implications of that for the city, and it wants a local scheme that will help businesses and other sectors that his proposal does not help. Will Derek Mackay be true to his word in saying that the situation in the north-east is exceptional and that he wants a local solution, and will he match the funds that the council has already put aside for local relief?

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

What hypocrisy from Ross Thomson and the Conservatives. In Aberdeenshire Council, which is led by the SNP, the Conservatives opposed the local rates relief package. In Aberdeen, I cut across party politics to try to engage constructively and proactively with Aberdeen City Council and the local chamber of commerce and to listen, engage and deliver. That is exactly what the Government has done.

Is it not interesting that, when I acted with all the early measures and then in response to businesses responding to the independent revaluation, the Tories described those as 11th hour actions? The best that they can produce with the same information is consideration of a report at some point in the future. I will continue to engage with the local authority, but they need to ditch the rhetoric and start to come up with solutions to support businesses in the way that the Government has done.

There are immediate interventions to support our economy and lay the foundations for future growth. That is why we should invest in our people as well as in infrastructure.

As members are well aware, education is the Government’s number 1 priority. That is why there is such a comprehensive package of investment. The bill will deliver £1.6 billion of investment in higher and further education, and will maintain at least 116,000 college places. It will maintain the £50 million attainment Scotland fund, which is targeted, and it will, of course, deliver an extra £120 million directly to our schools to address attainment, particularly in our most disadvantaged areas. That is welcomed by schools across the land.

We are embarking on the expansion of childcare to the tune of £60 million of investment in the first phase of work to expand the provision of early learning and childcare to 1,140 hours by the end of this session of Parliament.

This package of measures places equality of opportunity right at the heart of this Government’s approach to Scotland’s economy.

I have proposed a strong settlement for local government in the draft budget. It includes an additional £120 million for educational attainment, £107 million additional investment in health and social care integration, increased capital resources, increased access to city deals funding and increased revenues from the council tax changes that were approved by Parliament.

By working constructively with the Greens to reach agreement, we have allocated an additional £160 million to be spent by local government at its discretion. The council tax freeze provided much-needed relief for household budgets through difficult times. Council tax is, on average, still lower in Scotland than it is south of the border. Local authorities are able to generate extra revenues through increasing the council tax, but it is interesting that some clearly consider that they have sufficient funding to deliver their services without a further council tax increase. Those are matters for individual local authorities but, I say again, that support for local services has increased thanks to this Government’s actions.

Using existing resources wisely is necessary, as is further public service reform. As just one example of that, and recognising the role that councils play in the delivery of housing and social care, I am directing additional funding over the next two years to Scotland Excel to develop, with Scotland’s care providers and registered social landlords, enhanced procurement capability that will support plans in those vital areas.

We are backing our police and fire services, investing in reform with an additional £25 million for Police Scotland to support its future plans.

To ensure that our national health service is fit for the future, the Government is committed to the twin approach of investment and reform. The “Health and Social Care Delivery Plan”, published shortly after the draft budget, highlights a range of steps to reform and further improve our health services.

Balancing that action with investment will see NHS revenue spending increase to £12.7 billion in 2017-18—an increase of £120 million above inflation and the first step towards delivering our commitment to increase the NHS revenue budget by almost £2 billion by the end of this session of Parliament. There will be more spending in mental health, primary care and general practitioner services. Today, we have confirmed investment of £7.5 million to support the development of GP clusters, which will help GP practices to collaborate on quality improvement, to share resources and to develop community health services that are more tailored to their local population.

I opened by highlighting that voting for this budget will deliver more than £900 million of additional investment in our public services, our people and our communities. The budget delivers on the Administration’s programme for government, but it also responds to requests from across this chamber. We are supporting businesses and our economy; investing in front-line health and police budgets; expanding expenditure on local authority services; delivering a living wage; investing in a new social security system; ensuring that no one should pay the bedroom tax; providing free tuition; expanding early years provision; tackling the attainment gap; improving energy efficiency; increasing house building; and supporting public services that are free at the point of use, including prescriptions, eye tests and personal care.

This budget delivers the best deal for taxpayers and public services in the whole of the United Kingdom—a fairer country and a stronger country. It is a budget that delivers for our people. I commend this budget to Parliament.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Budget (Scotland) Bill be passed.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

In the stage 1 debate three weeks ago, I said that the finance secretary was a lucky man. He was lucky because he had more resources than any of his predecessors had—his budget will go up by £500 million in real terms as against the current year, and we know that the Scottish Government’s total budget is up even on the previous high of 2010-11. He was also lucky because he has—or had—an unprecedented range of choices over taxation compared with his predecessors.

We did not realise then just how lucky Mr Mackay was. It turns out that he is a far more fortunate man than we knew at that point for, in addition to the budget that he presented to Parliament, he had wads of spare cash just lying around.

When the finance secretary introduced his budget in Parliament on 15 December 2016, he told us that it was a fair and well-balanced settlement, that every penny that he had was properly accounted for and that, if the Opposition parties wanted to propose extra spending in any area, they would have to tell him what cuts they would impose as a consequence.

It turns out that the finance secretary had much more money than he was letting on. Just three weeks ago, he produced, as if from nowhere, an additional £185 million to secure his budget deal with the Greens—but that was not all. Just 19 days after that, on Tuesday this week, he produced another £44 million to introduce a very welcome rates relief for a number of businesses that are affected by the current rates revaluation. That is nearly £230 million extra in just a few weeks.

How I wish I had Mr Mackay’s sofa, which must be the best-stuffed sofa in Scotland. Every time he has a problem, he puts his hand down the back of the sofa and pulls out wads of cash. Who knows what other riches would lie between the seams of the sofa if he took the time to look?

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Will the Tories be voting against the budget tonight and denying businesses across Scotland access to the £44.5 million to which Murdo Fraser just referred? Does he intend to stuff businesses tonight?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

If Mr Stevenson asked the business community in Scotland for its view on the budget, it would give a clear response that would not be the one that he is looking for.

The great wealth that Mr Mackay has identified raises all sorts of important issues. First, Patrick Harvie must be ruing the day that he and his party sold themselves so short in their budget deal with the Scottish National Party, for there was another £44 million to be had, of which he was blissfully unaware.

Secondly, the finance secretary has undoubtedly created problems for himself in the future. Whenever, in coming years, he comes to Parliament to present his budget and tells us earnestly that it is the total sum that he has available to spend, no one will believe a word that he says. We will all be asking where the extra money is that he has squirreled away to wait to do a deal with the lowest bidder.

There are serious questions to be raised in connection with the Parliament’s budget scrutiny process. As the Fraser of Allander institute pointed out a few weeks ago, it turns out that all the budget scrutiny by the Parliament and its committees was based on a draft budget figure that was £190 million lower than the one that the Parliament will in due course be asked to vote on. As the institute said, in the future, members may press the Government at the outset of the scrutiny process for greater information on the scope to use underspends or changes to non-domestic rates profiling.

The institute pointed out that, in the past, underspends have been used to boost Government spending in subsequent years. That is what happened earlier in this financial year, when underspending in the previous year was utilised with the aim of stimulating the economy in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. This time, the underspend money has been made a central part of next year’s budget, and even Mr Mackay cannot spend the same money twice.

As the institute said, the case for multiyear budgeting is all the more important, which means that the work that is going on in the budget review group that has been established is vital. That group needs to look closely at budget transparency, which is highlighted in the Finance and Constitution Committee’s report on the budget—that echoes the concerns of the Local Government and Communities Committee about the lack of transparency in the local government settlement.

The Scottish Government’s response to the Finance and Constitution Committee’s report, which was published earlier in the week, says:

“the increased complexity of the budget process introduces a steep learning curve for all involved”.

I hope that that indicates that the finance secretary accepts that he must do better in the future at informing Parliament.

The budget process is not just about balances; it is also about choices. It remains our view that the finance secretary has made the wrong choices in connection with the budget. We should have had a budget for economic growth.

As we well know, the Scottish economy underperforms that of the rest of the United Kingdom. Our growth rate is barely one third of the UK average, our employment rate is lower, our unemployment rate is higher and our business confidence level is much lower. We should have had a budget to boost economic growth and, as a result, to boost our tax revenues.

That was precisely the point that the Fraser of Allander institute made last week. It said:

“With the Scottish Government’s budget now increasingly tied to how well Scotland’s economy performs relative to the UK, closing this gap must be a key priority for the government.”

Nothing in the budget tells us how the Government will do that; instead, the finance secretary has presented us with a budget that will do nothing to promote Scotland as an attractive place to do business. He will introduce an income tax differential that will for the first time make Scotland the most highly taxed part of the UK. He continues with the large business supplement at double the rate that applies elsewhere in the UK, and his land and buildings transaction tax rates have led to him downgrading his forecasts for the tax take by some £750 million over the coming three years, which represents a potential catastrophic loss to the Scottish public finances.

Action has been taken on the rates revaluation, which we welcome as far as it goes. However, that action affects only a small minority of the businesses that are seeing large increases in their rates. When the finance secretary talked about local relief schemes, perhaps he was not aware—perhaps Mr Swinney did not tell him—that, when the Conservative opposition group on Perth and Kinross Council proposed a local rates relief scheme yesterday, it was voted down by SNP councillors in that administration.

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

I hate to inform members that Murdo Fraser is wrong. I have spoken to the SNP leader of Perth and Kinross Council, who said that the council is building an augmented and improved scheme to do even more for businesses in Perth and Kinross. That was what the Conservatives opposed.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

What a change there has been since yesterday afternoon. I have no doubt that Mr Swinney has been on the phone to the council to tell it to sort out its act in short order, because the SNP knew that it was about to be caught out in this chamber.

It is a shame that, given all the choices, the finance secretary chose to go in the other direction. He chose to sit down with the anti-business Greens and to produce a budget that will entrench our economic underperformance.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

No, I am sorry—I have no time.

In the long run, it will be the Scottish public finances that suffer. If our economy does not grow, our tax revenue will not grow either, and there will be less money to spend on all the things that we regard as important.

What we would have done with the budget is kept tax rates competitive with the rest of the United Kingdom, and we would have done that in the knowledge that we would raise more revenue in the long run as a consequence, which is exactly what the business community in Scotland has been calling for. The finance secretary’s budget not only raises taxes but delivers a cut to local government across the country, and that is at a time when a great many Scottish households are seeing substantial council tax rises. They will be asked to pay more in taxes, but they will get poorer public services as a result. What a deal that is from the SNP Government.

That is the budget that Mr Mackay is presenting to Parliament. We cannot support that budget, because Scotland deserves better. I have pleasure in moving the amendment in my name.

I move amendment S5M-04168.2, to insert at end:

“, but, in so doing, regrets the damage that will be caused to the Scottish economy and public finances by making Scotland the highest taxed part of the UK.”

Photo of Kezia Dugdale Kezia Dugdale Labour

Stronger for Scotland: that is what we were told that the SNP would be. “Vote for us,” SNP members said, “and we will be stronger for Scotland.” Those of us on the Labour benches always questioned who in Scotland the SNP would be stronger for. Now we know, as this budget makes it abundantly clear—the SNP is stronger for the richest 1 per cent.

If someone in Scotland is already rich, the SNP will protect them from paying their fair share. However, the SNP is not stronger for someone in an ordinary family, whose children go to the local school, who relies on the local GP, who sometimes needs to attend the local hospital or whose elderly relatives need support from carers. As a consequence of this budget, the public services that they rely on will be downgraded, closed or under pressure like never before. In the same week that the SNP refuses to ask the richest few who earn more than £150,000 a year to pay a little bit more tax, the Government will team up with the Greens to impose £170 million-worth of further cuts to vital public services. That makes it £1.5 billion-worth of cuts since 2011—so much for being stronger for Scotland.

Let us take a look at that record. Are the plans to close the maternity unit at the Royal Alexandra hospital in Paisley stronger for Scotland? Is the fact that we have 4,000 fewer teachers under the SNP an example of being stronger for Scotland? Is the utter shambles of ScotRail an example of being stronger for Scotland? With this budget, public services in Scotland face a budget double whammy from the SNP. Under the SNP-Green deal, local services such as schools and care of the elderly face £170 million-worth of cuts. Those cuts will harm everybody, but they will hurt the poorest the most.

Another feature of this year’s budget process has been the concerns that employers across Scotland have raised about the impact of business rates increases. I know from my local area that it is small firms—those at the very heart of their communities—that are most worried.

Photo of Kezia Dugdale Kezia Dugdale Labour

The SNP’s shambolic U-turn on business rates, which I point out to Mr FitzPatrick is for a specific group of firms, is welcome. However, our public services are facing massive bills, too. We know that national health service chiefs warned the SNP last year that the health service could face a £30 million bill as a result of the revaluation. We also know that our universities could be hit with multimillion-pound increases. At a time when maternity units are facing closure and other NHS services are being scaled back, it would be criminal for the SNP to do nothing to help.

The cuts that are being imposed on valued public services do not have to happen. Throughout the budget process, Labour has been setting out an alternative plan, which says that we do not have to accept the austerity that is imposed by the Tories and that we have the powers in this Parliament to chart a different course. Labour’s plan would stop the cuts to the public services that we all value and would allow us to invest in them instead. It is only with investment that we can chart a better future for Scotland’s young people.

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

Kezia Dugdale has mentioned cuts a number of times and has tried to make the case local. Just to take one example, in the City of Edinburgh Council—which she might be interested in—the total increase for local services is more than £30 million, which is a 3.9 per cent increase.

Photo of Kezia Dugdale Kezia Dugdale Labour

I do not accept the cabinet secretary’s figure. He can hear from my colleague, who represents Edinburgh Southern, that the figure is in fact a £27 million cut, and there are £170 million-worth of cuts across the country. At stage 1, I gave the cabinet secretary specific examples of fantastic projects in Edinburgh that are facing serious cuts or closure because of decisions that he is making. He knows the troubles that local authorities are faced with across the country and he still insists on cutting services by £170 million. It does not have to be that way—there is a different choice.

Only with investment in education can we give our people the skills that they need to compete for the jobs of the future. It is not just about tackling poverty and inequality, important as that is—there is an economic imperative. In this rapidly changing world, where the kind of jobs that people do and how they do them continues to evolve beyond all recognition, we risk our people getting left behind. We know that the people who are almost always left behind are not those from wealthy backgrounds; it is the ordinary working-class families of Scotland who will lose out most from cuts to education.

However, all of Scotland will be worse off as a consequence, because locking so many people out of the jobs of the future will mean that our economy cannot grow at the rate that it needs to. If we are to compete with the likes of China, India and Brazil, everybody in our country must have the skills that are necessary for the jobs of the future. To make the investment that is needed, those with the broadest shoulders have to pay their fair share.

Just as I believe that together we are stronger as a nation by remaining in the UK, I believe that together we are stronger as a nation when the wealthiest few pay just a little bit more so that we can all benefit from improved public services. When members vote at decision time tonight, we will see who really is stronger for Scotland. A vote for a budget that imposes cuts to local services such as schools and care for the elderly is not evidence that members are stronger for Scotland.

We can either vote through this budget, imposing cuts of £170 million on local services, or we can make good on the promises that many members made to the people of Scotland. Labour said that we would seek to stop the cuts and invest in the future of our economy and our country. That is what we will do when we vote against the budget this evening.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Much like the debate in this chamber earlier this week on the rate resolution and non-domestic rates, it is pretty much inevitable that this afternoon’s debate will be entirely polarised, with some members offering glowing praise for a budget that has no flaws at all and others offering utter condemnation, as though there is nothing at all of which to speak positively.

In reality, the record of the SNP in government is mixed and the arguments in relation to this budget are mixed. The Green approach, ever since we entered the Parliament in 1999, has been to challenge Governments, but to do so constructively, with a view to making a difference. That is what we did when the Labour-Lib Dem Administration was in office, and that is what we have done with the SNP Administration since then. It is what we have done whether or not the Government has had a majority, and it is what we will continue to do.

Someone who this year has been listening to budget debates for the first time might be forgiven for not knowing that all political parties in this Parliament, when they have been in opposition, have voted for Government budgets. All parties have done that and will continue to do so. In January 2009, the one time a Scottish budget fell, it was not because of Green unwillingness to be constructive but because of brinkmanship by the Administration. During the debate on that budget, the Labour finance spokesperson called the SNP’s approach “shameful” and said that the budget failed key economic tests and offered

“consensus ... on only the Scottish National Party’s terms.”—[

Official Report

, 28 January 2009; c 14408.]

However, one week later, Labour members voted for precisely the same budget, without a single amendment.

There is therefore a degree of—well, I do not want to be rude, Presiding Officer, but I do not think that we can take fully seriously some of the outrage that has been expressed in the debate so far. All political parties have been at their best during budget debates when they have tried to make a difference rather than merely express outrage.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

Mr Harvie’s party had the SNP over a barrel in the budget negotiations. Which high environmental or tax justice principles did the Green Party advance when it was selling out local government to another £160 million of cuts? [



Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I am grateful to Mr Findlay for giving me an opportunity to talk about local government, because that is precisely where the Green approach to the budget has made a difference. [



This year, we were most concerned and most angered by the cuts—[


.] I appeal to the Presiding Officer.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I would like to hear what Mr Harvie has to say, please.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

We were most focused on the cuts to the non-ring-fenced core local government allocation. What we secured is not just an additional allocation and the first formal budget amendment that we have seen in years in this Parliament, but £160 million of additional allocation to local government.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I have never said that this budget is perfect and I will not do so today, but this is the biggest budget concession that any Administration has given any Opposition party since devolution.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

The concession will make a difference in every local government area, including the one that Mr Johnson represents.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

Does the member recognise that that difference is still a £170 million cut to local government, whatever way he dresses it up?

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I note that Mr Johnson ended his intervention by saying “whatever way it’s dressed up.” It will always be possible to produce a different interpretation of the figures—[


.] There are some creative thinkers on the Tory benches, too.

The Labour approach throughout has been to compare the draft budget with the outturn budget—the amount that has been spent during the current financial year—which is not a fair comparison. We have taken the Scottish Parliament information centre’s assessment of the figures—

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I have taken a couple of interventions already. [


.] The SPICe analysis does not include—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I ask Conservative members, in particular, to stop chattering away. I would like to hear the debate.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

The SPICe interpretation of the figures is the closest thing that we have to a politically neutral and impartial judgment on the matter, and its assessment was that the core cut to the un-ring-fenced local government allocation was £166 million. It did not include the double counting of health and social care money or other allocations that should not be counted within the overall pot.

We argued that that cut should be reversed, and we have achieved a £160 million reduction in it.

The assessment that SPICe has produced since the stage 2 amendment was agreed to states that the budget line for local government

“is now ... essentially flat in real terms”.

We are talking about a 0.1 per cent reduction compared with the previous year’s draft budget. Once we include the reforms to local council tax—the reforms to the multiplier as opposed to the 3 per cent, which it is up to local councils to decide on—it becomes a 0.7 per cent increase. That is the difference that the Greens have made in this budget. We have secured additional funds that councils are free to allocate and that will make a difference in every local council area in Scotland.

I again remind members, with great respect, of the consequences of voting down the budget. On Tuesday, Daniel Johnson asked us to think about the consequences of how we vote. Voting down the budget at this stage would send every council in Scotland into panic and would mean that they would have to set emergency budgets, which would bring back on to the agenda the cuts that in recent weeks they have been able to cancel as a result of what we have achieved.

As far as the Conservative amendment is concerned, I could never accept the principle that after finally persuading all parties to agree that tax powers should be devolved, we should refuse to ever do anything progressive with them. That is the position that the Tories advance—we should only ever cut tax for the rich and only ever become an ever meaner, more selfish and more self-interested economy in which wealth is concentrated in the hands of ever fewer people. That is what the UK Government is doing, and that is what the Conservatives would have us do as well. We will never agree to that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Can you please begin to wind up, Mr Harvie?

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

The Greens will vote in favour of the budget, and I make this appeal to all parties in all future budget debates: don’t just throw a tantrum, make a difference.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

Budgets are an opportunity to judge people not by their words, but by their actions. Hard numbers—hard cash—reveal hard priorities. It is not an easy process, but it strips back all the talk and reveals the naked truth.

We all remember the First Minister saying in the debates in the 2015 general election that we should reject austerity and that Scotland would do it differently, but we can now see from the budget what she really meant.

In the Scottish election debates, Patrick Harvie looked down his nose at everyone and pledged to fight for a greener and bolder Scotland. The Greens voted for the budget at stage 1, but they abstained in this week’s debate on the Scottish rate resolution. I am looking for the full set: there is still a possibility that Patrick Harvie’s party could vote against the budget, so it could still fall. Patrick Harvie reminded us of what happened in 2009, when he changed his mind in the middle of the debate and the budget fell. I urge the finance secretary to make absolutely sure that he has the Greens in his pocket, because the situation might well change after all.

The challenge is enormous. Brexit is coming down the track, which will have a significant impact on our economy. As we all know, our once-proud education system is slipping down the international rankings. Furthermore, 643,000 working days are lost because of poor mental health, which is worth £54 million to our economy. The Sutton Trust has highlighted the real and dramatic impact of the inequality gap in our education system. That is why there is still an opportunity to reject the budget—the Greens could vote against the budget today, perhaps alongside others who are concerned about those issues. It is not too late for the Greens to reject the budget. We can do so much better.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I will not, just now.

If we look at the education system we see that in the past few years we have lost 150,000 college places. That has hit women and mature students in particular. We need to invest in part-time courses.

There is also the issue of the pupil premium. I am glad to see that the Scottish Government, after years of opposing the pupil premium, which was pioneered by the Liberal Democrats down south, has changed its mind and has implemented a pupil equity fund. That approach is having a big impact in England and has closed the attainment gap by five percentage points. However, the amount of money that has been put into the fund is simply not enough. If we cannot even match what they are doing in England, how on earth will we get our education system back up the international rankings?

We could have invested more in mental health. I want to increase the mental health budget to £1.2 billion. In last May’s elections, all the leaders stood on a platform and agreed that mental health was a top priority. Every single leader said that no one could possibly disagree with that approach. Where is it in the budget? We do not even have enough of a budget for what is required to invest in tier 1 and 2 counselling, emergency mental health services, mental health professionals to work alongside the police and mental health professionals in primary care. Where is the investment that would make that happen? It is not there. That is another missed opportunity. All those wise words on the election platform last year have come to absolutely nothing. That is what is disappointing about the budget.

All this is at a time when we have an opportunity to do something different. We have new tax powers—the powers that we have been wanting for years so that we could do something different from the rest of the United Kingdom, chart our own path, mark a different way and boost the economy, improve our education system and improve mental health services. What do we do with that power? We tinker at the edges with it. We have not got a transformational investment in education. We do not have a step change in mental health services.

This is a timid, tinkering budget. We could do so much more for Scotland. I am ambitious for our country—I want us to do so much more. I do not want to ramp up tax all over the place; rather, I want to dedicate it to a specific purpose, which is investing in people—their talents and mental health—so that they can get to work, contribute to our economy, create more wealth and bring in more taxes. It is not all about the Conservative race to the bottom on tax. That is not the way to get a better, more vibrant and more energetic Scotland. The best way to do that is to invest in the talents of our people, because our people are the best way forward.

I urge all those who want a better and more ambitious Scotland and who want to improve the economy and make a real big difference to our future, to reject the budget so that we can go back to the start and negotiate again for a proper budget that really meets the aspirations of our country.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

Deputy Presiding Officer, there have been many occasions since we first joined the Parliament together in 1999 when we have been able to say, “Today is an historic day”. I can safely say that today is yet another historic day. Today, we set a budget for Scotland’s health service, education services, emergency services and local councils that contains about £11 billion of commitments supported by money raised from income tax.

As the weeks and months turn into years, I am confident that we will witness many more historic days as the Parliament goes from strength to strength. Let us reflect on the moment. What will future commentators make of the political players who took part in the setting of Scotland’s budget for 2017-18? What will they make of the role of the finance secretary who has had the historic privilege—although I am not sure that he has always seen it that way—of setting the first budget to be supported by unprecedented levels of tax raised in Scotland? What will they make of a finance secretary who has had to deal with the very real challenge of a revenue and capital departmental expenditure limit budget that will be reduced in real terms between 2010-11 and 2019-20 by 9.2 per cent?

The finance secretary has had the added difficulty of dealing with the volatility of Brexit and all the implications for public expenditure that it brings. He has also had to deal with the immediate Brexit threat of rising inflation and, as a direct consequence, a reduction in his real-terms spending power. If that were not enough, in the longer term, up to 80,000 jobs in Scotland will be destroyed if we are forced to leave the single market.

Today, we are living in a world with a much greater level of shared powers between Holyrood and Westminster than has existed at any time in our history, particularly as a result of the fiscal framework. That is why it is imperative that UK Treasury ministers appear before the Finance and Constitution Committee to give evidence. By refusing to attend to give evidence, either they simply do not understand the nature of the devolved settlement that they were responsible for creating or they are treating this place with contempt. I really do not care which of those is the reality; what I want them to do is to show some respect for this Parliament, which belongs to the Scottish people.

It makes me wonder who would take on the job of finance secretary and then be landed with the additional complications of securing a budget agreement in a Parliament of minorities, yet secure an agreement the cabinet secretary has—an agreement that sees an additional £160 million allocated to local government.

Although Parliament may find agreement at decision time today, no credit will be given to those who have chosen to be entirely oppositionist in their approach, no matter the potential consequences for public services and public finances. The agreement that the Scottish Government has secured with the Green Party should make Labour Party members in particular squirm with regret, but I guess that they will not because they have become so wrapped up in their all-consuming opposition to the SNP and in their own destruction that they have consigned themselves to a place of utter irrelevance in Scottish political life. [


.] Others might take some joy from that but I think that it is very, very sad indeed, and I wonder how history will judge the Labour Party’s role on this significant day for Scotland.

What is clear is that history will judge the Conservative Party members as financial fantasists. Throughout the budget process, Tory member after Tory member has made spending proposals amounting to billions of pounds. However, when challenged on how they would pay for them, they gave us nothing more than financial drivel.

First, we are told by Dean Lockhart that a fantasy sum of £500 million from maladministration would be used to fund Tory commitments amounting to billions. I have news for Mr Lockhart—if £500 million was the cost of past maladministration, which in itself is a load of nonsense, it has already been spent and cannot be spent again.

Then we have the fantasy economics of Douglas Ross, who is sitting on the Tory front bench along with Dean Lockhart. Douglas Ross tells us that the alternative Tory approach is to expand the tax base by cutting taxes for the wealthiest. Even if the Tory argument of cutting taxes to increase spending had any shred of credibility, just how would such a plan produce any additional money from an expanding tax base in the short time before the start of the financial year? It is absolute nonsense. As for Murdo Fraser’s financial fantasies—well, probably the least said about those, the better.

Thank goodness we have a finance secretary who has kept his head while the Opposition have been losing theirs. That is why we should all vote for the Government’s budget at decision time. I ask this Parliament not to deny public services in Scotland an additional £900 million; not to deny the hospitality sector a cap on rates; and not to deny local government an extra £160 million. For goodness’ sake, do not vote against the Government at decision time just because it happens to be an SNP Government—vote for the budget.

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

The finance secretary—[



The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I ask members to behave—I want to hear this as well.

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

The finance secretary has available to him a plethora of options to vary tax, improve productivity and grow the Scottish economy. He also has more cash—£0.5 billion more in real terms—as against the current year. Patrick Harvie and the rest of the sell-out six must have wondered why they did not ask for more from the finance secretary, given that he has managed to conjure up an extra £230 million since he first presented the budget only a few weeks ago.

If the SNP Government’s original tax proposals were not dangerous enough, they have been made a whole lot worse now that the Greens are dictating the SNP’s policy on taxation. The left-wing SNP-Green coalition has introduced a tax system that will see individuals on pay scales similar to that of the First Minister pay a marginal tax rate of 42 per cent on their last pound earned and the CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland pay a marginal tax rate of 47 per cent on his last pound earned, while hard-working Scots who earn between £43,000 and £45,000 a year pay an astonishing 52 per cent marginal tax rate on the last pound that they earn. Perhaps even more astonishingly, the SNP Government has the audacity to claim that its taxation proposals are progressive.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I am a little bit puzzled as to why the member, from the two examples that he gave, seems to be interested only in the top 10 per cent of earners. Why is it that the Greens are the only party that has even tried to make the case for cutting tax for people on ordinary incomes? People on the average full-time salary, which is £26,000 a year, would, under the Green proposals, be paying less tax. Why are the Conservatives interested only in those at the very top?

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

The Conservatives are interested in everyone in Scotland, and we do not show that by hurting the middle classes and middle-income earners. If the Government listens to our policies, the Scottish economy will grow, and we will improve productivity and have more money to spend on public services.

My economics professor always told me that gross domestic product was god. Although I disagree with that analogy, I would welcome the cabinet secretary for finance making more of an attempt to grow our economy. The finance secretary is fully aware that he has the power to vary tax rates by band and to introduce new bands, and thus it is entirely possible for him to avoid forcing hard-pressed Scottish families to pay more than the 42 per cent marginal rate of tax.

If we accept that the finance secretary is intent on making Scotland the highest-taxed part of the UK, we might consider that he could at least be more creative in his proposals in order to ensure that no hard-working Scot will be forced to pay that marginal tax rate. If he had done so, however, the First Minister would not be able to stand up and proclaim that there has been no increase in Scotland’s income tax rates. This SNP Government is more interested in spin than in standing up for the interests of Scottish families.

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

Does Maurice Golden think that PricewaterhouseCoopers was wrong when it said:

“although we don’t expect any short term impact on decision making for people who may already be planning to relocate to Scotland or for Scottish businesses looking to attract staff”?

Was PwC wrong when it contradicted the Conservatives’ position that there will be a mass exodus as a consequence of our tax proposition?

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

It is a disincentive to work for people who are earning between £43,000 and £45,000. The cabinet secretary for finance would have been better off using a more innovative approach if he wanted a more progressive tax system.

So here we have it: a marginal tax rate of 52 per cent and the SNP Government doing its best to impersonate the Labour Party of the 1970s. What will happen next year, and the year after that? The Greens will, most likely, continue to pursue their hard-left agenda and insist that the higher-rate threshold stay at £43,000. What will the SNP do? If it does not increase the higher-rate threshold over the next four years, there will be an £8,000 gap between the higher-rate income tax threshold in Scotland compared with that in the rest of the UK. That would result in Scottish taxpayers being burdened with a 52 per cent marginal rate of tax on £8,000 of their income on earnings of between £43,000 and £51,000 a year.

Either the SNP Government has not considered the significant threat that that poses to Scotland’s economy and to the prosperity of all its citizens, or it does not consider it to be a problem. I am not sure which is worse.

When the SNP Government erects an earnings tax wall at £43,000, does it expect that that will have a positive or negative impact on earnings? Let me tell the SNP what the impact will be. There will be fewer Scots earning over £43,000 a year, an ever-growing gap in earnings between those in Scotland and those in the rest of the UK, and less money being spent in our local economy—and all that is supposed to be designed to raise additional tax revenue. I urge the SNP Government—and the chamber—to put Scotland first, and I urge the chamber to support the amendment in the name of Murdo Fraser.

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

I remind members that I am a parliamentary liaison officer to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution. That is a privilege, because this is the first budget to raise revenue, through limited tax-raising powers, for over 300 years.

That is what the people of Scotland wanted: they wanted the power to raise revenue in Scotland, in our way and for our services. That is so that we do not have to walk the Westminster way—as the Tories would have us do—by slashing taxes for the rich and slashing services harder. The Tories complain about divergence, but there is already divergence in that we deliver, for all residents of Scotland, whatever their background, and wherever they live, while the Tories deliver for only the top 10 per cent of earners. That is a far more dangerous divergence, and it is downright unfair.

Given that we have waited that long for tax-raising powers, I am pleased that this budget will deliver for the Highlands. It is a budget for the crofter in Staffin, the engineer in Drumnadrochit and the dinner lady in Dingwall. It is a budget for my constituents, because people in the Highlands want reliable connectivity. In this budget, there is more than £100 million investment in digital and mobile infrastructure to support our commitment to deliver broadband across 100 per cent of Highland businesses and homes.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

I am grateful to the member for giving way. However, does she not agree with Councillor Margaret Davidson, the independent leader of Highland Council, who said that this was not a good budget for it and told the Scottish Government to stop its efforts with smoke and mirrors because it is deluding people into thinking that the council has a better deal? It sounds as though Kate Forbes has fallen for it.

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

I agree with the part of Douglas Ross’s comments about smoke and mirrors. We are sure seeing a lot of smoke and mirrors coming from the Tory benches. I like to go on the basis of the hard, cold, boring facts and figures, which show that investment in public services in the Highlands is up by £20 million versus that of last year. I would rather depend on the cold, hard figures than on the smoke and mirrors that we have been seeing.

As I said, people in the Highlands want reliable connectivity. They also want more, and affordable, homes. In this budget, we are investing heavily in the provision of affordable housing, with over £470 million of direct capital investment to ensure that we are on track to deliver 50,000 affordable homes across Scotland, which will also support employment in construction and housing management. The budget specifically maintains funding for rural and islands housing funds, which should be welcomed by every self-respecting rural constituency member of the Scottish Parliament.

We also want improved roads and rail links. This budget promises to progress design and development work on improvements to the A82; to continue dualling the A9; to improve the stretch at the Berriedale Braes, in my colleague Gail Ross’s constituency; and to invest in improving Highland rail links.

We also want a well-resourced NHS Highland with more healthcare professionals, and this is a budget with £592 million for NHS Highland. If the Tories had their way, they would charge the sick for prescriptions. Instead, we are protecting NHS funding.

Photo of Edward Mountain Edward Mountain Conservative

I am very happy to talk about the concerns of people in the Highlands regarding health provision, especially those on Raasay, who have lost their local nurse and have no provision at night, and those mums in Caithness who no longer have paediatricians. How is that improving the services and how will that help people in the local community to get better healthcare?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Ms Forbes, will you wait until you are called again, please? I know that you are anxious to respond. I call Kate Forbes.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I think that perhaps your clerk heard the word repeated twice by Gail Ross when she called Edward Mountain a liar. [


.] Well, she said it twice.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I ask you to sit down. We heard nothing here, so we can make no comment whatsoever.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I am sorry. Let us proceed. Please continue, Ms Forbes.

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

I agree with Edward Mountain on the point about Raasay, and it is something that I am actively engaged in with NHS Highland and the community. I like to think that if he asks the community—he might well have done so—it will say that I have been working closely with it to try to find a solution. As we both know, however, part of the issue in NHS Highland is the problem with recruiting professionals. A British Medical Association survey today shows that four in 10 European doctors in the UK are considering leaving in the wake of the UK’s vote to leave the EU. That is hardly helping with the real challenges that we face with recruitment.

In the Highlands, we also want well-resourced education for our children and accessible further and higher education both for our young people and to attract other young people to study in the Highlands. Not only is the budget still committed to free education across Scotland, but it provides additional money to directly reduce the impact of poverty on children’s educational attainment. Of the £120 million total, almost £4 million is going straight to Highland schools.

More than anything else, however, we want local power, and the budget promises to empower island communities further so that they can build a more prosperous and fairer future for our communities.

That is our budget. If we want confirmation that the Tories and the Labour Party care only about political posturing, we should watch how they vote tonight, because to vote against this budget is to vote against connectivity, housing, roads and rail, a well-resourced NHS and reducing the impact of poverty. Those things matter to my constituents and they matter to me.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

We have had 19 budgets since devolution, by my count, or 20 if we include two in 2009, yet this one could and should have been different because it had the potential to be both transformed and transformational. It had potential to be transformed because, for the first time ever, a Scottish Government has significant powers over tax—the powers for us to decide for ourselves the balance between what we ask our citizens to contribute and how much we will have to invest in our country’s future.

The budget had the potential to be transformational, first, because we could have used the substantial new welfare powers to reshape the benefits system, create targeted new benefits to support the vulnerable and thus transform their lives in the here and now, and also because we could have chosen to end our 10 long years on the low road of squeezing education budgets and returned at last to the high road of investing in our young people’s future, thereby transforming their prospects and our country’s future.

Alas, the only thing that the budget has transformed is itself, through a series of U-turns, humiliating climbdowns and shameless flip-flops. It started with the debacle of the council tax, when the finance secretary revealed that, after 10 years and three elections of promising to abolish the council tax, he had, well, changed his mind, and the only thing that he planned to do was to impose a swingeing increase across the board for higher bands.

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

Will Iain Gray explain, on behalf of the Labour Party, why, despite campaigning against the council tax freeze for nine years, Labour councils are now freezing the council tax?

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

Councils are taking the best decisions that they can locally. My own local authority has increased the council tax to protect services from the £4.5 million cuts that the finance secretary has imposed.

The finance secretary’s council tax plan was radical in one way because he planned initially to remove the proceeds of the council tax increase from local communities to swell his own coffers. That is a redistribution of sorts, I suppose, in the same way as a smash and grab redistributes wealth. In the first of his U-turns, the finance secretary had to abandon that plan by the time that he brought forward his budget, which he did with great claims of extra money for schools, councils and the NHS, only for those claims to collapse under independent scrutiny that discovered sums of money allocated in multiple budget lines in an effort to hide cuts of £327 million to councils.

We then had the Green deal, which was, we were told, to stop those cuts that the finance secretary had told us did not exist. Of course, that deal also turned out just to be a smaller cut that was funded not by progressive taxation but by creative accounting in the non-domestic rate pool.

The finance secretary was not done. This week, his think-of-a-number budgeting led to the last great handbrake turn of this sorry budget process, when rates relief for a handful of the businesses that were facing increases of 200 and 300 per cent suddenly appeared.

After all the sound and fury, double counting and fantasy forecasting, we end up pretty much where we started. No serious attempt has been made to use the new tax powers; the UK Tory tax structure has simply been accepted pretty much intact. There has been no attempt at all to use the new welfare powers, with our most vulnerable citizens being unnecessarily left at the mercy of Tory welfare reform for at least another three years. As for education, the budget squeeze goes on. The £120 million to close the attainment gap could and should be a serious, welcome and needed effort to transform the lives of children from poorer backgrounds, if it did not have to be set against a £170 million cut to the councils that fund the schools. There was a commitment to expand childcare, but again it has to be set against the cuts to councils who will be asked to deliver it. Meanwhile, the nursery sector is being hammered by rates increases for which it has received no help whatsoever.

That is also true of universities, which have seen swingeing increases in their rates at the same time as a 7.5 per cent cut in their revenue funding. As for colleges, great fanfare was made of a tiny increase in their teaching budgets this year, but it covered up the fact that, in real terms, our college budgets have not yet caught up with what they were in 2006-07, when the SNP came to power—10 long years ago. There is also no support in the budget for college students who are struggling with a system that the National Union of Students Scotland describes as not fit for purpose.

Is that not the truth of this budget? There are new powers and new opportunities, but all that the Government can come up with is more of the same. I say this to Kate Forbes. Yes, I believe that the people wanted the Parliament to have powers, but I also believe that they wanted us to use those powers to stop the cuts. That is what she and her colleagues promised a year ago but they have delivered the same cuts to education budgets, the same Tory austerity cuts, the same squeezing of local services in particular, and the same tired excuses for a timid Government that does not have the vision or the guts to use the power of the Scottish Parliament to do the things to which it pays lip service—redistribute wealth, stop the cuts, and invest in our future.

Photo of Ash Denham Ash Denham Scottish National Party

We have spent some time debating the budget, and the process has made clear many things—mainly that, although the Scottish Government has worked constructively to build a revenue and spending plan that is both fair and bold, the Tories have moved further to the right and have turned their backs on the people of Scotland in favour of damaging rhetoric that is neither forthright nor productive in constructing a budget.

In fact, last week, in a speech that was given in the backyard of her Westminster bosses, Ruth Davidson was daring enough to suggest that the First Minister faced a choice between a top priority of education or an independence referendum. She said that the First Minister

“cannot have it both ways.”

I would never want to know the realities of a Tory Government at Holyrood, but it seems that Ruth Davidson cannot grasp that governing so narrowly is not conducive to getting the best deal for the people of Scotland.

That is why this budget prioritises education by providing £1.6 billion to support higher and further education, while also making record investment of £12.7 billion in health resource spending, expanding free childcare and early learning to 30 hours a week and handing the headteachers of schools an additional £120 million to use however they see fit, which will benefit eight schools in my Edinburgh Eastern constituency to the tune of just over £1 million. The budget also lowers the business poundage rate, expands the small business bonus scheme to exempt 100,000 properties from rates and ensures that 99 per cent of Scots will not pay more in income tax.

On top of that, an additional tailored rates relief package for 9,500 businesses across Scotland was announced this week. One need look only as far as Portobello in my constituency to see how that action will benefit many restaurants, pubs, hotels and cafes that are the heart of our communities. I know that those businesses will be watching the Tories today as they vote against those crucial rate reliefs and against a package of support for small businesses. It is something that the Tories themselves called for, but today they are once again caught out with their empty rhetoric. Ruth Davidson would be better off lecturing her party about trying to have it both ways, given that the Scottish Tories have on the one hand called for cutting taxes while on the other demanding millions of pounds of investment in public service.

In reality, we know that a Tory-led Holyrood would result in tax cuts for the wealthiest at the expense of our vital services, which real Scots depend on. That is why voters sent the SNP to Holyrood as the largest party, with a mandate to pass a budget that is far reaching and which provides the kind of country that Scots demand—a country where students do not pay tuition fees for university, where the elderly do not pay for personal care and where parents do not pay astronomical childcare costs.

As a result of constructive work with the Greens, the budget now delivers £160 million to local government to be spent at the discretion of individual authorities. For Edinburgh, that equates to an extra £12 million to bolster important local services. The budget provides all that, along with a reduction in the business poundage rate, a large business supplement threshold that matches England’s and the best support for small to medium-sized enterprises in the UK.

That is what getting on with the day job looks like. It is all about prioritising the needs of the Scottish people, because that is what being in the Scottish Parliament demands of us. However, it seems as if the Scottish Tories would rather turn their eyes and ears away from Scotland and towards London, from where they get their marching orders. That might explain why they had no constructive engagement in the budget process at all. In fact, they had nothing to say about schools, nothing to say about hospitals and nothing to say about infrastructure: all they could talk about was tax cuts, tax cuts and more tax cuts.

However, this Government hears the Scottish people, and it refuses to lead in the incoherent way that the Tories would have led. The adage at Westminster might be austerity, but in Scotland it is prosperity—it is fairness and it is a better deal than anywhere else in the UK.

That is what the budget represents, so I urge members to join me in voting for it.

Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

In the stage 1 budget debate, the finance secretary told Parliament that the budget will support jobs and lay the foundations for future growth. This budget is many things, but it is most definitely not a budget for economic growth and jobs. As Murdo Fraser said, the budget process is about choices, and in two critical areas the finance secretary has made decisions that will damage the economy and risk future Government revenues. First, despite having an extra £500 million to spend, the finance secretary has slashed the enterprise budget by more than £50 million—

Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

Perhaps I will take one later.

The finance secretary has done that at a time of, in his words, “significant challenge” in our economy. At least we can agree on that last point: this is, indeed, a time of significant challenge to our economy. That is precisely why slashing the enterprise budget, which supports new and expanding businesses across all sectors, is the wrong thing to do.

Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

I will, later.

I say to be clear that Derek Mackay said earlier that he has given Scottish Enterprise an extra £35 million. However, he has not. Originally, the budget would have cut the enterprise budget by £85 million, and now the cut is £50 million. Only in the fantasy world of SNP economic policy would that be seen as extra funding.

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

We have just had another specific example of a spending request from the Conservatives. From where in the budget does Mr Lockhart propose that we take money to fund that other item of expenditure?

Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

I could be flippant and mention Mr Mackay’s sofa. However, I will make it clear to him that if growth in Scotland’s economy under the SNP matched the growth in the UK’s economy since 2007, GDP in Scotland would have been £3.1 billion higher over the past 10 years. That would have been an extra £1,200 per household in Scotland. That is where the extra money would come from. Grow the economy; do not increase tax.

In justifying the decision to cut the enterprise budget, the finance secretary has pointed to other measures that are being taken to boost the economy, including the growth scheme, which he says will provide up to £500 million of investment guarantees and loans. The only problem is that the budget fails to provide additional funding for that growth scheme. Where is the additional funding coming from to finance the £500 million growth scheme?

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

Does Mr Lockhart understand what contingent liabilities are? It has been explained to him before. Would he like a further briefing on it to explain how the £500 million Scottish growth scheme is funded?

Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

U nder international accounting standard 37, I know what contingent liabilities are. They are off balance sheet. However, the finance secretary and Keith Brown have repeatedly said that there will be fresh loans under the scheme—that means fresh funding, but that money is not available in the budget.

Earlier today, when I asked Keith Brown where the money is coming from, he was unable to answer the question. He indicated that it might come from the existing enterprise budget. However, as we have heard, that budget is being cut by more than £50 million. It is now becoming clear that the £500 million growth scheme is another example of the SNP repackaging existing money and presenting it as new. It is all headlines but no substance and no extra cash, as is the case with the mythical Scottish business development bank, which was first announced by the SNP in 2013, with the aim of expanding high-growth business in Scotland, but which, four years later, is still nowhere to be seen.

Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

I will not, right now.

With such abysmal economic policy-making, it is no wonder that the economy in Scotland, under the SNP, is performing so badly.

The second area in which the finance secretary had a choice was whether to increase tax on jobs and take-home pay. We now know that he did not need to increase the tax burden on hard-working families, but the finance secretary decided to abandon the centre ground and to lurch to the left, joining the Greens, to increase tax on the hard-working people of Scotland. I urge the finance secretary to listen in the future to the advice of business leaders in the economy, not to the Greens. Scottish Chambers of Commerce has said that

“growing our economy rather than increasing tax will” boost

“tax revenues and ... public ... spending.”

We agree with that.

Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

I will not, right now.

Bruce Crawford and Ash Denham asked how we would finance the extra spending. I answered that when I responded to Mr Mackay. If, under the SNP Government, the Scottish economy had grown at the same rate as that of the UK, we would have an extra £3.1 billion. Economic growth, not increasing tax, is the answer. That is why we will not support the budget.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Saying “Go ahead” is not very polite, Mr Lockhart.

Photo of Ash Denham Ash Denham Scottish National Party

The Conservatives are very fond of claiming that Scotland has received more money from the all-benevolent Westminster Government, but it is a fact that we have had a drastic 9 per cent real-terms reduction in the previous session and this session. Perhaps if Westminster had continued to support Scotland financially, the economy would have grown further.

Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

I refer to Scottish Parliament information centre research that shows that the real-terms numbers have increased between 2010 and the current budget. I have the numbers with me and would be happy to compare notes with Ash Denham later. [



The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Excuse me a minute. There is no point in members debating across the chamber with each other. If Mr Ross or the cabinet secretary want to make a point, they should intervene.

Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

The budget debates have quite rightly focused on how we can increase funding for vital public services. However, no discussion about funding of public services can be complete without recognising the fundamental importance of the funding that is received through Barnett consequentials. For example, over £350 million of the £380 million increase in NHS spending in Scotland last year was funding from Barnett consequentials.

Earlier this week, Douglas McWilliams from the Centre for Economics and Business Research, who is one of the country’s top economic forecasters, provided a timely reminder of the importance of the Barnett formula and the impact that independence would have on public services in Scotland. He said that, in the event of independence,

“there would need to be cuts” in public spending

“of about 15 per cent of GDP. That’s roughly on the scale of what has happened in Greece”.

Let me conclude. In dragging a high-tax budget through Parliament, the pro-independence coalition of the SNP and the Greens has argued that increasing tax is progressive. I make it clear that there is absolutely nothing progressive about the massive cuts to public spending and vital public services that would be a direct consequence of the obsession of the SNP and the Greens with independence.

I support Murdo Fraser’s amendment.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I remind members that practice in the chamber is that, after a member has made their speech, they should wait through the next two speeches before they leave the chamber. Two members have not done that. Members should bear it in mind that that is a courtesy to other members. Those people will find out who they are later today.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

The budget delivers on the promises that the Government was elected on. It was created in Scotland for Scotland, not dictated to us by Westminster. Scotland’s finances are still being strangled by the UK Tory Government, but we will not bend to its plan of total austerity. We will not sell off Scotland’s public services and we will not bow to privatisation. We will ensure economic growth, social justice and the protection of our services.

Yesterday, we all found out from independent research that Scotland is not the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom. That destroys complaints from the Tories that that is the case. SPICe found out that any tax rises are mitigated by lower council tax levels in Scotland. It is important to mention that all council tax will be spent locally.

Nationally, Labour’s mantra is, “Increase tax,” which we have heard throughout the process. However, last night, when there was the prospect of Labour increasing tax in West Dunbartonshire Council, it voted to freeze the council tax, after years of complaining bitterly locally about the freeze.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

Is it not the case that the SNP councillors voted to increase the council tax by 3 per cent and ignored the impact that that would have on some of the poorest in our community?

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

That might well be the case, but the point is that, locally, Labour councillors and Jackie Baillie in particular have berated the freezing of the council tax, yet Labour has continued that freeze. That is what we are talking about.

We have the business bonus, but we also have the social bonus of free further education, free prescriptions and free bus passes, among other benefits that are exclusive to Scotland. I am sad that the Tories are demanding a tax reduction for the highest paid. Should we not maintain the principle that the more a person earns, the more they contribute? There are many higher earners who will gladly contribute their fair share, and I thank them for that.

The Scottish budget protects Scottish services. We have invested in education, and I welcome the new funds that are set to be given to schools. Most of the schools in my constituency will benefit from that funding. More important, more funding will go through the mechanism to underprivileged pupils. That will help to improve the life chances of many young people, and it will also help to reduce the attainment gap, as the Government has vowed to do.

The funding increase for universities and colleges is excellent news and, as I have said, free education will continue. If the Tories had their way, everyone would have to pay the huge fees that apply down south. Every person, no matter what their background is, should get the chance to have a great education if they so choose. The SNP is delivering on its promises.

Poverty scars Scotland. The problem is historical, but we are tackling it. Many of my constituents will benefit from the Scottish Government continuing to mitigate the impact of the hated bedroom tax. Many in my constituency will also benefit from the Scottish welfare fund, which will clear up the mess that the UK Government’s punitive welfare programme has left. The wheels are in motion for a new Scottish social security system. With the powers that we have, we will run welfare with dignity and respect.

Economic growth is the key to Scotland’s prosperity. With the few tools that we have, we are still driving economic growth. We have invested £4 billion in our infrastructure. Most of us will have seen the amazing developments that are taking place, such as the motorway projects on the M8 and the M74 and the stunning Queensferry crossing. Many more projects are progressing across the country. They are all drivers of economic growth and will improve the lives of millions.

The SNP Government is building our economy. My Clydebank constituency boasts one of the finest heart surgery hospitals in the world. The Golden Jubilee national hospital is to receive a multimillion-pound expansion and 700 new jobs, which are not being transferred—they are brand-new jobs in the local economy. I also note that health and social care partnerships help some of my most vulnerable constituents.

The budget is about economic growth, investment in our public services and social justice. It is about protecting our most vulnerable from the class war that is waged by the Tories, making Scotland’s economy prosper and investing in and protecting public services. I call on all MSPs to back the budget tonight.

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

I am delighted, particularly as a newly elected member, to have the opportunity to participate in this afternoon’s historic stage 3 budget debate. The budget is fair and proportionate and balances the imperatives of public spending with the exigencies of supporting economic growth at a time of Brexit-driven uncertainty.

The proposals that the budget outlines will increase the total resources for local services and increase health spending above inflation. In my Renfrewshire South constituency, that translates into almost £5 million in additional support for integration authorities and more than £1.5 million direct to schools through the pupil equity fund.

Although St David’s primary school in Johnstone benefits from attainment challenge funding, the pupil equity fund that the budget provides means that, to give just a few of many examples, St Mark’s primary school and Carlibar primary school in Barrhead will each receive more than £120,000, Johnstone high school will receive more than £110,000 and Woodlands primary school in Linwood will benefit from almost £150,000. That is real money that will make a real difference to the lives of children and young people in my constituency. Those who vote against the budget are voting against that money going to those schools.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

Does that mean that, every time the SNP has voted against a budget here or in any council chamber, it was voting against every single thing in that budget? Let us get beyond such childish stuff.

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

The context to that remark is that I hear calls from the Labour Party for increased investment in education, but when we provide increased investment in education, what do Labour members do? They vote against it.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

That does not answer the question.

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

It does answer the question.

A frustration that is shared by many of my constituents, particularly in Howwood and Lochwinnoch, has been the lack of access to superfast broadband. On doorstep after doorstep during the election campaign, the SNP Government’s commitment to provide superfast broadband access to 95 per cent of homes by the end of this year and to 100 per cent of premises in Scotland by 2021 was warmly received. I know that many of my constituents will join me in welcoming the support that the budget provides to deliver the final phase of the digital Scotland superfast broadband programme and to commence the first phase of the reaching 100 per cent programme. Whether it be in health, education or digital infrastructure, the budget will deliver for my constituents in Renfrewshire South and for the people of Scotland.

The same cannot be said of the Tory and Labour proposals. Labour’s tax proposition is unfair, ill advised and incoherent. It is unfair to ask people who earn less than £12,000 a year to foot the bill for Tory austerity. It is ill advised to advocate an increase in the additional rate without having regard to the potential behavioural impact and consequent reduction in tax revenue.

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

I would rather deal in pragmatic reality than in Labour’s clown-car economics.

It is incoherent to press for tax increases on the lowest earners in society while simultaneously implementing council tax freezes across the country on the grounds that

“so many people are having to tighten their own budgets and, in the worst cases, are struggling to provide the basics for their families.”

Those are not my words but those of the outgoing Labour Renfrewshire Council leader, Mark Macmillan. Incoherence has characterised Labour’s whole approach to the budget process at every level, which has resulted in Labour’s politics being viewed by the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland as outdated, misplaced and irrelevant to their needs. That was confirmed yet again by the grotesque chaos of Labour’s walkout at Clackmannanshire Council this morning.

While Labour would hammer the least affluent in society with tax rises, the Tories want to cut tax for the most affluent, at the expense of our public services. The budget process has been revealing about the values and character of the Conservatives, as it has confirmed what we have always known—that, despite the talk over the past 10 years of rebranding, disbanding and a refreshed membership, they are still the same old Tories.

I will give one example. East Renfrewshire Council stands to benefit from an additional £3 million that was announced earlier in the budget process. When the council’s budget was set last week, what did the Conservatives decide to do? Did they suggest that that revenue should be spent on education or on additional investment in health? No. Their proposition was a 6 per cent council tax cut in one of the most affluent parts of Scotland. That tells us all that we need to know about the values of the Conservative Party. For all the talk of Scotland being the highest-taxed part of the UK, the people who would stand to benefit from the Conservatives’ proposition are the highest earners, not the people who are most vulnerable and most in need of support.

This budget delivers for all of Scotland, and I am proud to support it.

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Labour

Almost daily, we hear SNP members say that it is “a historic day”, “a historic moment”, or that there is “historic progress” towards whatever it is that they dream of every single night, but in actual fact the budget is a historic waste of time and a historic wasted opportunity.

SNP Government ministers spend every waking moment saying, “We want more power, more power, more power.” However, when they get the power, they do not want to do anything with it. On welfare powers, they say, “We need to wait and see.” On tax powers, they say, “We don’t want to use the tax powers.” I listened very carefully to Tom Arthur’s argument about the 50p tax band. I have heard that argument before: it is a Tory argument to say that people will flee if we introduce a 50p tax band. In fact, Nicola Sturgeon supported a 50p tax band when she was playing the game of the 2015 general election, but now that the Government has the opportunity to use the power, it does not want to. The truth is that Derek Mackay, Nicola Sturgeon and SNP members are, rather than wanting to use the tax powers, Tory unionists when it comes to tax policy.

The budget was meant to be about protecting communities, but all it does is protect the yes alliance.

Photo of Joan McAlpine Joan McAlpine Scottish National Party

Can the member explain why the previous Labour Government did not put up the tax rate for the highest earners until 2010?

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Labour

I am sorry that Joan McAlpine was not paying attention to what happened under the previous Labour Government, which introduced the 50p tax band.

This budget is all about protecting the yes alliance—not the poorest and most vulnerable communities. I listened to Patrick Harvie’s speech. He is a man whom I respect and who I think always speaks on principle. However, he is a Glasgow MSP who fails to recognise a £53 million cut to Glasgow’s budget, which his own councillors voted on last week.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I am a Glasgow MSP who has won an additional £17 million for the budget. I agree with Anas Sarwar about wanting more—I wish that we had more and I wish that we were investing more. However, exactly what meaningful difference has Anas Sarwar’s party’s approach made in terms of pushing the SNP to do something that it does not want to do? None.

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Labour

I am so glad that Mr Harvie made that intervention, because the equivalent of the Green and SNP deal is someone coming to Patrick Harvie, Derek Mackay or Nicola Sturgeon and saying, “You’re going to get a £15,000 pay cut”, then coming back and saying, “Actually, you’re getting a £10,000 pay cut, but you should be happy because you’re getting £5,000 extra.” That is the equivalent of the argument that they are making in this debate. There is no extra money and there are still cuts to communities around the country.

Look at members on the SNP benches—there has not been a single utterance of opposition to budget cuts in their communities. They have no backbone, no ability to stand up to their own Government—their masters—no opinions of their own, no ideology and no thought except for independence.

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Labour

I will not, just now. I took pleasure in standing shoulder to shoulder with every single SNP MSP against the proposals to close jobcentres in Glasgow. Why are they not standing shoulder to shoulder with us now when the city’s budget is being cut? Why are they not standing shoulder to shoulder with us when there are cuts to the NHS across the country? The reality is that it is easy to be tough when they are talking about what is being done to us by the Conservatives in Westminster, but it is not easy to show backbone when their own Government makes bad decisions right here in Scotland.

I was at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde this week to protest against closures—[


.] I am glad that Mr Mackay is laughing, because I am talking about the Royal Alexandra hospital, which is in the area that he represents. I was standing shoulder to shoulder with Neil Bibby at the health board in opposition to the closure of the kids ward at the RAH. Where was George Adam? Where was Derek Mackay? Where were those SNP MSPs? They were outside McDonald’s, campaigning against a closure there—or perhaps they were buying Nicola Sturgeon a Happy Meal. When it comes to standing up for their communities, they are nowhere to be seen.

I have seen the social care promise that was made in this budget. Apparently, we are getting £107 million more for social care, but the reality is that, at the same time, the Government is writing to councils to say that they can withdraw up to £80 million for integration joint boards.

What is the consequence? Delayed discharge means that more than half a million bed days are being lost, although the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport promised to eradicate that by the start of 2016. Half a million bed days is the equivalent of every single bed at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, and more, being occupied every single day by patients who are fit to leave but who are trapped in hospital—that is a shame on every single SNP member.

After 10 years of the SNP in Government, we have seen inequality rise. Health inequality has risen—the gap has not narrowed, but widened. The attainment gap and the wealth gap have widened, not narrowed. What is the SNP’s version of redistribution of wealth? It is to cut air passenger duty for frequent flyers while reviewing the bus pass for pensioners across the country. That is the real truth of the SNP Government.

I will vote against the budget because I believe in prosperity and fairness and because I stand up against poverty and reject austerity. What will SNP members do? I know what they will do—they will do what they are told.

Photo of Joan McAlpine Joan McAlpine Scottish National Party

If we have learned anything today, it is that the Tories are economically innumerate and their sums do not add up. Throughout the budget process, the Tories have made uncosted spending demands while simultaneously demanding tax cuts. They make two completely contradictory assertions at exactly the same time and apparently without any embarrassment or shame. George Orwell called it doublethink—I call it a double-cross. The Tories are not fooling anyone except themselves. We cannot cut tax and spend more at the same time, and no amount of silly extended metaphors about overstuffed sofas can divert us from that dodgy arithmetic.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Where was Joan McAlpine in election after election when the SNP stood on a manifesto commitment to cut corporation tax by 3 per cent in order to grow the tax take and the economy? Was that completely wrong?

Photo of Joan McAlpine Joan McAlpine Scottish National Party

We cannot expect immediate returns from a tax cut, which is exactly why the Tories’ sums do not add up—they are not coming up with the money immediately to meet all their spending demands.

I will go through some of the spending demands that we have heard. Dean Lockhart wants more for Scottish Enterprise and Edward Mountain demanded more to fill health service vacancies, despite the fact that there is £12.7 billion being allocated to the NHS this year.

It is not just that the Tories’ sums do not add up. The basic Tory assertion that Scots will pay more tax is simply not true. The fact is that 99 per cent of people in Scotland will pay no more tax on their current level of income than they did in 2016-17. Income tax is not going up in Scotland; however, the Tories are giving the richest 10 per cent in the rest of the UK a big tax cut. The Tories propose to raise the level at which people start paying the higher rate of income tax from £43,000 to £50,000 by 2020. That is a massive tax cut that the Conservatives forecast will cost the UK £1.6 billion. I am very glad that that cost will not fall on Scotland because of the fair and sensible policies that are being pursued here. Scotland will freeze income tax rates for this entire session of Parliament. Freezing income tax is not the same as raising it, but the Tories continue to assert that it is.

Ordinary basic-rate taxpayers will pay the price of that through increased charges and fewer services.

The real high-tax party is, in fact, the Tory party. In England, Tory taxes are higher for poor people, who have to pay the Tories’ bedroom tax, which the Scottish Government has effectively wiped out in Scotland at a cost of £47 million.

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Labour

Can Joan McAlpine please clarify something? She said that the SNP will freeze income tax rates for the duration of this session of Parliament. Does that mean that the top rate of tax will not rise for the duration of this session of Parliament?

Photo of Joan McAlpine Joan McAlpine Scottish National Party

As the member has already heard, that is being considered at the moment.

The new Scottish welfare fund, which the SNP introduced for the most vulnerable people in our society, will benefit 217,000 households that are affected by emergencies, financial crises and the UK Government’s cruel welfare cuts—which, incidentally, Sheffield Hallam University has calculated will take £1 billion out of the Scottish economy by 2020.

In England, there is a Tory tax on education—students in England have to pay £9,000 in tuition fees. Of course, tuition fees were introduced by a Labour Government of which Anas Sarwar was part, as I recall. Here, 120,000 Scottish undergraduates do not have to pay fees.

In England, Tory taxes are higher for sick people. People must pay £8.50 for every item of medicine, so woe betide them if they have multiple conditions. In England, 100,000 people who suffer from long-term conditions are hit by that Tory tax.

There are also Tory taxes that apply to older people. In Scotland, around 77,000 people benefit from free personal care, which is not available in England, and which saves self-funders in residential care almost £9,000 per year. In effect, that is another tax that older people in Scotland do not pay.

The SNP does not need to take lessons from the Tories on taxes. It is Tory tax and benefit changes that are hurting the most vulnerable people more than they hurt the rich. Since 2010, the only income tax rate that the Conservatives have cut is the additional rate, which was cut from 50p to 45p. That gives us an insight into the Conservatives’ priorities. The Tories are the party of hidden taxes. They plan tax cuts for the rich and stealth taxes for people on low and middle incomes—for the sick, for the poor, for struggling families, for students, for the disabled and for the old.

It is 15 years since Theresa May stood up at the Tory party conference and told her colleagues that the Tories were “the Nasty Party”. We have had many changes in politics since then. Mrs May has gone from party chairman to Prime Minister. However, I am afraid that the “Nasty Party” tag still sticks.

Photo of Oliver Mundell Oliver Mundell Conservative

I have to be honest: I am still a relatively new member of the Parliament, and I have been a bit bemused by the circus of the past few weeks. I have been struggling to keep up with Derek Mackay’s budget revisions and—more difficult for me—I have been trying to work out which of my two conclusions is worse: either we have a finance secretary who did not notice the missing millions from his budget, or we have a finance secretary who wilfully hid those millions while hiking up taxes and cutting funding for local government and other public services.

I suppose that all that at least clears up some of the confusion about why SNP members thought that they had less money to spend, if they were not actually planning to spend it.

Nonetheless, I came to today’s debate hopeful that, even at the eleventh hour, Derek Mackay might change not just his mind but his mindset. Some of my colleagues may think that I was being a bit naive but, given all the unexpected windfalls and U-turns since the draft budget was published, I was beginning to think that nothing was impossible. In fairness, given that the cabinet secretary likes finding new money so much, and given his Government’s new-found propensity to bound into action in response to Tory concerns, I thought that he might be willing to go the whole hog and embrace the principles of economic growth and competitive taxation to grow the overall tax take.

Instead, the finance secretary is steadfastly anchoring himself to the mistaken belief that it is the level of taxation, not the level of economic success, that will protect our public services and increase living standards. In doing so, he is single-handedly failing in his duty properly to redistribute the wealth of our nation and he is setting out on an economic path that will deny a generation of Scots jobs, economic opportunities and the well-funded public services that they deserve.

Worst of all, while doing all that, the finance secretary is masquerading as a kind of modern Robin Hood. The only problem is that Derek Mackay is not taking from the rich to help the poorest. No, he is more like the sheriff of Nottingham, putting forward a budget that is robbing all of us to pay for 10 years of SNP failure.

Photo of Oliver Mundell Oliver Mundell Conservative

No, thank you.

I fear that this is a case of the emperor’s new clothes. The finance secretary’s new-found powers seem to have gone to his head, and he is parading the naked truth about the SNP’s economic policy in front of the people of Scotland. The truth is that, if the SNP has an economic plan, it must be invisible. Undeterred, the finance secretary soldiers on, believing so strongly in his own spin that he does not even seem to have noticed the outcry—

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

I would like to interrupt the member’s insults for a moment and ask him to turn to his party’s proposition. What area of funding would the Conservatives cut to fund their tax cut for the richest in society?

Photo of Oliver Mundell Oliver Mundell Conservative

As we have said repeatedly—I do not know how many times we will have to tell the finance secretary this—by reducing the rate of taxation and maintaining competitive taxes, we can grow the economy.

There is no escaping the fact that Derek Mackay’s Government has been found out. The years of economic indifference are coming home to roost. Blaming the UK Government for years of its own inertia no longer washes. We now know once and for all that this is a socially heartless and economically soulless Government that has chosen—believe me, the austerity of economic self-destruction is a choice—to push thousands of businesses to the wall, to demand that those on middle incomes pay more council tax and to send out an unequivocal message to the financially mobile and those who want to invest in Scotland that we are no longer open for business. All that hurts our economy and means that there will be less money to redistribute in future years. That hurts our schools, our NHS and the most vulnerable in our society, and it is just not good enough.

I will undoubtedly be told that I am talking Scotland down or hurling insults, but at least—unlike the Scottish Government—I am not doing Scotland down. Indeed, it is about time that the SNP realised that, by calling out its incompetence, we are actually talking Scotland up. Unlike the fanatical, hard-left separatists, I do not believe that Scotland is too wee or too small to grow, nor do I think that we are shackled by our United Kingdom, and I certainly believe that we can make a success of Brexit. However, we will not achieve any of that by reducing our competitiveness and making ourselves the highest-taxed part of our United Kingdom.

Photo of Oliver Mundell Oliver Mundell Conservative

I am in my final minute.

Perhaps it is because I represent a constituency on the border, where the choice that people have to make about where to live, work and do business is most immediate, but I believe more strongly than ever that we are starting to pay a very high price for SNP rule. That is why I will not be voting with the Scottish Government this evening, and I whole-heartedly back Murdo Fraser’s amendment.

Photo of George Adam George Adam Scottish National Party

I begin by saying how pleased I am to speak in this debate, not only because it is the budget debate and the first time that my good friend and colleague Derek Mackay has presented a budget to us as the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution but because it is the first time in history that we, the MSPs of Scotland, have had the power to make new decisions ourselves, for our country. This budget heralds a material change in the financial responsibility of the Scottish Parliament, and it gives us our first opportunity to set income tax rates and thresholds. As such, it is an important step towards Scotland’s future and growth as a country.

The budget is fair, focused and forward thinking, and it seeks to promote Scottish interests and protect Scottish people. It rejects the austerity that is so loved by the Tory party in Westminster and instead secures an additional £900 million to spend on our public services. We believe that money is better spent on the things that matter most to people—the things that can make or break everyday taxpayers and everyday families. Health, education, jobs and local services are the things that make a successful and fair society. By making people and public services our priority, we ensure that Scottish taxpayers get more for their money and a much better deal than people anywhere else in the UK.

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Labour

The member talks about local services and the NHS. Today, he said on Twitter that 140 characters was not enough to say what his position on the Royal Alexandra hospital is. Will he demand that the health secretary calls in the proposal and rejects the plan to close the RAH kids ward?

Photo of George Adam George Adam Scottish National Party

On three or four occasions, we have heard Kezia Dugdale and Anas Sarwar attack members of my community who have low-wage jobs and low incomes because I stood up for them to try to make sure that families in Paisley would have prosperity in future, so Mr Sarwar should not come to me playing politics with hospitals.

At this point, the Tories will no doubt fixate on what they perceive to be a disregard of Scotland’s highest income tax payers, yet, at the moment, they are being asked to pay only a little more each year than taxpayers in the rest of the UK. That is greatly offset by the savings that those earners will benefit from in respect of free prescriptions, free higher education and other vital public services in Scotland. The difference in comparison to England amounts to around £7.60 a week. Compare that sum to the £8.40 that it costs people who live south of the border for each prescription item.

I have followed the passage of the Budget (Scotland) Bill through the chamber and committees and have seen the debate between Murdo Fraser and Derek Mackay, which has been an example of two different approaches, styles and political beliefs. However, there is one major difference between the two of them. I have known Derek Mackay all his political life, and the big difference is that Derek has won every election in which he has stood as opposed to Murdo Fraser, who has lost every campaign. It seems that the public has real insight when it comes to choosing elected members.

In contrast, the Labour Party’s suggestion for raising tax would undoubtedly affect our low-income taxpayers the most and that is something that the Scottish Government will certainly not get on board with. Instead, the Government will freeze income tax rates. Despite Westminster cutting the Scottish budget, we will not pass on austerity to the household budgets of those in our society with the lowest incomes. Indeed, the SNP Government continues to protect some of the poorest in our society from the negative impacts of the UK Government’s welfare cuts, while attempting to tackle poverty, protect those with disabilities and continue to develop a Scottish social security system that is based on dignity and respect.

Locally, the budget recognises the importance of community resources. Local government is an integral and essential part of the overall good governance of Scotland and continues to be a key partner in the Scottish Government’s transformative programme of public sector reform. In acknowledgement of that, Scotland’s local authorities are to benefit from an additional £160 million investment to spend on local priorities—that is on top of the £240 million that is already pledged for local services. Each council area will also benefit from additional funding through the attainment Scotland fund, which will help to significantly close the attainment gap and further promote a fair and equal society for every Scottish citizen.

In addition, all the extra council tax income that is raised by the reforms to council tax for bands E to H, which is estimated at £111 million in 2017-18, will be retained in full in every local authority. Every authority can then decide how to spend the money, based on its own local priorities and needs. All council tax that is raised locally will be spent locally. The council tax reforms will provide additional support to families of low incomes across all council tax bands by extending the relief that is available to households with children, which could benefit 77,000 families and an estimated 140,000 children.

For healthcare, the budget proposes a record investment in the NHS and sends the total health resource spend to a soaring £12.7 billion. During times of difficulty and uncertainty, it is crucial that the NHS remains a priority service for the Scottish people.

In challenging times, the budget delivers for the people of Scotland. The cabinet secretary is showing the way forward to the prosperous, fair Scotland that we all want to live in.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We come to closing speeches. Despite all the noise this afternoon, I have some time in hand, so I can allow time for interventions if members wish to continue the spirit of debate—although they must speak from a standing position, rather than from their seats.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

Labour’s approach from the start of the budget process has been to use the Parliament’s new powers to stop the cuts in full, not in part, so that we can invest in public services and in our people to grow the economy.

That stands in stark contrast to the approach of the SNP, which is content to operate simply as a conveyor belt for Tory cuts. We now have the power to do things differently, but that takes political will, which is something that appears to be strangely absent in the SNP.

Every time we debate the subject, the SNP blames the Tories for the cuts. I confess to having a modicum of sympathy for that approach, but when the SNP has the power to change that and refuses to do so, I part company with it.

I remind the Parliament of the First Minister’s pronouncements on the issue of Tory austerity.

She used to believe in being anti-austerity—that was at a time when she had fewer powers than she does now. Now that she can actually deliver anti-austerity, is it not a shame that she no longer wants to do so? The SNP always demands more powers—it is, after all, the party of independence. What a shame it is that it does not want to use the powers that it has to protect our public services and our economy.

We have heard from SNP back benchers today a list of good things in the budget. This is not about denying those things, but we believe that this Parliament can and should do more. The SNP cannot really get away from the cuts that it is making—

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

In a second. No amount of double counting on the part of SNP ministers can hide the cuts: the £170 million that has been slashed from local services this year; and the £1.5 billion that has been slashed since 2011, much of it on the Deputy First Minister’s watch. What does he have to say about that?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Jackie Baillie says that there is no denying the good things in the budget. Why on earth, then, is the Labour Party going to vote against every single one of them—against £900 million of investment in local services? Where is the social justice in that absurdity?

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

That is interesting because there are actually £170 million of cuts; there have been £1.5 billion of cuts on the Deputy First Minister’s watch—he has cut services. I watch him and the First Minister shake their heads. The unfortunate thing for them is that all that is true. They claim to be funding the health service, but we know that across Scotland, the NHS is struggling. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde will start to consult on the biggest cuts programme in its history—a staggering £105 million of cuts next year alone. Services will close; patients will suffer.

Let me give members a flavour of that. There is the reduction in mental health services for older people—and here I thought that mental health was supposed to be a priority for this Government; the removal of school nurses from our schools; and, of course, the closure of the children’s ward at the RAH, which the local member, George Adam, failed to mention. That is not to mention the proposals to close the Vale and Inverclyde maternity units, which the Government will not tell us about until after the May election—how deeply cynical that is. Let us not pretend that this is anything other than a budget that cuts.

Let me move on to the SNP-Green deal.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

No, I have given way to the member already. He might want to comment in a minute.

I have watched their manoeuvres with fascination. They all say that there is an extra £160 million on the table, but that is simply not true. The only new, extra money is £29 million; the other money is already in the budget—it is underspend, shifting budget lines, accounting trickery. Like a cheap conjurer, the finance secretary reaches up his sleeve and pulls out another bankroll of money—but it is only for one year, so we will start off next year with a £130 million cut.

I say to the Greens as gently as I can that I think that they have got very little out of this deal. I am disappointed that progressive and principled politics has been abandoned for low politics and the illusion of influence. I think that the SNP will be smiling tonight. It has played a blinder; and it has played them well.

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement of a 12.5 per cent cap for the north-east, the hospitality industry and renewables, but again it is not new money and again it is only for one year—businesses want to know whether they will receive the same relief next year, or do we have to wait and see what money the cabinet secretary can pull from his other sleeve in 12 months? Also, that is before I even begin to touch on the additional impact on hospitals, universities, nurseries and schools. With the greatest respect, sleight of hand, short-termism and a complete failure to grasp the challenge ahead are no way to run a budget.

As the cabinet secretary knows, we raise a substantial proportion of our own income. The number of people paying tax in Scotland matters and has a direct relationship to the amount that we can spend on public services. Clearly, therefore, we need to grow the economy and grow our tax base. If we have more people in work—more people paying tax—we have more to spend on public services. It really is that simple.

However, at a time when our economy is stagnating, employment is down, unemployment is up and economic inactivity is rising, what does the SNP do? You guessed it—the Scottish Government cuts the budgets of its enterprise and skills agencies: the very bodies that are charged with growing our economy. Having cut the Scottish Enterprise budget by 48 per cent, the Government decides to give some of that money back. We have to welcome that, but it is financial transaction money—it can be used only as loans that need to be repaid. There is still a £50 million cut.

Labour will not support grubby back-room deals among parties that are more interested in the next independence referendum than in growing the economy and investing in public services. This budget does not protect the poorest or public services—it tinkers at the margins, and it is timid and lacks vision. That is why we will vote against it at decision time.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

As a new MSP, this is my first stage 3 budget debate, so I can only surmise how such debates must have gone in the past. I assumed that when we got to this stage, there would be very little new to add, and that may have been the case in the past, before we got Derek Mackay, the cabinet secretary for U-turns. I could give him other titles, such as the cabinet secretary for the Scottish Parliament information centre, given how often he deflected to SPICe any difficult questions over his funding for additional business rates relief; or the cabinet secretary for money trees and cash down the back of the sofa—I accept that that is not particularly catchy, but it accurately describes how Derek Mackay has navigated his first budget.

Derek Mackay has long been considered a rising star in the SNP, but some must now be questioning his abilities. He is a finance secretary with more than £500 million more in real terms to spend in this budget than his predecessor had, but he can manage only to conjure up a budget that taxes hard-working families more, does not deliver for businesses and cuts funding to local authorities while expecting them to deliver more.

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

If Douglas Ross is so concerned about cuts to local councils, how does he anticipate funding them when he is so determined to cut taxes for the rich?

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

I will come on to both funding for local councils and our tax proposals later, because it is important to give those areas the full amount of time.

We know that the only way that the budget will be passed tonight is through an alliance between the parties that support Scottish separation from the rest of the United Kingdom. What of the Greens, then, half of whom are in the chamber just now? Derek Mackay was—shamefully—described as a “white knight” by Richard Lochhead on Tuesday, so what could we call Patrick Harvie? My colleague Murdo Fraser offered his own choice description during the stage 1 debate, but I have another description: the Greens are pusillanimous—they lack courage, they are timid and they give in too easily.

We all remember Patrick Harvie telling members in the chamber that he had not negotiated enough from the SNP to meet the commitments in his party’s manifesto, on which he had been elected just nine months earlier, but he felt that he had to do a deal. How the SNP and Derek Mackay must have laughed as the Green Party professed to having wrung every last penny of concessions out of the SNP only for another £44.6 million to be found for the business rates increases.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

We know that the Tories’ main concern is the Scottish Government’s refusal to cut taxes for the richest 10 per cent. Does Douglas Ross at least acknowledge, as Maurice Goldman failed to do, that people on the higher rate are high earners? Mr Goldman seems to think that £43,000 is a middle income. Does Mr Ross accept that the only people he is trying to protect are the richest 10 per cent in society?

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

I do not accept that, and I do not accept Patrick Harvie calling my colleague Maurice Golding “Maurice Goldman”—[



I say to Patrick Harvie that people—hard-working taxpayers—will suffer as a result of the budget, and it is wrong of SNP and Green members who have pushed this budget through to profess any differently. The public know that it is hard-working families who will suffer because of the vote that SNP and Green members are about to take.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

I am sorry—I want to make a bit of progress if I can. I will try to come back to those who are intervening if possible.

If I may, I would like to ask a question of the cabinet secretary, on business rates. I did welcome the additional funding that he announced on Tuesday, but I would like to raise a particular point on behalf of an operator of a bowling alley in Elgin. The bowling alley previously had a rateable value of £41,000 a year, which went up to £70,000—a 70 per cent increase. Through his own work, Darren Margach, the owner and managing director, managed to get that back down to 30 per cent, but the increase is still crippling. I ask the cabinet secretary: since the bowling alley is also a restaurant and bar, will it be included in the 12.5 per cent cap? I would like to get this important point on the record. I give way to Mr Mackay.

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

It would be totally inappropriate for me to give individual tax advice to individual companies in the course of a stage 3 debate.

My retort is: given that situation, why are the Tories about, in just a matter of minutes, to vote against a relief package for tens of thousands of businesses across this land?

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

I would say that I am grateful for that intervention but I am not. If the cabinet secretary wants to make the discussion wider than about just one business, will he tell me why some bowling alleys across Scotland saw a 20 per cent reduction, but Darren Margach and Pinz bowling alley in Elgin had a 30 per cent increase? If we take them out, there is an overall decrease in business rates; but there is an increase when we include them.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

N o, I cannot give way any further. The matter is of genuine concern—

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

Well, if the cabinet secretary could answer as regards Pinz bowling alley in Elgin—

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

Presiding Officer, as I have said, lowering the poundage for businesses results in a tax reduction for businesses across the land. In addition to all the new national reliefs and the extension of the small business bonus, I have asked local authorities what other areas they might wish to protect with the extra £160 million that we have given to them. Within that, the Conservatives need to step up to the plate and support local authorities in making those decisions.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

I understand why the cabinet secretary will not give an answer here today, but I raise a genuine concern, so I will write to him and I would appreciate a full response for my constituent.

Before I move on, I will take a final look at stage 1 and a very—[


.] Mr Swinney!

What I would say—[



The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Ross, please sit down. Mr Swinney, please sit down.

If members wish to have a debate with no backchat, they should please respect that. If all parties want to take part in this kind of heckling, it is for me to decide when there has been too much, and not for anyone else, Mr Ross, please.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

I was reflecting on the stage 1 proceedings. Just after that, SNP cabinet ministers—John Swinney included—went into tweet overdrive. They were hailing the deal that they had done with the Greens, all of them saying how bad Labour and the Conservatives were for voting down the budget and all of them with the same omission—I looked at the tweets and a number of them all failed to mention a different group in this Parliament. Which group was that? It was the Liberal Democrats. They never got a mention in any of the tweets about the stage 1 debate.

That got me wondering, so I thought that I ought to check the voting record of the Liberal Democrat MSPs. They had all also voted against the budget, so why were they not included in the criticism? I began to wonder whether it was because they are the smallest party in Parliament; or was it because the SNP is now worried that the Greens realise that they have been sold short on their deal and so it will need the Liberal Democrats to prop it up in future? The tweets that we have seen so far were very telling.

I want to mention briefly—

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I do not really need Douglas Ross to stand up for me. [


.] What we really need is a change in the budget to deliver investment for the future. Is that something that he will support next time round?

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

Given how unsuccessful Mr Rennie was in his negotiations with the Scottish Government, I do not think that I will be taking any lectures from him on how to go about budget negotiations in the future.

I would like to go over a number of the points that were made, but I do not think that I have the time. However, I will raise a couple of issues if I have a bit more time. I like to mention things that were said during a debate.

Kate Forbes said that it is a privilege to be a parliamentary liaison officer to the cabinet secretary and now we all know why: she gets reports from the cabinet secretary before they are released to the rest of Parliament, and puts out a press release. No wonder she thinks it is a privilege if that is how she deals with her role.

As the stage 3 debate on the budget comes to a conclusion, the door closes on an unprecedented opportunity to grow Scotland’s economy. Let us be clear that our economy is underperforming. Tonight, the Greens and the SNP will make Scotland the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom, but the reality is that Derek Mackay did not need the tax rises at all. As Murdo Fraser pointed out during Tuesday’s debate on the Scottish rate resolution, the total being raised by creating the income tax differential is £108 million—substantially less than the £185 million that the SNP had seemingly stashed away for a rainy day.

We should make no mistake about it: Scots can see past the smoke and mirrors of the SNP. They want a strong Opposition that holds the Government to account on decisions that will affect not only Scotland’s bottom line, but their own.

The Scottish Conservatives will not support the budget at decision time tonight because it is a bad proposition for the people of Scotland. Bruce Crawford and Tom Arthur said that this is an historic day. The budget is indeed historic, but it will be remembered not for the powers gained, but for the opportunity lost.

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

I said at earlier stages of the budget process that I would embark on a process of negotiation to find consensus in this Parliament, and I feel as if I have done that, as this debate has evidenced. Well, there is not a consensus among members in every part of the chamber to vote for the budget. Perhaps that was too much to ask. I know that I have been described as a magician, but I am not a miracle worker who could get the better together alliance to vote with us to unlock extra investment for the public services of Scotland.

Many elements of the debate have actually been quite disappointing when we think about the seriousness of what we are discussing—all our public services and the tax rates that we are now responsible for. This was an opportunity for us as a Parliament to show how we have matured and how we will respond to the powers that we have. Therefore, the most disappointing contribution has to be that of Douglas Ross, who spent his summing up on behalf of the Conservatives indulging to a large degree in personal insults and abuse.

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

No. I am sorry. If the member chooses to spend his summing-up time on behalf of the Conservatives simply insulting me, that does a disservice to his own party and to the entire country.

The budget is about £39 billion-worth of services. That is what we have been discussing. Members across the chamber may find points of difference to oppose the budget on, but many members have been able to express reasons to support the budget and the choices that this Parliament will make.

I say to the Labour Party that I listened closely to what it and others wanted, and there were specific requests that I tried to deliver as part of the budget process. Members can describe them as U-turns if they want to, but the way that I look at it is that trying to listen to what parties in this Parliament wanted, to respond to that and to build a budget that tried to build that consensus felt like the right thing to do. I listened carefully to what local government and members of this Parliament said about our council tax proposition and how we should fund attainment. We increased the attainment fund to enhance what was proposed in our manifesto and we changed how that resource would be raised in order to listen to voices in Parliament. We also acted on rail fares and local services, but it looks as if the Labour Party, from a very dogmatic position, will still vote against the budget this evening.

Photo of Kezia Dugdale Kezia Dugdale Labour

The cabinet secretary will understand that our main opposition to the SNP’s budget is about its failure to use its tax powers. In the conversations that we had throughout the budget process, which I felt were consensual and worth while, the cabinet secretary said that he may be willing in future years to revisit the question of a higher top rate of tax. Can he tell us whether he is still open to that?

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government has been clear that we would not take an unnecessary gamble with the additional rate, so, yes, that policy is still under review. We may revisit the additional rate, but we will do so based on the evidence.

The First Minister has specifically instructed the Council of Economic Advisers to look at the issue so that, if we are to change the rate, we will do what is intended, which is raise revenue for public services rather than jeopardise it.

I turn to the Liberal Democrats to say that I know that, like many members of the Opposition, they might not be willing to vote for the budget. However, I think that all members of the Opposition are willing the budget to go through this evening because they know that it is a sensible and balanced budget that will deliver for Scotland.

The Greens have worked with us constructively and I will return to that point.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I want to give the finance secretary another opportunity to abuse me and satisfy Douglas Ross.

Can the finance secretary set out why he is not taking the opportunity to use the new tax powers to do something different on mental health and education?

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

We are using our new tax powers, but in a fair, balanced and proportionate way. We are not passing austerity on to the families of Scotland and basic rate tax payers. At the same time, we are investing an extra £900 million in our public services, and spending more on the key areas that Willie Rennie asked me about, including police, mental health, the NHS and, specifically, education in a way that I would have thought Willie Rennie would have welcomed. I will not, have not, and do not intend to abuse Willie Rennie now, or any other member in future, because that does not fit with the seriousness of the subject that we are discussing.

It is always interesting that, when I turn my attention to the Conservatives, it motivates the Labour Party to get involved. The Tories have put into the public domain their priorities for the budget, which did not include education, police, enterprise, innovation, or international trade. I will tell you what the Conservatives’ requests were: a tax cut for the biggest businesses; a tax cut for owners of higher-value homes who want to sell their houses; and a tax cut for the top 10 per cent of income earners in this country. Those are the Conservatives’ priorities. They are not about all those requests for extra expenditure that many Conservatives make day after day and week after week; they requested tax cuts for the richest in our society. That is not the choice that the Government will be making this evening.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I offer the cabinet secretary a final opportunity to answer my point. If he will not listen to us, why will he not listen to the Scottish business community voices that have told him time and again that creating a tax differential between Scotland and the rest of the UK is highly dangerous? Why will he not listen to that?

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

The only people who are saying that that will be the impact of our policies are the Tories who are talking Scotland down. I do not believe that there will be a mass exodus from Scotland as a consequence of our policies, especially when we look at the other side of the balance sheet and the social contract that we are delivering for our country with free education, no prescription charges, free personal care and lower council tax. That is the kind of thing that will encourage people to continue to live, work and invest in Scotland. The Tories are certainly not a branch of Scottish Enterprise with their attitude towards this country; they are doing Scotland down while we are building Scotland up.

There was also criticism from the Conservatives of the Scottish growth scheme. It has been approved by the Treasury and it will be a sound scheme that will support Scottish business. We revisited the tax argument, which was determined on Tuesday. That does make me wonder what element of the £900 million of the extra expenditure for the public services of Scotland the Tories oppose and will vote against this evening.

The Tories’ hypocrisy has been shown on one issue above all else: business rates. The Government took early action and then took further action to ensure that they were in place in advance of the new financial year. I hear the Conservative members grumbling about 11th-hour actions, but the Chancellor is still to respond on what he will do with business rates south of the border.

On support for business rates, it was this Government that lowered the poundage and increased the small business bonus threshold, lifting 100,000 properties out of rates altogether, and ensuring that 70 per cent of businesses will pay no rates or lower rates as a consequence of our decisions. As well as opposing all that, the Tories at local level have also opposed local rates relief schemes. We hear the Tories making a lot of noise, but they make no difference when it comes to the decisions of our country.

The Greens, however, have made a constructive contribution to budget setting in this country. The Tories are for tax rises, but only for the poor, the sick or those seeking education; they are quite happy to raise and charge taxes in those areas. They might well be a strong Opposition


We are!

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

Oh, yes. Tonight they will be strongly opposing the police, strongly opposing the NHS, strongly opposing the extension of childcare, strongly opposing more support for business and strongly opposing connectivity as well as a new skills fund. They are a strong Opposition to the good ideas that are coming from this Government and this Parliament.

Some have said that there has been no support for this budget. Given that the Conservatives do not want to hear from me, I will mention others who have commented. The chair of Colleges Scotland said:

“The increased investment in Scotland’s colleges is very welcome indeed, particularly in these tough financial times.”

Liz Cameron from the Scottish Chambers of Commerce has said:

“We are pleased that key infrastructure budgets such as roads and digital infrastructure are set to rise substantially over the coming year.”

The Educational Institute of Scotland welcomed

“the announcement of additional investment to support schools in this area.”

The Federation of Small Businesses said:

“By giving full rates relief to 100,000 Scottish firms, the government has lifted the prospects of smaller businesses facing a tough 2017.”

Furthermore, on the new skills fund, the FSB said:

“We called for a new flexible fund to help firms develop their skills—especially the ones they need to tap the power of the digital economy. So what was announced today, while we need to see the details, sounds like it fits the bill perfectly.”

Finally, Hugh Aitken from the Confederation of British Industry Scotland said:

“The commitments in this budget, on housing, and digital and transport connectivity, will lay the foundations to allow firms to get on with growing our economy and creating jobs for the long term.”

Bruce Crawford very helpfully covered the economic incoherence of the Conservative Party, whose members, when asked how they would meet any new spending commitment, would say every time how they would spend the resources—[


.] Murdo Fraser is heckling me; perhaps I will recap his economic madness. The Conservatives promised me a new economics book, but all I get from them are daft dossiers that normally begin with inaccurate figures. They said that, to fund their policies, they would re-spend money that had already been spent or, with a status quo tax policy, magically increase their revenues to be retrospectively spent at the start of a financial year based on future economic growth. That is the economic madness of the Conservatives, and I will not take their advice on economics.

Nor will I take the advice of the Labour Party on how to run a budget. Let us look at Clackmannanshire, whose administration faced a budget decision today. The Labour leader resigned, the whole administration resigned and now they have no budget. Therefore, I will take no lessons from the Labour Party on how to run a budget.

In my final minute, I want to say that this budget is good for Scotland. It invests an additional £900 million in our public services, makes record investment in the NHS, expands childcare, provides more to tackle the attainment gap in our schools, gives more support to our colleges, makes more investment in infrastructure, expands broadband and supports our business environment. It is a budget of which I am proud, and I urge every member to support it this evening.