I do not believe that there would be behavioural change unless we were to change taxes dramatically. The change that would happen is that we would have money to invest in the services that we very much need, which is what Scottish Labour is calling for.
The only way to reduce a deficit is to build the economy. The SNP Government often says that it does not have the levers to do that, but of course it does—indeed, it has used them to make us worse off. If it was to use the levers to bring down the deficit and build the economy, we might make some progress.
The SNP Government depends on an unpopular Tory Government making the negative argument for independence instead of using the powers that it has to make a positive one. It uses the politics of grudge and grievance rather than the politics of investment and growth. How could anyone trust the Scottish Government to negotiate independence? It negotiated a fiscal framework that leaves us £200 million worse off this year and creates a £1 billion black hole over the next three years.
Under this Government, the only thing that is growing is poverty. Educational standards are falling and the national health service is one long waiting list.
Our councils are no longer able to provide lifeline services for our communities. Can anyone remember the historic concordat, which was heralded in a new relationship of mutual respect between Government and councils? Councils must rue the day that they fell for that one. The concordat now means that they are able to provide statutory services only, and they struggle to do even that. If that was not bad enough, council taxes are also set in Edinburgh by the Scottish Government.
Let me quote Jim Hunter’s comments on last year’s budget, which still hold true today. He said:
“Ministers and MSPs can keep councils on the tightest of tight reins—and, when services in consequence get slashed, they can arrange for councillors to get the blame. Perhaps, then, the time has come for councillors to quit council chambers, lock the doors and mail the keys to Holyrood. ‘Since you guys insist on calling all the shots,’ their covering notes could say, ‘it’s high time you carried the can.’”
This year’s rate resolution heaps more misery on our councils, which are already failing to provide public services. It provides no hope for improvement; it provides only cuts on cuts. It is a political choice. This Government talks left-of-centre politics but, in practice, it is a right-wing, tax-cutting and service-cutting Government.