Wellbeing Economy (United Kingdom Government Policies)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 27 March 2024.

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Photo of Collette Stevenson Collette Stevenson Scottish National Party

5. To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of any impact of United Kingdom Government policies on its vision for a wellbeing economy in Scotland. (S6O-03264)

Photo of Màiri McAllan Màiri McAllan Scottish National Party

A wellbeing economy, which the Scottish Government is building, places economic growth side by side with our pursuit of the health and wellbeing of our people and the integrity of our natural environment. We have achieved success: since 2007, Scotland’s gross domestic product per capita has grown by 10.8 per cent, whereas the UK’s has grown by 5.6 per cent. For the benefit of Murdo Fraser, I point out that those are onshore levels.

At the same time, more workers in Scotland are paid the real living wage; likewise, the gender pay gap and child poverty rates are lower in Scotland than they are in the rest of UK.

Equally, we have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by around 50 per cent since 1990, while our economy has grown. At the same time, policies that the UK Government has pursued—chief among which are austerity, so-called social security reform and Brexit—have undermined that.

Photo of Collette Stevenson Collette Stevenson Scottish National Party

The Tory Government’s budget offered nothing to the millions of people who are really struggling with the cost of living, and Sir Keir Starmer has already confirmed that Labour would follow the Tories’ tax and spending rules. If we add to that the fact that Labour and the Tories do not want to devolve employment law, it is clear that Westminster offers no solution for the people of Scotland.

Will the cabinet secretary provide an update on the policies that the Scottish Government is pursuing, within the limited powers of devolution, to build a fairer, dynamic economy and tackle the scourge of in-work poverty? Does she agree that only independence can offer Scotland—[

Interruption

.]—a better future and give it the full powers to tackle inequality, abolish poverty pay and build an economy with wellbeing at its heart?

Photo of Màiri McAllan Màiri McAllan Scottish National Party

The groaning when a Scottish National Party member mentions the scourge of in-work poverty says a great deal—[

Interruption

.]

Photo of Màiri McAllan Màiri McAllan Scottish National Party

— about the Opposition in this place.

The UK Government’s budget prioritisation of tax cuts over public spending and investment will have a significantly negative impact on our ability to develop a wellbeing economy. However, given the Westminster consensus on Brexit and austerity, it is clear that only independence will enable Scotland to take the action that is needed to fully tackle poverty and fully build our wellbeing economy.

Until then, we will use every power at our disposal to do what we have to do to support economic growth with purpose. Our economic strategy contains ambitious actions to deliver fairer, greener prosperity for all, and it reiterates our commitment to fair work, including the real living wage, living hours and flexible working, all of which are vital in reducing poverty, which, in and of itself, is vital to economic growth.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I say very gently to the cabinet secretary that she should perhaps have a word with her economic adviser, Professor Mark Blyth, about the strength of the economic case for independence.

According to the results of a survey of businesses that was published this week by the Institute of Directors in Scotland, their biggest concern is the tax difference that exists between Scotland and the rest of the UK—82 per cent of respondents cited that as an issue. It is clear that they prefer the UK Government’s approach to personal taxation to that of the Scottish Government. When will the Scottish Government start listening to Scottish business?

Photo of Màiri McAllan Màiri McAllan Scottish National Party

I listen carefully to Scottish business and the IOD, which are among the members of our new deal for business group, with which I held my first round-table meeting as cabinet secretary last week. I take on board the results of that survey in respect of tax and the risks, as the IOD sees it, of tax divergence.

We have faced some of the most difficult financial circumstances in the devolution era. We are determined to continue to provide excellent public services and good, high standards of living for the people of Scotland, and that has required a progressive tax regime. However, I am clear that tax is but one tool that we have, that it has to be used carefully, and that we have to consider the risk of divergence across the UK.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I n making the judgment that she has just talked about, does the cabinet secretary believe that it is important that, in the tax debate, people are mindful of the significant benefits that arise to people in Scotland as a consequence of living here, such as access to elements of the social contract, including the much more significant early learning and childcare offer, the fact that people do not have to pay tuition fees and the fact that, comparatively, council tax is significantly lower in Scotland than it is in other parts of the United Kingdom? The kind of crude analysis that Murdo Fraser has just put to the cabinet secretary is as valid as his call was for us to follow the economics of Liz Truss.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I think that there was a question there, cabinet secretary.

Photo of Màiri McAllan Màiri McAllan Scottish National Party

John Swinney is absolutely right. He has narrated so much of what is on offer with the strong social contract that we have fostered in Scotland. I do not need to narrate that again, but I add that I expect that people choose to come to live in Scotland for a wide number of reasons, not least some of the universal provisions that John Swinney has mentioned.

I am absolutely clear that the Scottish National Party’s pursuit, and willingness to pursue, a progressive tax regime since we came into government has insulated the people of Scotland from some of the worst aspects of the austerity that has been imposed on us, such as the cruel social security reform that I mentioned earlier, and that it is now helping to insulate people and businesses from the quite extraordinary act of economic harm that was Brexit.