Scottish Labour’s plan to tackle Tory austerity
Last week saw the first debate in the Parliament on John Swinney’s budget for 2016/17. Given the significance of the cuts, particularly impacting on council services, I suppose it was always going to be a passionate debate.
When I wrote this column last year and talked about the budget I said I had voted for it as there were more good things than there were bad, and for me being in opposition does not mean you always oppose just for the sake of it. However, in this year’s debate, I made the point that the bad, in my view, outweighed the good mainly because the budget brings about a cut of £500 million in public services which will have a devastating effect on jobs and services that people and communities rely on. I also made the point that new powers which came to the Parliament this year over tax meant that there was an alternative to the £500 million of cuts in public services and I supported an amendment to the budget which said; “believes that the Scottish rate of income tax should be set at 11p for 2016-17, 1p higher than the UK rate set by the Chancellor of the Exchequer”
I know that raising tax is not always going to be popular and I do understand why, but I also believe that there are times when although not popular if it is the right thing to do then asking people to pay a little bit more towards education, social care and other vital public services is indeed the right thing to do. As part of the 1p tax increase being proposed by Scottish Labour we have built in a rebate for those earning below £20,000 a year so no-one below this wage level will be worse off with someone on the minimum wage being £81 a year better off.
The SNP said that our proposals were not progressive and hurt the lower paid more but this is simply not the case, for example a teacher earning £29,814 would pay an additional £188 and a manager on a salary of £40,000 would pay and extra £290, whilst your MSP on £59,089 would pay an additional £481, and the First Minister on a salary of £144,687 would pay an additional £1,447. So it is fair and it is progressive in that the more you earn the more you pay towards public services. The greatest myth that is often peddled is that in our country we can have Scandinavian style public services whilst paying American levels of taxation. In the Scandinavian countries they have a much higher level of public services but they also pay far, far higher taxes than we do, whilst in America, one of the most unequal societies in the world, they pay much lower taxes with very little in terms of public services.
In the Parliament the Liberal Democrats joined with Scottish Labour supporting this move whilst the Tories stood with the SNP in opposing any such move. The Tory deputy leader Murdo Fraser said, and I quote; “Conservative members are happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with the SNP in holding the line against the tax grabbers on the Labour and Liberal Democrat benches, who would clobber Scottish families. To coin a phrase, we are happy to be better together with the SNP on this issue”.
My view is that the Tories and SNP are wrong, we are not better off with £500 million of cuts. We must use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest for Scotland’s future.