Two weeks ago, I outlined the stalemate reached when the Scottish and UK Governments locked horns over funding arrangements to accompany the devolution of new powers to the Scottish Parliament. To very briefly recap: as some responsibility for raising taxes is devolved, funding arrangements must change.
All parties agreed that Scotland should not be made worse off by devolving new powers. Any success or failure thereafter would depend on how the Scottish Government uses its powers. However, the Tories - backed until 8th February by Labour - tried to pull a fast one and use the whole process to cut Scotland’s budget by £7,000 million over the next decade, hitting jobs and services and possibly leading to higher taxation in Scotland. Thankfully, the Tories came up against formidable opponents in First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Deputy First Minister John Swinney. Unwilling to agree a deal to squeeze Scotland’s budget even further – simply as the price for the more powers – the SNP dug in its heels and made clear that only an agreement which stuck to the original principal of ‘no detriment’ to either Scotland or the rest of the UK would be acceptable.
The Tories made a second offer that would still see Scotland’s budget cut by £2,700 million. However, Ms Sturgeon and Mr Swinney weren’t willing to see Scotland’s public finances slashed. After months of intense talks, I am delighted that the SNP secured a major victory and ensured Scotland’s budget will not be cut by a single penny as new powers are devolved.
There can be no mistaking how critical this is for Scotland. That the Tories caved in shows the resolve of the SNP leadership and that the Tories now realise they cannot mess with Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney stood up for Scotland and no other party leaders would have fought our corner so robustly. Indeed, the Tories in Scotland - ignoring the interests of not just the country but their own voters - urged us to accept the initial £7,000 million cut! At what point would they have raised a single finger to defend Scotland? A £10,000 million cut? £20,000 million?
That the Tories even tried such an underhand trick, with the process of strengthening the Scottish Parliament underway, beggars belief and blows a hole in the notion that the Tories are pursuing a ‘respect agenda’ towards Scotland and our Parliament. Indeed, at Westminster, I asked Tory Scottish Secretary David Mundell if he considered himself Scotland’s man in the Cabinet, or the Cabinet’s man in Scotland. Flustered, he couldn’t answer coherently!
With Scotland’s finances settled, the SNP will now set out how we will use the new powers to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament next year if we are returned as the governing party in May. Our detailed Manifesto will be published next month. Included will be a Social Security Bill to address weaknesses in Universal Credit, mitigate UK Government cuts and abolish the bedroom tax.
Measures will also be introduced to stimulate employment and economic growth through reform of the Work Programme, linking employment programmes with training and education. We will also abolish fees for employment tribunals. Establishing new innovation centres and support for business, especially in exporting, along with our recently launched manufacturing strategy will be key.
Control over the Crown Estate in Scotland will allow us to maximise benefits to the Scottish economy particularly coastal and island communities. We will halve Air Passenger Duty, reducing the cost of flights, attracting investment, new routes to and from Scotland which currently fly from other UK airports and create 3,800 jobs, including at Prestwick Airport.
Fiscal framework negotiations made it crystal clear that only the SNP will stand up for Scotland. Our ambition and vision will lead Scotland to become a stronger, fairer and more prosperous nation.