SNP dishonesty on cuts is a dereliction of duty

Monday 29th February 2016

This is what Kezia revealed this morning:

Today, Kezia has revealed the extent of the cuts that Scotland will face under another SNP Government, and accused them of a "dereliction of duty" as they fail to spell out the truth of their spending cuts.

Speaking to party activists and supporters in Glasgow, she said that non protected spending including schools, transport and legal aid faced cuts of 16% over the next Parliament, following a cut of 5.4% in last week's budget.

This is our alternative plan:

Labour would use the new powers of the Scottish Parliament to "break with Tory austerity" and ensure that the education budget is protected over the lifetime of the next Parliament.

Here's what Kezia said about our plan: 

Addressing the central choice facing the country at this election, Kezia said:

"The debate on tax that began with our alternative to this austerity budget hasn’t gone away. In fact, it is only just beginning. Why? Because with agreement on new powers no party seeking office can ignore the big choice at this election: Are we going to accept the billions of pounds of cuts to come or are we going to use the powers?

"As their own spending plans stand, with the new powers the Scottish Parliament is now guaranteed, the SNP would make cuts of £2.2billion to non-protected departments by 2020.

"We have challenged the SNP again and again on why it is that the NHS, police and small business support are guaranteed to be protected from cuts in their spending plans for the next 5 years but education, we have now confirmed in a parliamentary vote, is not.

"Fiscal analysis by IPPR Scotland shows that this means cuts of 16% to those areas not protected. To put this in context, the austerity budget just passed by the SNP cut those areas by 5.4%.

"Let me be clear, because our opponents will use any ambiguity to distract from the big questions they must answer: our argument is not that those priorities the SNP set out should not be protected. We would also protect NHS spending in real terms over the next parliament, for example. What we are saying is that cuts of this scale to transport, legal aid, the environment, culture, universities, skills, and above all, schools, are simply unacceptable.

"We must prioritise education because our nation’s economic prosperity depends on it. We cannot compete on low skills and low wages. On productivity the UK still ranks in the bottom half of industrialised nations – and Scotland lags behind the UK. We risk being left further behind in the global economic race. Improving productivity is an urgent national need.

"We simply cannot go on cutting education and skills ever more deeply. In my last speech I pointed out that education has been cut by the SNP. The First Minister has vehemently denied this when I confronted her at First Minister’s Questions about it. But look at the facts.

"The official figures show that local education budgets have been cut in every year since the SNP was re-elected.

"By £272 million in ‪11/12, then by £100 million, then £147 million and £20 million. A total real terms cut to local education of around half a billion pounds since Nicola Sturgeon was re-elected.

“That is why we have been so strong, not just in arguing for additional resources, but in arguing for the ways in which these resources can be generated.

"Without significant new revenues, which the SNP have yet to identify, a re-elected SNP would be faced with a stark choice: cut education again and again or cut those other departments by huge amounts.

"If they do plan to protect education, despite voting against it in parliament this month, then you would expect to see honest plans set out by Ministers in other departments for completely reassessing what they are able to deliver as their budgets are cut by hundreds of millions. But you don’t. There is total silence about the scale of cuts to come.

"It isn’t just that avoiding this truth before an election is dishonest, it is a dereliction of duty by the government.

"In our new powerful Scotland we can do things differently, we should do things differently and we must.

"We would break from the austerity of the Tories and pursue a different economic vision based on investment in education, skills and raising productivity."

Spread the word online now:

 

 

You can read the full speech below: 

***CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY***

Thank you for joining me this morning as I reflect on what has been a historic few days in Scottish politics.

Of course it has also been a historic week for UK politics, as we know we now face a decision on the future of our place in Europe.

Scottish Labour is Scotland's internationalist party. We believe in working together with our neighbours, in sharing sovereignty, in solidarity across borders. When the Scottish elections are over we will lead the argument for our future as part of the European family, but we will not allow the most important Scottish election in the history of devolution to be eclipsed by the European debate.

Because here in Scottish politics last week saw events that will define the election choice and our political debate for years to come. Two events that cannot be separated from each other.

The first, of course, was the agreement of the fiscal framework. However esoteric the language of the debate may have appeared – ‘Per capita indexed deduction’, ‘levels adjustment’, ‘the Barnett Formula’ – we should be in no doubt that the agreement reached will impact on the lives of everyone in Scotland.

It delivers The Vow, maintains our higher-than-average public spending relative to the rest of the UK, and establishes a new consensus in a constitutional debate previously defined only by its divisiveness.

A consensus around the principle of no detriment, that no change should happen that leaves us with less to spend on public services.

We should be in no doubt how important the deal is: even before the dramatic fall in oil revenues the Institute for Fiscal Studies projected the transfers from Barnett as worth £6 billion a year, rising to £10 billion a year by 2020. When the GERS figures, the official annual national accounts produced by the SNP government, are published in a few days we will see the value of Barnett growing dramatically.

That is why it is so welcome that politicians from across the divide have come together to ensure these resources are protected.

The deal ensures that unlike any previous election, it will not be the constitution which is the centre of this Scottish election but rather how we use our powers. 2016 will be the first Scottish tax and spend election.

However, while we have protected the mechanism that determines our share of UK resources, we should remember that the austerity pursued by this Tory government means that overall public spending across the UK will continue to be squeezed.

So, we will be in receipt of our share of UK taxes but without a different plan we will also face our share of UK cuts. The powers we have, and the powers that are now guaranteed to come, give us the opportunity to follow a different plan from Tory austerity.

Which brings me to the second, formative event of last week: the passing of a cruel & unnecessary austerity budget by John Swinney. The Tories, who despite their claims to be ‘the real opposition to the SNP’, voted with the SNP to block our alternative tax plan. They cheered on John Swinney and stood, in their own words, “shoulder to shoulder” with them as he ruthlessly made cut, after cut, after cut.

The SNP have the first majority government. They’ve been in power for nearly a decade. They never tire of telling us in parliament how loved they are by the people. They shouldn’t have needed help from the opposition to do the right thing, but we gave it to them anyway. We offered them the opportunity to take the difficult decision, to use their powers, to get what they have claimed to want – an end to cuts. And they turned it down.

I think they underestimate the Scottish people. Since my speech on income tax I have been approached by strangers in the street and on the bus, by taxi drivers, by people in jobs of average income and by the better off. 

One teacher said she’d pay a little extra in her pay packet to make sure her kids, and the kids she taught, would get more.

All of them said they supported it, all of them willing to pay a little bit more because they know services need to be paid for. They know that the money has to come from somewhere.

All of them commented on the fact that it was honest. How novel.

The lesson for me, though, hasn’t just been that making a bold choice, like I did at the start of the month, doesn’t just define you. The response from your opponents begins to define them too.

First the SNP claimed it wasn’t fair, even when every single expert concluded it was a progressive choice.

Then they claimed the poor would pay the most, even when it was proved that 92p out of every pound raised would come from people above the average wage.

They claimed their problem was with our £100 payment. This was even after the fiscal framework deal was done and it was clear that our simple flat rate payment would only be needed for one year before the new powers would have allowed us to simply use the tax system.

Excuse was piled on excuse for not doing the right thing.

We remain committed to setting income tax a penny higher than George Osborne and we will set out how in next year’s budget we can use the new powers to automatically protect low income workers, because the deal to bring full income tax powers to Scotland means those SNP excuses have evaporated completely.

The party, whose rallying cry has been more powers mean fewer cuts, decided to choose more cuts over using the powers.

That was remarkable enough, but the manner in which John Swinney forced through his cuts was completely cold, calculating and callous.

The threats to increase cuts to councils who wouldn’t toe his line, the shameless dishonesty around what using his powers would have meant to low income earners, borrowing the Tory handbook to decry it as a tax grab, then claiming that job losses were being ‘utterly exaggerated’.

There wasn’t even the pretence of being a reluctant, remorseful servant of austerity. He enthusiastically argued for his austerity budget. Even the First Minister, who built her celebrity on an anti-austerity image, rose in Parliament to accuse trade unions of “wild scaremongering”…and even while she was on her feet hundreds more workers were being let go.

The SNP have made their choice and communities across Scotland will have to live with that…but so will the SNP. We would rather have avoided the cuts, but having forced them through we will make sure the SNP pay a political price for every single job gone, every cut to local schools, every local service lost.

In the 1980s Labour councils across Scotland used what powers they had and their limited resources to help working people and to protect working people. Think of the payments Fife Council made to families during the miners’ strike or the ground-breaking anti-poverty work done by Strathclyde Council. It’s a tradition that continues to this day, with Labour in this city alone opening credit union accounts for young people, making payments to tackle fuel poverty and guaranteeing apprenticeships.

But whilst Labour councils will always use what power they have, the Scottish Parliament has failed in its duty to stand up to the Tories and to back those councils.

You know, the SNP are always telling us that they are strong. But what is strength worth without principle?

Stronger for what? So you can implement Tory austerity? Shouting down the voices of experts, trade unions, local communities?

The SNP may have won the vote on the budget, but you can tell by the sheepish faces of their MSPs on budget day they know they have not won the argument.

Because while the agreement of the Fiscal Framework and the delivery of the Vow was a moment of consensus in Scottish politics, it should now divide Scottish politics – between those who want to continue the status quo of austerity and those who would use our powers to offer a different plan.

The debate on tax that began with our alternative to this austerity budget hasn’t gone away. In fact, it is only just beginning. Why? Because with agreement on new powers no party seeking office can ignore the big choice at this election: Are we going to accept the billions of pounds of cuts to come or are we going to use the powers?

As their own spending plans stand, with the new powers the Scottish Parliament is now guaranteed, the SNP would make cuts of £2.2billion to non-protected departments by 2020.

We have challenged the SNP again and again on why it is that the NHS, police and small business support are guaranteed to be protected from cuts in their spending plans for the next 5 years but education, we have now confirmed in a parliamentary vote, is not.

Fiscal analysis by IPPR Scotland shows that this means cuts of 16% to those areas not protected. To put this in context, the austerity budget just passed by the SNP cut those areas by 5.4%.

Let me be clear, because our opponents will use any ambiguity to distract from the big questions they must answer: our argument is not that those priorities the SNP set out should not be protected. We would also protect NHS spending in real terms over the next parliament, for example. What we are saying is that cuts of this scale to transport, legal aid, the environment, culture, universities, skills, and above all, schools, are simply unacceptable.

We must prioritise education because our nation’s economic prosperity depends on it. We cannot compete on low skills and low wages. On productivity the UK still ranks in the bottom half of industrialised nations – and Scotland lags behind the UK. We risk being left further behind in the global economic race. Improving productivity is an urgent national need.

We simply cannot go on cutting education and skills ever more deeply. In my last speech I pointed out that education has been cut by the SNP. The First Minister has vehemently denied this when I confronted her at First Minister’s Questions about it. But look at the facts.

The official figures show that local education budgets have been cut in every year since the SNP was re-elected.

By £272 million in 11/12, then by £100 million, then £147 million and £20 million. A total real terms cut to local education of around half a billion pounds since Nicola Sturgeon was re-elected.

That is why we have been so strong, not just in arguing for additional resources, but in arguing for the ways in which these resources can be generated.

Without significant new revenues, which the SNP have yet to identify, a re-elected SNP would be faced with a stark choice: cut education again and again or cut those other departments by huge amounts.

If they do plan to protect education, despite voting against it in parliament this month, then you would expect to see honest plans set out by Ministers in other departments for completely reassessing what they are able to deliver as their budgets are cut by hundreds of millions. But you don’t. There is total silence about the scale of cuts to come.

It isn’t just that avoiding this truth before an election is dishonest, it is a dereliction of duty by the government.

In our new powerful Scotland we can do things differently, we should do things differently and we must.

We would break from the austerity of the Tories and pursue a different economic vision based on investment in education, skills and raising productivity.

But we can only grow the economy this way if we identify ways to grow the revenues available to the government. To put this big economic argument into everyday terms: you can’t invest in the future if you are cutting the future.

That’s why we have identified four ways to increase the level of public investment relative to existing spending plans. Fair, progressive, redistributive taxes that will allow us to break from cuts and invest in future economic growth:

1. Increasing the basic rate of income tax while using new powers to protect low income workers.

2. Bringing back the 50p top rate of tax to invest in education.

3. Refusing George Osborne’s tax cuts for the top 15% of earners by maintaining the threshold where it is.

4. Refusing the SNP’s tax giveaway for the wealthiest through the abolition of APD and instead helping the generation left behind by the recession to own their own home.

Taken together, across the Parliament, these plans will provide billions more for the Scottish Budget, enabling us to invest in a fairer economy, as we will set out in our spending plans in the weeks ahead.

What is extraordinary is that the SNP, even after the experience of recent years, are still wedded to the same outdated ‘Celtic tiger’ ideas that we should compete, grow the economy and increase funding for public services by cutting taxes. 

Whatever arguments there are around changes to business taxes, further reducing the tax base and cutting education is not a credible economic strategy for the future. Education is not a social expense, it is an economic investment.

My eyebrows raised earlier this week when the leader of the SNP in the House of Commons asked this of David Cameron:

“Is it true that in this time of austerity his party, the Conservative Party, is planning tax cuts for higher earners in Scotland?”

I was surprised because that is exactly what the SNP’s plan currently does. Take each of those areas I identified:

1. Their vote to keep the new Scottish rate of Income Tax at the same rate as that set by George Osborne means that those earning as much as £120,000 in Scotland will get a tax cut through the changes in the personal allowance. The Resolution Foundation report that only a quarter of the value of that tax cut will go to the bottom half of earners – three quarters of the cost of this tax cut they have passed on goes to the top half.

2. Their continued opposition to introducing a 50p top rate of tax in Scotland, restoring the redistributive measure introduced by the last Labour government, helps only the top 17,000 earners in Scotland.

3. Their criticism of our plans not to pass on the tax cut for higher earners planned by Osborne as he raises the higher rate threshold that will help only the top 15%.

4. And their plan to abolish APD, a tax cut that ONS statistics suggest would be worth £4.50 a year to the bottom 20% of earners and £73 for the richest earners.

There is nothing progressive about their plans. There is nothing that would increase investment. They will simply add to austerity rather than offering an alternative to it.

They simply haven’t grasped that in the new Scottish politics, where we have responsibility for raising money as well as spending it, failing to provide investment in public services and to grow the economy cannot simply be blamed on the Tories.

With power comes responsibility. Even the SNP cannot campaign on the basis of grievance against itself.

Because we are bold enough to take those different decisions, Labour can offer a different economic model for Scotland. One based on investment in the future, on growing the economy rather than taking billions out of it by meekly accepting George Osborne’s fiscal decisions.

A different economic plan. After years of cuts to local education, college places, and student support we can protect education from further cuts. And we will use redistributive taxes to invest more than we do now in education - rather than the strangely sporadic approach of the Scottish Government’s attainment fund which, with little reason, leaves thousands of pupils in hundreds of schools without any support.

A different economic plan that no longer accepts low productivity. After years when social security has become something thought of only in negative terms -either as something being cut and leaving the vulnerable on their own, or as a place to dump people who would never be economically productive again.

After the years of small ambitions and big cuts we can offer a positive vision of a new system, based on work and wellbeing, a new system that goes beyond the borders of traditional welfare, bringing together a package of support for everyone who needs it.

The reaction of the Tories to the new debate on how we use our welfare powers was depressingly predictable. Just yesterday they warned of a "benefits stampede" to Scotland. When Ruth Davidson pretends to be different, the memory of her backing Iain Duncan Smith's cuts to the poor and now attacking moves to help the disabled and poor children stands as evidence that she’s just another Tory.

We will set out our plans in the weeks ahead to use our new welfare powers to bring together skills support with back to work support.

A vision of a system where those out of a job get the support they need to move into work and those in a job get the support to move up in work.

Not just a Scottish welfare system but a Scottish work system that removes all the barriers people face to achieving their full potential, boosting productivity and helping workers and businesses to grow the economy. We are the Labour Party, this is written in our name, a belief in the dignity and purpose that good work gives to individuals, communities and the economy. Good work will be at the core of our approach.

A different economic plan that no longer tolerates poverty. Using our new social security powers, for those who need support out of work, we will offer a more humane system of support which focuses on tackling child poverty and supporting those who most need our help.

I want to set out four policies that will typify our new approach.

First: We need to do more to support those students who never get a mention. We will offer children leaving care and going into higher education not just the bare minimum as happens now, but a full grant. These are our children, all of us are their parents. We should be generous parents.

Second: We led the way in calling for the Scottish Government to mitigate the bedroom tax, next we will abolish the bedroom tax in Scotland using our new powers over universal credit. There is no worse example than the bedroom tax to demonstrate the futility of the Tory approach to welfare reform, a policy that pushes the most vulnerable further into poverty without any gain for society or economy.

Third: We have to do more to support carers. After months of campaigning we won the argument on paying care workers the living wage. Something which, after voting against it half a dozen times, Nicola Sturgeon now claims as her own achievement. I’m generous: I take the view that there is no limit to what you can achieve if you don’t care who gets the credit. So rather than argue about the past I want to look to the next step we can take to properly support carers.

Politicians are forever offering warm words about the vital role carers play in our society. We all know people who put their loved ones before themselves, giving up their work and social lives to selflessly offer care to those who would be lost without them. But they don’t need warm words, they need our support.

So I can announce today that we will also raise the level of carers allowance to match the level of jobseekers’ allowance. This will be worth around £600 a year extra to carers, tackling poverty.

And Fourth: We want every child to get the best start in life and to grow up enjoying their childhood. So we will use our new powers to tackle child poverty. The Sure Start Maternity Grant was one of Labour’s most effective targeted child poverty measures. It has been set at £500 for 14 years. The cost of the grant hasn’t increased, but the cost of having a baby has. We would bring it more up to date by more than doubling it to £1,030.

220,000 children in Scotland are affected by poverty, that’s nearly one in four. Growing up in poverty could undermine the health and educational attainment of every one of those children. That’s not something I can stand by and let happen.

By giving real help to families who need it the most at the beginning of a child’s life we can work towards making sure every child gets the start in life they deserve.

We will have much more to say on this before the election. We will look not at the reasons not to act, at the politics of the problems people face. We will use the new powers we hold, look for what we can do and look to the possibilities.

But throughout this election the big questions of tax and spending will loom large behind everything every party says, every policy, every promise.

On welfare, while we have very different economic visions, there's some overlap with the SNP on specific proposals. That's welcome, but it only makes the big question louder and the big difference between Labour and the SNP wider:

How can the SNP possibly make any sort of offer of increased spending on support for people with disabilities when they are cutting, rather than expanding, the amount of money available to the Scottish Government? 

We are clear: only by being credible on spending can you make a credible case for social justice. 

Unless they change their plans, the SNP’s cuts would be the wrong cuts at the wrong time.

Wrong to cut education when it is our economic future.

Wrong to cut skills when we face a productivity gap with our competitors.

Wrong to cut so deeply and take more money out of the economy when we should be finally emerging from such a painful few years.

If we want to increase wages and reduce wage inequalities we have to invest in education and skills.

But people know the things they value aren’t found only in their wage packet. It’s in the services they rely on, the carer who makes it possible for you to work a full day, the nursery that looks after your children, the things we share, paid for together that make life that little bit easier, but a lot more richer and rewarding.

The fabric of the community we weave together.

In this tax and spend election the usual glib responses from the SNP won’t be enough. Will they protect education? What will they do to increase revenues? When will they break from Tory plans and stop defending the status quo?

The new powers are not there to mitigate or manage Tory austerity.

They are there so we can break from Tory austerity.

This election is going to be a tough, tough fight, but never forget that every Labour vote, every Labour MSP elected, every voice speaking in Parliament against more of the same, brings that change, and that choice a little closer.

That is what we will offer at this election.

The hope of something different.

A real choice.

Real change now.