SNP austerity will hit the vulnerable – but Sturgeon won’t ask the rich to pay more, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader writes

19th December, 2016 4:00 pm

alex-rowley

For many people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, their first real encounter with Nicola Sturgeon was during the 2015 general election. What they saw was a crusader against cuts to public services and a fighter for higher taxes on the richest few.

Hopefully those same people were paying attention this week, because they will have seen the real Nicola Sturgeon who refuses to use the powers she has to stop Tory cuts.

On Thursday the SNP unveiled the most important budget since the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. The major new tax powers devolved to Holyrood mean we can make different choices from the Tories. We don’t have to implement cuts to public services.

Yet that is exactly what the Nationalist government did. Local services like schools and social care face cuts of £327m next year as a consequence of the SNP’s budget. That’s a figure that has been confirmed by the impartial experts at the Scottish Parliament. The SNP is in denial when they claim councils are getting a good deal.

These are cuts that will hit everybody, but hurt the most vulnerable. They will make it even harder for schools to educate our children, for social care services to look after our older people, and for councils to provide support to those in need.

The SNP claim that they aren’t really making cuts because local authorities can make up some of the difference by raising council tax. It’s an argument riddled with hypocrisy coming from Nationalist ministers who refuse to use the Scottish Parliament’s tax powers to stop the cuts and invest in public services instead.

Investing in public services like schools means our young people will have the skills they need to compete for the jobs of the future. We can only grow our economy by investing in our people.

Labour will table amendments to this budget in the new year. When schools are facing budget cuts we think the richest few should pay their fair share. That’s why we back a 50p top rate of tax for the top one per cent earning more than £150,000 a year. That would generate extra money to invest in education. Nicola Sturgeon was in favour of this policy at last year’s UK general election, when she wasn’t faced with the prospect of having to deliver it. Then she was against it ahead of the Scottish Parliament election last May. And now she claims to be mostly for it, but not really and, in any event, now isn’t the right time. This approach isn’t the mark of a progressive party.

But a 50p top rate of tax for the top one per cent alone wouldn’t be enough to stop the cuts, which is why we support a small 1p increase in income tax. That will allow us to stop the cuts to local services, invest in education and grow our economy.

Labour will not vote for a budget that cuts valued public services and refuses to ask the richest few to pay their fair share. The question people have to ask themselves is: why would the SNP?

Alex Rowley is the deputy leader of Scottish Labour
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