Richard Leonard: The SNP's 'progressive' budget masks an unwillingness to deliver radical change

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard says the latest Scottish Government budget fails to help those who need it most

THE Scottish Parliament was created as a vehicle for change, founded in the belief that Scotland could take different choices, build a brighter future and make a real, positive difference to people’s lives.

A Labour government built Holyrood and delivered the devolution settlement, and Labour has been proud of that achievement.

But the Scottish Parliament is now 18 years old. It is an adult institution, it has demanded and received more powers, and with such powers comes real responsibility. 

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The kind of responsibility which should put those with the least at the heart of the political decisions; that should put ensuring lifeline services are fully funded at the forefront of financial thinking; that puts growing the Scottish economy and ensuring that well paid, secure jobs are created and supported for the people of Scotland centre stage.

It means that when a Tory government is forcing austerity on the country and driving people into poverty, that the Scottish Government uses its powers to stop that happening.

Yesterday the SNP could have made radical decisions in its budget for the next year to help those with the least and to ask those with the most to pay their fair share. It did neither.

Where the SNP government should have chosen to invest, it has chosen to cut. What the SNP government should have protected, it has left endangered. The people the SNP government should have inspired, have instead been left frustrated and angry and worse off.

Where Nicola Sturgeon and Derek Mackay should have shown courage, they revealed their timidity.

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The price of this – the failure to use the Scottish Parliament as a vehicle for real change – is paid by the people of Scotland. It is paid in the billions cut from schools and libraries, in lost jobs and dashed dreams.

Scotland has 3,500 fewer teachers since the SNP came to power. It has schools without books. It has thousands of local government workers made redundant. Since 2011 the SNP has sucked £1.5bn from our lifeline services and yesterday the Scottish Government could have changed all of that.

But instead, when councils asked for £545m so they could maintain current service levels, the SNP gave them a cut of £135m in their day to day budgets instead. That is an effective cut to councils and lifeline services of nearly £700m.

On top of that, they claimed that they were giving our hard-pressed public sector workers a three per cent pay rise – yet failed to say that the government expects councils to find the money. Asking local authorities to fund the pay rise staff deserve, with no new money, will only mean one thing – more cuts to services.

And while they trumpeted their so-called "progressive" new tax policies, they did not ask those with the most, those with the broadest shoulders, those with the greatest wealth, to pay their fair share.

Here in Scotland, we have the powers and the vehicle to deliver that radical plan. The SNP has refused, time and again, to take that chance. 

Instead, they retreated from the radical change required and as a result will raise just an extra £164m. Nowhere near enough to stop the cuts.

This is all because the SNP refuses to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to their maximum for their primary purpose – to deliver real change. What we have in Holyrood is a government that is not just too timid to act to end austerity, but in fact actually chooses to sharpen it and pass it on to the poorest in our society.

If we are truly serious about tackling austerity – about growing our economy and eradicating poverty – then this not the time for the reticent, management politics of the SNP. Scotland needs real change and a radical plan to deliver it.

That radical plan means investing in our public services. It means creating the good, secure work that people young and old across Scotland need and want. It means making sure our public sector workers are paid properly. 

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It means tackling the challenges and seizing the opportunities of automation, by providing our young people with the training and skills they need for the jobs of the future. It means ensuring our elderly people do not have to choose between heating and eating and can enjoy dignity in retirement.

Here in Scotland, we have the powers and the vehicle to deliver that radical plan. The SNP has refused, time and again, to take that chance. Yesterday’s budget, despite it being dressed up as progressive, saw the SNP fail to take that opportunity once again.

And it proved without doubt that it is only with Labour and our radical plan for change, that the Scottish Parliament can deliver for the many, not the few.

Picture courtesy of First Minister of Scotland

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