Lesley Laird: This 'Cuts Commission' has gone down like a lead balloon
In her regular column, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland Lesley Laird gives us the rundown of the view from Westminster, and the SNP's damp squib of a Growth Commision.
Today the SNP published their much-delayed Growth Commission Report. Its purpose is apparently to make the case for a ‘renaissance’ of the independence movement and illustrate how Scotland’s economy could flourish in the event of independence. We were all subjected to many media trails, one even made the claim that every single person in Scotland would be £4100 better off in an independent Scotland. Close your eyes and you can almost see Nicola Sturgeon standing in front of a big red bus with that splashed on the side of it…
But despite all the sneak peeks and the spin, many of which would have made Malcolm Tucker proud, the official launch went down like a lead balloon. Why? Well, they didn’t have an official launch. There was no launch, no big set piece speech, no media huddle, and when Good Morning Scotland asked for a senior SNP politician to appear on their show they were told that no one was available.
Perhaps that should tell you everything you need to know?
Before we go into the detail of the report, I want to express how dismayed I am by the situation we have now been presented with. Rehashing the old arguments of 2014 is a complete and utter dereliction of duty by Nicola Sturgeon and her SNP administration. In Scotland we have over 6,500 children living in temporary accommodation, our NHS is at breaking point with over 170,000 patients waiting longer than Nicola Sturgeon’s own target time, our schools are experiencing funding cuts to with £513 having been slashed per pupil in the past 7 years and our councils are being chronically underfunded with budgets taking real terms cut of 8% since 2010.
Those are the issues that should be at the forefront of Nicola Sturgeon’s mind, not independence. People in Scotland are fed up with constitutional politicking – we had it in 2014 with the first referendum, we had it in 2016 with the Brexit referendum, and I can categorically assure Nicola Sturgeon that the majority of the people of Scotland do not want it again any time soon.
But unfortunately, we are where we are. Nicola Sturgeon made the constitution her priority and the report has been published so it cannot be ignored. The big question here is where to begin?
We’ll start with how the report would deal with Scotland’s finances. Under the plans set out, there would be a 5-10 year period of deficit reduction in order to get Scotland’s deficit to below 3%, it currently sits at 8.3%. It also acknowledges the need for Scotland to pay £5 billion per year to the UK as part of an ‘Annual Solidarity Payment’ – a rather ironic name given that the aim of the commission is to rip Scotland out of the UK. To put that figure into perspective, Scotland’s entire education and justice budget is roughly £5 billion per year.
The fact of the matter is that when it comes to addressing the financial difficulties an independent Scotland would likely face, there are only really two options – raise taxes or slash public expenditure. Only a blind optimist would believe Nicola
Sturgeon would choose the former, the reality is that in terms of finances this is simply a Cuts Commission.
One of the sticking points in the Yes campaign’s argument in 2014 was the issue of currency. Yet, unfortunately but perhaps unsurprisingly, there is still no answer to the currency question. The report states that Scotland would continue to use Sterling for a period of at least ten years in order to ‘provide certainty and stability’.
This is the UK equivalent of dollarization, and would leave Scotland with no control over monetary policy and the value of wages, rents and mortgages and would leave open the real risk of no lender of last resort. This isn’t the economics of stability that businesses and public services need, and like the Tories it's simply ideological economics and would leave Scotland as a rule taker not a rule maker.
It is entirely possible to plough through this report and tear the tiny details to shreds, but what is the point? I’ll leave that to economists. What I think it is important to focus on is the choice that is now facing people in Scotland - the choice of SNP austerity or real and radical change under a Labour Government that would prioritise investment in our vital public services.
At this year’s conference in Dundee, John McDonnell announced that under a UK Labour Government, Scotland could benefit to the tune of £70billion over the next decade as a result of our spending plans. When you compare that to the plans in this report, plans that would inevitably result in cuts and austerity, I know what choice I will make when we are forced to rerun the 2014 referendum.
I would never say that Scotland could not survive as an independent nation, of course it could. The question isn’t whether we could survive, the question is about the kind of society we want to survive in. It is about the principles of what we believe in. We in the Labour Party believe in fairness, justice and equality. Those values do not stop at Gretna, after all a hungry child living in poverty in Carlisle is no different to a hungry child living in poverty in Carluke.
Ultimately, we all want to live in a better society. That is what the people of Scotland want and that is what people across the United Kingdom want. The best way to do this is to invest in our public services to ensure that our children have the best start in life, to ensure that our NHS is able to cope with the demands being placed on it and to ensure that everyone has access to a warm home.
First Minister, the people of Scotland want you to fix the health service, to fix education, to end poverty. But yet again the SNP's true priorities have been exposed... Independence, independence, independence.