Lesley Laird: SNP gave 'carte blanche' to a banker's budget

Shadow Scottish Secretary Lesley Laird writes exclusively for the Red Robin about the SNP's abstention on the 2018 Finance Bill:

When Stormzy railed against Theresa May at the Brit Awards he did so using his status as a performer to make a political point.

It was a powerful message and spoke to a generation raised on Tory myths of austerity. He was right to make it.

But what would the Brits audience have made of the fact that three people with them in the crowd were only there at all because they were ducking the chance to challenge that agenda using their status as elected politicians?

It's perhaps a little unfair of me to focus on the SNP's Brits delegation (oh, the irony) of Pete Wishart and Drew Hendry for being missing in action for the third reading of the Finance Bill – because the fact is that the SNP members were ALL absent.

Let that sink in. The SNP, the party of perpetual grievance, which rightly condemned this Budget for its £500million cut to the resource block grant over the next two years, decided not to oppose it after all.

Their spurious excuse for doing so was that the Budget resolved an earlier SNP Scottish Government blunder in centralising the police and fire services in Scotland without first securing an exemption from VAT.

Emboldened by the SNP's compliance, the Tories have chosen to give a windfall to bankers rather than invest in public services, tackle poverty or inequality or invest in our young people.

How cheaply the SNP's silence was bought – a resolution to the VAT farce going forward, but no refund of the millions already lost from police and fire budgets in the past four years.

Silence too on a Budget which, combined with earlier cuts to the bank levy by George Osborne, amounts to a £4.7billion bonanza for bankers.

The latest changes limit the amount that both foreign banks and domestic banks will have to pay. So from 2021 UK banks will only pay the levy on their UK balance sheets.

This means that overseas activities of UK-headquartered banking groups will no longer be subject to the Bank Levy, as is the current case for foreign banks that pay the levy in the UK. This will mean even further falls in the revenue the Exchequer raises from the Bank levy.

The measures also include changes to the amount of UK equity and liabilities that are subject to the Bank Levy and which can be reduced in various circumstances, for example where a UK bank holds certain types of ‘loss absorbing’ investments in an overseas subsidiary.

And to cap it all the Government does not currently collect any information about which banks pay the levy and the amount they pay.

All very comforting for the banks, but out of kilter with former investment banker Ian Blackford's persona as the self-appointed savior of the branch network – in his constituency at least.

Silence too on the Tories' failure once again to publish an equality impact assessment of the measures contained in the Budget.

Under the Public Sector Equality Duty, all public bodies, including the Treasury, are obliged to have "due regard" to the impact of their policies on equality.

That has not happened, but research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into the impact of tax and benefit changes since 2010, along with the impact of the National Living Wage modelled to 2020/21, has concluded that Women lose more than men from reforms at every income level.

Overall, women lose around £940 per year on average, more than double the losses of around £460 for men.

Women and ethnic minorities are bearing the brunt of low pay, cuts to in-work benefits, and from the public sector pay cap.

House of Commons analysis commissioned by Labour a year ago revealed that women continue to be hit six times harder than men by government policies.

The message the dad-dancing Brits duo were presumably hoping to send young voters was that they were on their side.

Yet young people are suffering from a widening pay gap between the under and over-24s – increased by age distinctions in the Tories’ so-called National Living Wage which this Budget does nothing to address.

Nicola Sturgeon has been vocal in her demand for the powers to tackle tax avoidance, yet gave her MPs carte blanche to abstain on a Finance Bill which  failed to confront the problem at a Westminster level. Once again more concerned with where action is taken rather than what action is taken.

Silence on the Budget's failure to address the productivity crisis, to address our stagnating economy and to crack down on tax avoidance.

Silence on a Budget which had done nothing to pause or properly mitigate the indecently hasty rollout of Universal Credit and silence on a Budget with no provision for a windfall tax on PFI contractors.

And then all this deafening silence was broken by the howls of indignation from SNP MPs when they were called out for this rank hypocrisy.

Let there no longer be any doubt – there is only one party standing up to austerity at Westminster and at Holyrood and it is not the SNP.

Opposing austerity means not rolling over for the Tories to tickle your tummy and throw you a few scraps.

It means offering a principled alternative, not a watered down version of a bankrupt agenda.

But on a more basic level it means simply doing your job as an opposition MP.

That's a lot trickier than manufacturing incoherent grievance or listening to musicians doing your job for you, but in the world of grown-up politics, it might just change something.

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