The UK government is in the process of spending an extra £800 million over and above Scotland’s usual budget on Scottish projects.
It is our share of the “levelling up” fund announced last November by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The £800 million is to be spent by constituency, which means about £13.5 million per Westminster seat.
There is an obvious and important flaw in this policy. If it is meant to “level up” it should not be spread over the country, but targeted at the poorest constituencies or communities.
It is then a nice idea poorly executed. I doubt any Scottish constituency will notice the money, attribute it to the largesse of the UK government or feel equal to Kensington as a result, or wherever the benchmark for levelling-up is meant to be.
That however is not the SNP critique. Apparently the extra £800 million, along with an additional £6 billion in covid recovery funds, adds up to “austerity”.
That is despite Scotland enjoying the highest level of spend in its history.
So much for austerity
Austerity is that unusual word used to describe the Tory cuts of 2010. In theory these savaged Scottish spending in an ideological purge of the public sector.
Economic data actually shows a dip in the Scottish block over the last decade but nothing like as severe as stated at the beginning.
However, it is central to the SNP Indy argument that Scotland suffers from Tory cuts.
Never mind that all governments reduced spending around 2010 or that an indy government will have to make cuts (according to SNP economic guru Andrew Wilson).
Covid borrowing makes the banking crisis of over a decade ago very small beer. We are in a much worse situation.
Government finances are a mix of super high borrowing, lots of spending and, now, a bit of frantic clawing money back.
A valid critique of the UK government approach is that its incoherent, flawed (see levelling up) and desperately optimistic for a bounce back. But austerity it ain’t.
SNP stimulus calls
Yet Alison Thewlis, the SNPs finance spokesperson in Westminster, insists its just the same big bad wolf come to eat your granny.
“The Tory government is threatening Scotland’s recovery by imposing more damaging austerity cuts – when it should be delivering a major fiscal stimulus to create jobs and boost the economy,” she says.
No mention of the nearly £7 billion in extra funds that have come to Scotland in the last 12 months, equivalent to an extra 25% on the Scottish block.
She wants spending equivalent to President Biden’s multi trillion dollar package.
The SNP have even found a slogan for this. “Boost it like Biden”. Because nothing spells economic literacy more than adapting a film puff – Bend it like Beckham – from 20 years ago.
What is really odd is Thewlis’s explanation of austerity.
“Tory plans to slash universal credit, impose a public sector pay freeze, and end furlough prematurely will act as a roadblock to recovery and leave millions of people struggling to get by,” she says.
The Chancellor's stop-start furlough led to job losses.
Cutting the £20 uplift to UC will push families into hardship.
Now, the Tories say more austerity and tax rises are coming.
With policies like this, it's no wonder support for Scottish independence is on the rise. pic.twitter.com/nHk78ZVvIw
— Alison Thewliss (@alisonthewliss) January 26, 2021
Pity the poor people in England who have no choice but to suffer this fate. However, Scots are not helpless victims. Thewlis doesn’t seem to realise that the SNP government was offered more social security powers in 2016 but declined them.
These did not include universal credit, but had they been adopted, could have been used to funnel more money at people struggling to get by. If this is now ‘austerity’ it is of the SNP’s choosing.
Her colleague Shona Robison attempted the same deception when calling for more powers to tackle poverty. To which sensible Nats thought – why doesn’t she use the ones already there?
Thewlis seems happily oblivious to the fact that public sector pay in Scotland is decided by Nicola Sturgeon, not Boris Johnson. That’s why NHS staff are on different rates either side of the border.
The Scottish government does not control furlough, but that doesn’t stop it coming up with other schemes to help people.
Most egregious of Thewlis’s misdirection is that Scotland had an election last month, where the phrase “Boost it like Biden” was never used, nor was there any suggestion of a huge spend.
SNP silence on foreign aid speaks volumes
The SNP have borrowing powers they could max out, and tax-raising ones they could deploy. They could have done a Biden, but did no such thing.
The SNP govern in poetry and campaign in prose. The impression of socialism is given in office, but it defaults to conservatism in elections. If she’s disappointed by this, join the queue.
When listing ‘austerity’ she didn’t mention the issue of the week, the cut to foreign aid spending by Johnson. Unusual for the SNP not to take a swipe at Boris. Unless of course she and the party know cuts are inevitable under her plans, and they just don’t trust Scots with the truth.
Just when Scotland thought it was out, they pull us back in again. We wanted intelligent debate but it’s a return to the word vomit that passes for policy.