Shooting Foxes

The SNP ain’t half cute when it comes to strategy. Sure, you can argue they got the Brexit Means Indyref2 case wrong but I would counter that the strategy was right – and will prove to be so. Rather it was the bolt from the blue of a sudden General Election that caught them cold before the reality of Brexit began to bite on the public mood.

The Budget strategy as it unfolded yesterday looks more than cute – almost too clever for its own good. It ca’s the legs out from under both Labour and the Tories while investing more in what the public wants. It helps balance the books after Westminster budget cuts. It gives a boost to workers struggling under the burden of austerity and inflation. Most astonishing of all, it made Derek Mackay look almost interesting.

The story isn’t in the smiles and cheers from his own benches that is our guide here. It’s the unanimated faces of the opposition, winching as their coconuts are knocked over one by one.

The result was incoherence – a regular trait of Murdo Fraser whose Tories took the underwhelming line of claiming a manifesto breach. (As in the SNP promising not to increase basic rate tax). Mmm. Two problems here. One is that they have both introduced a lower tax rate for lower earners and retained the basic 20p rate. Also the maths show that 70 per cent of all taxpayers will get lower bills in any case. Another is that no one remembers what was in your manifesto and they don’t expect it to stand the test of time no matter which party you are. (And a third problem – who believes the Tories could give a Bulgarian passport about standard rate taxpayers? Their supporters pay £50,000 to dine with the Prime Minister whose husband works for a financial firm that hasn’t paid tax for 10 years. It’s the bottom rung of earners who are being forced into poverty with their children by Murdo’s Tories. The workers? Give me strength.)

And I fear the hysterical rant of Richard Leonard wasn’t a genuine emotional outburst at social injustice, but his now routine performance in the chamber. Watching him hop on the spot like the Nutcracker soldier-on-a-string on our Christmas tree, face reddening, made me think of the training the Socialist Workers used to give to revolutionary tyros. The trick was to make the crowd angry which you did by blaring your own fury at them – rational argument was a waste of time. Is he now channelling a hidden past?

His argument that this was tinkering is of course correct because the reforms are the least that could be adjusted, a penny here and there, so of minimal fiscal significance in themselves. But it surely is a mistake to imagine that Jock Tamson and Jean are tutting at Reporting Scotland and moaning that they really should be taxed more and more. There is limited taste for handing over more when we can see government policy in London failing the economy going forward on top of a decade of brutal austerity. The actuarial modelling also shows that if you tax the higher earners five pence in the pound more, the actual tax take falls as they take action to avoid and evade.

There is a real lack of impetus among the Unionist front just now. The trade union demo outside Holyrood ahead of the Budget looked paltry and insipid. No towering Campbell Christie figure, no rabble-rousing Bill Speirs, no mob energy that demands a response. Not a rallying cry, more a yawn.

In the chamber it wasn’t just Richard reminding us of the dearth of talent. A glance behind him showed the previous leader (well, previous three leaders, actually) sitting in isolation, a semi/tragic prompt to voters of Labour’s 20-year decline.

On the other side – now there’s an appropriate phrase – Ruth Davidson is having her bluff called. There is only so far joshing and bullying will take you. On policy detail and development she is vacuous. On the back of her electoral breakthrough to be ahead of Labour there was a moment when her vision of a new Scotland, whatever it is, could have been hoist before an admiring public and shaped the post-election debate. We still get the angry bellows and braying interventions but the lack of anything concrete is proving a debilitating failure to add to the invisible MPs who were to be Ruth’s legion at Westminster. Instead of representing Scotland’s Brexit view – and indeed that of their constituents – they have resorted to voting with the government to facilitate an EU exit without any redeeming case made for Scotland. Not one has asked for any different treatment for their own people and they opposed every amendment which could have ameliorated the impact. How hollow rings the Tory bluster of 2014 about leading the Union or even of equal partnership.

But beware of how the parties are reacting and the inevitable dismal reporting in the Scottish Press. However hysterical they get about income tax (I’ve been muted by Jackson Carlaw!) the key to this budget lies elsewhere. They are diverting our eyes from the measures that really will shape our country’s future because if the public took the time to understand they would see far-reaching benefits beyond the pound in their pocket. That’s why it suits the Unionists collectively to concentrate on a single issue like income tax – it distracts from the wider story of renewal.

A penny in the pound won’t be grudged by those trying to operate a business online in Argyll or in Sutherland and elsewhere, if the £600m to pay for 100 per cent coverage of superfast broadband can be delivered. Broadband is the key to successful business, large and small. It connects disparate communities, combats loneliness, it is an inducement to repopulation and filling essential jobs like doctors and teachers. It will form the heart of future health services. It is increasingly the lifeblood of school learning.

We are a country of small businesses. There is package of support in the Budget including business rates relief – rated nationally at £720m. Their rates bill will be limited by CPI to keep it lower in future. (I spoke to a shopkeeper moaning about the SNP putting up business rates and when I asked how much he was paying, he said: ‘Nothing. I’ve been exempted.’

One of the UK’s major failings has been in research and development so in Scotland the government’s investment is going up 70 per cent. With a manufacturing centre opened and a national investment bank, you see how policy is converging to create a better business environment. That’s where the jobs are made and, after the Tories’ disastrous Brexit, we will sorely need them.

The political imperative of improving life chances through education means targeted funds on poorer areas and helping kids with additional needs. Free childcare hours go up to 1140, helping toddlers learn social skills before school, improving behaviour and creating space for parents to join the working economy.

Complex improvements like integrating health and social services are being funded with half a billion pounds which will streamline how help is delivered, directly linking social support to health instead of running two bureaucracies with patients turning from one to the other.

There is no time or space in the outrage-obsessed media to dissect these policies and how they improve all our lives. But even without them it must be clear to anyone with joined-up thinking that paying a few quid extra is worth it if it means not paying £8 a prescription item, or £4 a bus trip or £9000 a year for university.

Indeed, one suspects that the fury of the Unionist Front at whatever the SNP does, amplified by the piss-poor media, is a constant aide memoir to voters that Scotland does things differently. Some measure you may not like but increasingly you are aware that living in Scotland allows the government to behave in a distinct manner, a knowledge that normalises the concept of self-government. The tax raising powers were designed as a trap to sucker the SNP into putting them up to meet their ambitions. Well now they have. They have broken the taboo and unless there is a backlash, they will have smashed the Westminster imposed model. Every step of demonstrating that Scotland is capable is a step away from Whitehall domineering. Growing Scottish confidence converging with London incompetence, now there’s a formula that deserves a cute response.


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34 thoughts on “Shooting Foxes

  1. “It’s the unanimated faces of the opposition, winching as their coconuts are knocked over one by one.”

    Surely not? Winching in the chamber? 😉

  2. Admirable piece, Derek. If only it could be printed in any of the Scottish newspapers to counter the appalling stuff appearing in MSM, not only today, but daily.

  3. When Gordon Brown abolished the 10p tax band I wrote a letter to the Times saying we needed more rather than fewer bands. At last a government has paid attention. I am really pleased that it is our own Scottish government.

  4. What’s especially cute is the quiet positioning of Scotland to be ready for independence. It’s not just the distinctive tax regime (within Westminster imposed limits). It’s the development of a distinctive foreign policy; the statement of intent over culture and the arts; the support for the innovative businesses we shall need. More still needs to be done on infrastructure: we need some proper, modern, ports – hellish expensive though they be. We also need to do something about Grangemouth – we can’t be in a position where Ineos closes it overnight and we’re forced to go begging to English refineries…

    • The cracker at Grangemouth is one of the few that can produce ethanol in Europe. There’s a reason why it was Grangemouth that was bought by Ineos and not an English refinery. Because they can’t produce ethanol.

  5. This tax raising measure seems to say that the Scottish government is not afraid to do what needs to be done. They have called the Westminster bluff !

  6. Another excellent article which I wish could see the light of day in the print media or on TV/radio. Slim chance of that.

  7. Good article Derek. Worth pointing out that Broadband is a reserved matter, and has been unresolved by UK Gov.

  8. The opposition huff and puff: let’s see their budget then. What would they cut? Where would they spend? I suspect “answer came their none.”

  9. Alasdair Macdonald.

    The impression I got from the broadcast media and the Unionist politicians brought on to rant from the same script was “it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.”

    The actual sums involved, even for the ‘hardworking’ £150000+ earners, is small. However, it has shifted the burden of taxation very slightly from the lower paid towards those on £33000+ (which actually includes me). However, I thought the taxation aspect of the budget was a masterly political act. It made a fairly significant shift in the positions of Scotland and the rest of the UK. Even Mr Chris Deerin, in the risible New Statesman, grudgingly agreed.

    You are right to point to other aspects of the budget (and, even with UK budgets by whatever party) which the media tend to neglect because they want the ‘theatre’ of tax rises. Private schools are going to have one of their perks withdrawn – long overdue (cue angry response from Ms Liz Smith about ‘hardworking families who want to get a good education for their children’.) There is investment in housebuilding, but I think the change to LBTT was an error to try to match Mr Hammond’s ending of stamp duty – the property market needs damped down.) The investment in broadband is welcome as you said. The Arts have been protected. Police and Emergency Services will retain the VAT abatement. The public sector pay freeze is ended, even though 3% will barely match inflation. NHS funding is being increased.

    The scope for manoeuvre with taxation is limited under the Smith proposals, but, unlike Mr Gordon McIntyre-Kemp, I do not think the SG has ‘walked into a trap’. As I said, the actual sums are so small that anyone with a sense of proportion will see the bluster for what it is.

    The Growth report will be published in the New Year which I hope will begin to address what is a potential problem, not just for Scotland but for the UK. There will be a bit of budget tweaking and there will be support from the Greens. Labour and the LibDems will have to recognise that things they have been shouting about have been partly delivered. What they need to do is join with the SNP and Greens in developing alternatives to the Council Tax and using the powers of the SG to develop land and property taxes and move away from income tax, until Scotland has the full panoply of taxation powers.

    • In any normal country, all those other items would have dissected on the immediate post-budget TV coverage or in the Newsnight-type show later in the day. Only in Scotland are we not only unable to watch a key parliamentary proceeding live on TV, but we also have to accept that there’s NO TV coverage of it at all other than brief items on the news. (We got on the BIG news though, so it must be important!) What other country has a TV blackout on its budgeting process?

      Wait; don’t answer that. It’ll only show you up for the atavistic, narrow-minded, English-hating bigot you so obviously are. :-/

    • Good points. Especially your last paragraph.

  10. Independence suporters should be pushing what an independent scottish government would NOT be spending their tax take on, Weapons of mass destruction. the submarines for them, cross London rail, useless obsolite air craft carriers and many more non Scottish items.

  11. so we credit our government for doing the decent thing – excuse me while I hold back on clapping – there is still much more could be done to tackle social inequality, most of that starts with a decent budget for local authorities.

  12. Media hysteria aside. Majority of Scotland knows that letting a Unionist party back into Government in Scotland will mean an end to free education, prescriptions, elderly care, investment in NHS etc, the Unionists would systematically overturn all of it, as they seek to allign Scotland with England and create their one nation British state.
    Many soft No voters have been having their cake and eating it for too long, knowing that they can have a competant SNP government in Holyrood but remain part of the UK. This cant last forever and a choice will eventually need to be made. Holyrood or Westminster, protect what you have now, or give up all of it and follow England into no mans land.
    In Spring of 2019 it will be decision time, the moment people will finally have to make this choice…one way or another.

    • Good analysis. I think many older voters and maybe not so old don’t realise they will still be able to vote SNP after independence and hence retain a competent government in Scotland. There will also be some that erroneously believe it will be a one party state.

    • Nailed it Charles.
      I’m hoping indyref will set the tone for the nxt referendum. Despite claims Scotland’s referendum was divisive, nearly everyone I spoke to valued free education, prescriptions, elderly care, investment in NHS etc, regardless of intention to Yes or No. We generally shared the same priorities, and that’s inspiring. Also, people seemed less concerned about voting along party lines and more focused on how the result might impact their family’s future.
      Despite efforts to entrench and widen divisions between unionists and Indy supporters bringing some electoral success for Scottish Tories recently, I think voter’s at the next referendum will soberly weigh up the pros and cons when the time comes. As you say, decision time is fast approaching and many have kept a closer eye on politics since 2014. Bring it on.

  13. Excellent article.

    The only reason these rabid British nationalists are not laughed out of town is because of the rabid Brirish nationalist media. Surely there must be some decent open-minded reporters inside Scotland’s britnat media. Why do they not speak up?

  14. Winching, Derek? I know the opposition don’t always appear to be paying attention but surely that kind of behaviour would be inappropriate?

  15. ‘…Scotland does things differently.’

    Like it

    • Indeed, the more Scotland does things differently and better than England and Wales (NI is beyond the Pale) then the easier it will be for former No voters and DK’s to envision the benefits of full Independence.

  16. Apologies Mr. Bateman for going off to pice on such an interesting post. I know another blogger who would ‘kill me with hammers’, however I trust you might be a little more understanding, as I have found no alternative route to contact you.

    I refer to your Twitter comment on ‘Wings’ –
    ‘The Darien investors had lost their money but Scotland the state had no debt to be classified bankrupt.’

    I would appreciate your references that I might be able to reinforce my case when dealing with naysayers on this subject.

    Thanking you in advance,


  17. Neatly done Derek.

    Couldn’t agree more… on both counts. 🙂

  18. Grumpy. Any standard history of Scotland dealing with the Darien and union period will confirm that Scotland as a state had no national debt to speak of in 1707. The closest it came to ‘national debt’ consisted of arrears of salaries of the few officers of state. Like the keepers of the castles. England as a state however began to adopt the system of deficit finance during the reign of William of Orange, because he borrowed huge amounts of money from merchant financiers to fight Louis XIV, with whom he was obsessed, and the size of the national debt escalated and terrified contemporaries. It rocketed year on year. Deficit finance was a new and untried model of state funding and is basically what we have today whereby the U.K. national debt is over £1.6 trillion and rising. The way it works is that the government borrows the money it needs to run the country at interest from financiers. In 1700 that was merchants. It issues them with government bonds. It then uses the receipts of taxes to pay the annual interest on the bonds. The merchants are happy as they are getting 5% guaranteed annually risk free on money that would otherwise just be sitting there doing very little. Deficit finance is like having a huge interest-only mortgage where you just try to keep abreast of the minimum monthly repayment but never actually ever pay off your debt. It’s not even an aim. Darien may have carried off most of the available coinage in circulation in Scotland but it was private money that was carried off. I say ‘may’ because not all the money subscribed was actually ever handed over anyway. Some subscriptions were fully paid up, others not. The state remained solvent, it was those who dealt in coinage who remained short of it in the years following. Not all parts of the economic system were monetised; agricultural workers were paid in kind. The fields continued to yield grain, the seas fish, the forests timber, the quarries stone. Life went on. Foreign trade was not necessarily hampered because of a lack of coinage because foreign merchants and finance houses could offer credit. But it took time to build up the amount of coinage in regular circulation. The union did little to alleviate the coinage situation. In fact it made it worse. Taxation and tax harmonisation rose six fold as result of us entering that famous U.K. single market. Taxation had been low in Scotland prior to the union and after the union tax evasion was rife because we couldn’t afford the level of English taxes. They were potentially utterly ruinous, but the government seems to have adopted a pragmatic line, fearing Jacobite rebellions should they seek to strictly enforce fiscal policy. It took until the middle of the 19th century before the revenue successfully implemented a UK wide tax collection system and there was tax harmonisation.

  19. Darien is irrelevant to a debate about Scottish independence.

    it’s used as a racialist argument. Rise above it.

    • Quite right. The lengths some will go to, to discredit Scotland 2017.

    • Noted Aonghus. I agree with you an MBC below, however, I feel that in order to ‘blow those people out of the water’, who bring this topic up, I should in some way be able to lucidly and accurately correct the error of their ways.

      Thanks to you both.

  20. Aye, Grumpydubai; that’s fine; but if someone has plucked an episode from history, why is it Darien? And not the Enlightenment, say; or the tradition of intellectualism; or whatever – ? it’s because an ugly-looking point is being made and it reflects on the Darien ‘expert’ more than it does on the reasons for independence.

    As I said – the Darien sneer is a racialist argument. It fails to engage with history – which would highlight factors such as English economic rivalry; and is a pointless, worthless discussion in relation to today’s issues.

    Rise above it.

  21. The comments on the “piss poor press” is at odds with your defence of them when others accuse them of bias. You cannot have it both ways!
    The failure by the media to report positive stories is the same bias as promoting negative coverage yet you have defended the integrity of your “profession” many, many times when the issue is raised by supporters of Independence.

  22. “And I fear the hysterical rant of Richard Leonard wasn’t a genuine emotional outburst at social injustice, but his now routine performance in the chamber. ”

    Leonard is not a leader, I’d have taken him for an ideas’ man, but I have my doubts on that too.

    He repalces a non entity who replaced a non entity who replaced ………………

    Leonard is not in it for the long term he is holding someone else’s jacket, guess what, another non entity.

    Malcom Chisholm was the last labour polician worth listening to, now all his former colleagues including Leonard place the union above all else. A union of austerity, nuclear weapons, out of Europe, a low wage society with little regulation and ultimately a society that can not afford the list of wants a modern society should have.

    The SNP wrong footed everyone with the budget, to the exgent weathy English Ex Pat journos are complaining they may have to forgo a second ski-ing holday. Its suprising what binds the tories and labour together, that is if it promoies Scottish self confidence, Its something to be opposed!

    An interesting year ahead!

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