Greens deliver tough Budget message to SNP


For immediate release 5 January 2011

The Scottish Green MSPs today published a letter sent by Patrick Harvie to John Swinney setting out the party's position on the forthcoming Scottish Budget. The current proposal from SNP Ministers is simply to hand on Conservative cuts to the Scottish Budget, with serious consequences for services in Scotland, especially those relied on by the poorest in the country.

In the letter Patrick Harvie argues that options for raising revenue as progressively as possible should instead be pursued. Last autumn the Green MSPs commissioned research into Land Value Tax, for example, which showed how an additional £1.5bn could be raised in Scotland. (3.9Mb pdf file) If the SNP are not prepared to consider alternatives to the cuts, Greens argue, they will have to find support for their Budget from the parties in government at Westminster.

Patrick Harvie MSP said:

"This is a crucial moment for Scotland, a point where Ministers can either show the benefits of a distinctively Scottish approach or just blame others for their inaction. The public voted in 1999 for a strong Parliament capable of blocking a future Westminster government's cuts agenda, and Holyrood must now live up to those expectations. While SNP Ministers do not have all the powers they would like, there are alternatives despite their carelessness with the tax-varying powers. Instead they are going further, and the iniquitous terms of their Council Tax freeze make it impossible for local authorities to act to protect their services.

"If John Swinney is ready to look at progressive ways to raise revenue, we will work with him to build support for a fairer Budget, one which protects housing and vital public services, and one which invests in green jobs instead of endless motorway schemes. If he insists on sticking to the irresponsible proposals set out in his current Budget, though, we will have to vote against them. There is no point in an SNP administration which just passes on these Westminster cuts. As things stand, the Greens are offering the only alternative to the Tory agenda, although it is still possible that the other parties at Holyrood will remember what they originally got into politics for."

The letter in full is as follows:

Dear Cabinet Secretary,

Thank you for your letter of December 15, asking for proposals for amendments to the Scottish Budget for 2011/12.

You will be aware that I have repeatedly and publicly argued that our budget decisions for the coming year represent an important test for Scotland’s political institutions, which many Scots voted for (at least in part) as a defence for the country against the possibility of a future Conservative UK Government which was determined to attack the public sector and to undermine the welfare state and other aspects of social solidarity, and which had no mandate in Scotland. That prospect is no longer theoretical; it is the situation we face perhaps until 2015.

The Scottish Green Party has debated this situation at length, and we are strongly of the view that simply to hand on the UK Government’s cuts to Scottish public services would be intolerable. To listen to Scottish Government Ministers, one would often gain the impression that this view is shared. Most recently for example, your colleague the Secretary for Education argued strongly that the costs of higher education should not be moved from the state to the individual, and that general taxation remains the best way of paying for our universities. We agree, but it is simply not a credible position unless there is the political will to raise that general taxation as progressively as possible. That argument must also be applied to the wider situation facing public services.

I am convinced that a progressive approach is indeed possible. This could involve empowering local authorities to raise a higher proportion of their revenue locally from a wider range of sources, as well as some limited use of the Scottish Variable Rate of income tax, once the facility has been restored.

Sadly you appear to disagree. Almost every attempt to propose revenue-raising is criticised by you or your colleagues, the terms of the proposed settlement with local government has placed Scotland's Councils in an impossible position if they wish to protect their services, and there appears to have been no effort made by the Scottish Government to identify and promote progressive approaches to new taxation. The Scottish Budget is of course a complex document, however at its heart this year will be a very simple question – will we impose the very same level of economically illiterate cuts which the UK Government has recklessly chosen to impose, or will we raise the revenue needed to offer Scotland an alternative?

Clearly you and I would have differences on the priorities for spending even if agreement was reached on raising revenue. We would want to protect the housing budget for new-build as well as retrofit to reduce energy bills, instead of cutting it by almost a third. We would prioritise public transport and maintenance of the existing road network, rather than the building of new capacity especially in the trunk road network. Even on the much smaller scale, the Scottish Government has recently proved unwilling to protect the funding of an important scrutiny body, and has followed the UK Government’s lead by abolishing the Sustainable Development Commission. We disagree strongly with that approach, as with other details in the budget.

No doubt you and I could enter that familiar debate with well rehearsed arguments, though as in previous years we might well find enough common ground to reach an agreement. However unless the Government is willing to change its position on the overall size of the cuts, there seems little scope for that process of negotiation. If it wishes to provide leadership for Scotland by opposing the vicious and socially destructive agenda of the UK Government, your administration must accept that while the cuts are indeed initiated by the Tory/Liberal coalition, the Scottish Government can choose whether to hand those cuts on to Scotland, or raise revenue to protect the public services which Scotland’s communities depend upon, as well as the investment in the low-carbon future which needs to be more than a paper commitment if the benefits are to be realised.

If you intend to change your position and seek progressive approaches to taxation rather than simply imposing Tory cuts in Scotland, I will welcome that and will offer assistance on the detail. If however you are unwilling to do so, I would recommend that you seek support for the Scottish budget from the political parties which have initiated these cuts. It will then be for the Scottish electorate to express their reaction to that agenda at the ballot box in May.

Patrick Harvie MSP
Co-convenor, Scottish Green Party