Three ‘budgets’ since the General Election and Chancellor Osborne dug us in deeper to his austerity highway to Utopia or at least a budget surplus by 2019-20, so he says. UK Chancellors through the decades are notorious for forecasting. No sooner do they make prediction than an unforeseen event arises that requires them to make an adjustment. It’s not that the Chancellor shouldn’t make adjustments, more that he shouldn’t set out financial statements promising so much when he clearly knows he has no guarantee of delivering them.
This week, Scotland’s Finance Secretary has had just two weeks to make sense of the UK Spending Review. As much as John Swinney can set down a few guiding principles up to 2019, until the reality of the Scottish Rate of Income Tax settles down, and local and business taxation are given a makeover, all he can decide in the short term is how to balance the Budget for next year. Yet to hear Labour and the other parties you would think he had been twiddling his thumbs of late with his feet up.
On Radio Scotland, Jackie Baillie was challenged to say what would she do different next year. End the Council Tax freeze? No. End free prescriptions? No. End free student tuition fees? No. Increase income tax (remember we can vary by 3p in the pound already)? No. She couldn’t name a single thing that they are going to suggest for next year’s budget but plenty to moan about how John had failed this and that test.
The last couple of weeks and, indeed, months considering all public officials have had a good sense of the general direction of travel the Tory government was taking the UK, has been a nerve-busting period. Slash public spending (25-40% over the next five years). Stitch up the Scottish Government by a narrow interpretation of the Vow (and its Smith Commission camouflage). The runes were there for a raw deal out of the Spending Review.
Whilst no amount of complaining that reductions in resources for non-essential services are the fault of Westminster cuts, we do need to hammer home that this is the benefit of the Union. Every time a cut is made, we need to talk in terms of ‘its ok, this is what being part of Britain is all about. We’re in it together, yeh?’ That’s my version of positive communication – the double negative. The ‘aye, right’ approach.