All MSPs were tied to the chamber for Wednesday morning and afternoon to finalise the Criminal Justice Bill. It is being watered down by all the opposition against the Scottish Government’s community sentencing plan.
Thursday morning was filled with dozens of amendments as Labour and LibDem members tried to remove the registration conditions in the final stage of the Crofting Bill. I had the first question at General Questions just before the First Minister was berated once again by Iain Gray at high noon. Thursday pm was spent with a debate on the prospects for the Scottish budget next year which cannot be finalised till after October as the Chancellor Osborne announces his Comprehensive Spending Review targets after Westminster’s ultra-long holidays.
This Emergency Budget made in Westminster is a result of the mess Labour made of the UK economy. They cannot escape from the fact that they left behind the largest peace-time budget deficit in history. But the Tory and Lib Dem cuts go too far and are too fast and risk damaging recovery and therefore future revenues from recovering businesses.
Certainly we must all face up to the tough financial and economic situation ahead. There must be an honest conversation as to how we address these cut and tax rises. At a government, local authority and personal level - everyone will be affected and we must work together to get through it while protecting the values of our society. In Scotland we care for those in need, we would not tax those in poverty hardest. So this mess must never be allowed to happen again.
Increasing VAT to 20% is a seriously regressive and a poorly thought-out measure. Not only does it disproportionately affect those on the lowest incomes, but it will also take millions of pounds out of Scotland’s public services –particularly the NHS. This is despite George Osborne saying during the election campaign that he had ‘no plans’ to do so.
Meanwhile in the Scots Parliament Labour’s attitude in Scotland is that spending should being going up everywhere, all the time. They simply have not faced up to the reality of the situation they created.
All this needs to be set against upbeat facts about Scotland’s potential. Government expenditure and revenue for Scotland GERS shows for the fourth year in a row Scotland’s current budget balance has been in surplus. The total in balance is £3.5bn. Meanwhile the UK built up a deficit of £72.3bn.
These figures include Scotland’s share of North Sea oil revenues. And looking to the future Scotland’s seas could supply domestic electricity needs many times over by 2050. A UK led report was recently published showing that harnessing a mere third of the 206GW potential would develop 68GW in Scotland by 2050. Of most note is the estimate of 4GW from wave energy, 5GW from tidal stream and 2Gw from tidal range. These are the prizes the Scottish Government sees Caithness playing a big part. Thousands of jobs will be created across the North. That is why the London Government must work in partnership to release that Scottish potential.
This week we also received a warning that public spending cuts would be greater in Scotland under Calman commission’s financial plans to change devolution.
Professors Andrew Hughes Hallett and Drew Scott have warned that Calman changes will have a "more severe" effect in Scotland than in other parts of the UK, and that recommendations from the commission could result in deep cuts in spending, lost income tax revenue and an inability to use higher VAT to compensate.
With the Tory/LibDem budget threatening Scottish growth and the Labour party unable to protect Scotland – having created the mess in the first place – only financial responsibility and finally independence for Scotland can help Scotland’s economy grow more strongly and build recovery.
Danny Alexander MP Chief Secretary to the Treasury appeared before the Holyrood Finance committee on Tuesday evening. It is part of the ‘respect agenda’ of the new coalition government to send its minister’s north. But he has amnesia over his demands last December in an Early Day motion.
In December 2009 the former LibDem campaign manager called on the UK Government to write-off the Highland Council's housing debt so that additional funds are available to meet the chronic need for affordable housing in the Highlands. He further called on the UK Government to provide for a reduced rate of fuel duty in remote and rural areas, which would reduce the cost of transport; and further he called on both the Scottish and UK governments to recognise the additional costs of delivering services in the Highlands in order to prevent unnecessary cuts in vital public services. Not now, but later, we were told.