The first Scottish National Party-Green Scottish government budget was tabled at Holyrood parliament on Wednesday 8th December. Anyone expecting a Green-influenced budget to mark an end to austerity will have been sorely disappointed.
As expected, the budget fully lived up to the market-driven ‘mission statement’ that Kate Forbes, SNP finance minister, revealed to the parliament when the SNP-Green ‘programme for government was unveiled in August 2021:
“We want to create a pro-prosperity, pro-business and pro-jobs environment, which fosters entrepreneurship and makes Scotland an even more attractive place for investors. “I’m in no doubt that an innovative and entrepreneurial private sector is essential to support a wellbeing economy, and is essential to delivering this Programme for Government.”
The budget will ensure continued cuts for local government and insulting pay ‘rises’ for workers that go nowhere near the promises made during the pandemic. Social care workers in Scotland, for example, will see a 48p an hour increase to £10.50. The Scottish Greens pledged £15 an hour for these front-line staff but rapidly dumped the commitment when they entered government.
Even the pledged £775 a year increase for public sector workers earning less than £25,000 will be eaten up immediately by inflation, which is now over 4%.
Council cuts continue
All of Scotland’s 32 councils – including 14 where the SNP control or are part of the ruling administrations – have said they cannot accept the government’s budget. And no wonder. In the words of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) leadership, “What we have is a budget that barely allows local government to survive.” The budget will mean a real-term reduction in funding of £264m (2.5%).
Joe Culliane, the Labour leader of North Ayrshire Council, was correct to say: “Councils are seeing costs rising, including from the Tories National Insurance hike, and we are having more demands placed on us from Scottish Government decisions made in Edinburgh, but we are receiving no funding to cover them.“There is no funding in this budget to provide a fair pay deal for local government workers so again SNP ministers are asking councils to cut local services, to cut local jobs, in order to fund a pay award for our staff…The budget is simply not acceptable.”
The key question, however, is will councils like North Ayrshire, and the others who are suffering from the continuation of austerity, be prepared to defy the SNP-Green insult? As well as rejecting the budget as unacceptable, that would mean pledging to refuse to make cuts or impose increases to council tax, rents, and charges.
Councils can now increase council tax, but for many, this will be a device to impose further burdens on working-class communities to make up for inadequate budgets. In contrast, there will be no tax rises on the richest in Scotland – the ones who have seen their wealth increase during the two years of the pandemic. Again, the Scottish Greens, with a paltry manifesto pledge for a 1% rise in the top rate of tax, have not delivered.
By using reserves, borrowing powers and capitalisation measures a one-year no-cuts budget could be set. This would be a springboard for launching a mass campaign uniting all those councils prepared to fight to demand fully-funded budgets for recovery based on the needs of workers and communities.
For example, COSLA, in the run up to the budget, highlighted that councils needed an extra £1.6 billion of investment to ‘thrive’ – the budget offered less than half of that.
To achieve a real recovery for councils would mean building a mass movement to demand from both Holyrood and Westminster the money to build the recovery for the working class that is needed.
This will be the platform that Socialist Party Scotland and the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition will be standing on in the council elections in May 2022.
Nor will the funding allocated to the NHS and mental health be enough to resolve the crisis in health care. Years of underfunding have left an NHS workforce facing unprecedented work pressures which covid has multiplied many times.
Words are not enough
This introduction to the budget features a whole host of lofty promises; to “transform our economy and society”, achieve Net Zero (without any specific deadline), and “tackle” (not eliminate) child poverty.
Despite the £3 billion worth of the Green Investment Portfolio, the budget contradicts its commitment to climate action with the proud proclamation that aviation, among other sectors, is still enjoying a 50% business rates relief, after paying nothing last year!
This pattern of contradicting policies runs deeper; despite repeated references to the provision of free bus travel for under 22 years-olds, how can the £300 million given to bus services be a step to Net Zero if it only enriches the private profiteers running Scotland’s bus services?
The smoke and mirrors continue with the budget’s discussion of poverty; despite extensive space devoted to the topic, the amounts pledged to eradicate this social scourge over the course of the next five years will not deliver a fundamental shift needed.
In the context of rising living costs, national insurance hikes and increasing rent in Scotland the politicians’ promises just aren’t good enough. Working people need radical, socialist measures to meet the standard of living crisis. That means massive council and social house-building campaigns, over and above what the Scottish government has promised, and the return of every penny stolen out of public services by austerity.
Of course, UK government grants are smaller than Holyrood would like; the budget includes this point several times, and the Tories in Westminster are ultimately responsible for the cascading ills of continuing austerity. Add the ingredients of sleaze and open disregard for their own covid regulations and the Johnson government provides an easy shield for criticism over a host of issues, the pandemic and austerity included.
We would go further than any SNP or Green politician on the climate; nationalising transport services not on the basis of corporate exploitation, but with democratic management and the real expansion of services. With ScotRail to be brought under the control of the Scottish government in April 2022, there must be a real investment into the network, not further cuts as is currently being planned. All bus services should also be brought into public ownership.
The pledges in the budget for support for a so-called “just transition” go nowhere close to what is required if workers in the oil and gas sector are not be thrown on the scrap heap.
That’s why we call for the nationalisation of the energy sector under workers’ control and for massive investment in renewable energy. Only in this way can workers’ jobs and incomes be protected as part of a socialist transition.
We also demand that Scotland’s land be brought into public ownership to focus the popular support for climate action into a decisive break with the capitalist market, rather than the chaotic and piecemeal approach of the capitalist parties.
All in all, the SNP-Green budget marks a continuation of applying sticking plasters on gaping wounds while at the same time deepening those wounds. On council underfunding, pay, the poverty and drugs scandal, inequality, the NHS, housing, and schools – the crises will continue.
Working-class communities need socialist fighters as MSPs and councillors to end the onslaught. The building of a new mass working-class party is essential.
The trade union movement in Scotland has a huge responsibility to build on the mood to fight among workers. Co-ordinated strike action on all of the issues facing the working class must be planned for 2022. Socialist Party Scotland will fight for this.
We also stand for a transformation of society, not along the entirely rhetorical lines of this week’s Scottish budget, but according to principles of public ownership, democratic working-class management, and a socialist solution to the capitalist crisis.