John Swinney’s budget has infuriated the local authorities, who have described it as a low tax budget that will lead to public service job losses and services being cut.
But wait just a minute. Surely this cannot be the work of an SNP government? The ongoing ‘Yes’ campaign tell us that SNP-run Scotland will be a socialist utopia that will be run for the benefit of the proletarian Scots, who collectively care about one another far more than those English. And yet, the SNP Cabinet Secretary for Finance has passed on the implementation of austerity to local authorities, and steadfastly refused to raise taxes using the new powers.
We jest a little of course, but there is a serious point to be made here. The SNP are a formidable and very savvy electoral machine. Six months out from the Scottish elections, they have chosen not to use the hard-won tax powers.
Now it could be that this is a principled policy decision, and that Swinney genuinely doesn’t believe that raising taxes for the aspirational middle classes (who mostly voted ‘No’) is the right thing to do. That would be a very reasonable position, although slightly at odds with some of the SNP’s leftist fringe.
Or could it be that this is a calculated, election budget? Could it be that the SNP actually know (as YouGov suggested recently) that contrary to the myth of Scottish exceptionalism, we aren’t particularly keen on paying tax either? And that a tax rise this close to an election, while almost certainly not enough to cost the SNP a win, could cost them a few seats?
This is a budget based on a pragmatic assessment of the situation. The UK as a country is spending too much, and so services need to be cut. But why take the blame for cutting centrally funded Scottish Government services when you can pass the buck and force local authorities to do it for you?
It means that Swinney can continue to take the plaudits for ensuring that aspirational middle-class Scotland is not hammered by income and/or council tax rises, while his party continues to be lauded as the beating-heart of leftist Scotland. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it?