SNP Draft Budget Hides Austerity

The presentation of the draft budget for the Scottish Government is normally not a particularly interesting event, but the draft for 2017-2018 draws attention due to the further devolution of tax and welfare powers to Scotland this year.
The ambitious use of these new powers to change Scotland for the better is not the story of finance secretary Derek Mackay’s announcement, however. Former Alex Salmond advisor, Alex Bell, derided the Scottish Government as “cowards” for the lack of wealth-redistributing reforms in the draft budget. Mackay claims that the budget will mean more money coming from taxes to local services, but he is attempting to pull the wool over our eyes.
Mackay claims an “extra” £79m is to be raised through the use of the Scottish Governments new powers. The reality of this is that with powers over income tax, he will not be raising the tax threshold on the 40p rate as the Tories have done for the rest of the UK. Not losing that £79m through a tax cut could hardly be described as “extra” revenue.
Another piece of creative accounting includes boasting “additional spending power” (note a very careful choice of words) for local government by ending the SNP’s council tax freeze. So Mackay counts a 3% increase in Council Tax towards a total of £241m for “local government services”. Even though the final decision to actually increase council tax is not down to him, but local councils themselves.
The independent Scottish Parliament Information Centre finds Mr Mackay’s most dodgy budgetary trick to be the double-counting of funding for social care, which is included in the totals for both the Health and Local Government budgets, appearing to enlarge both! This did not go unmentioned by the opposition parties at Holyrood.
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale attacked the draft budget by highlighting the real cuts to local services the SNP is implementing. Unfortunately for her, Scottish Labour’s criticisms sound like hypocrisy, as it is very difficult to imagine them doing anything different. For all their talk of using the Scottish Government’s new powers to prevent cuts, we know they’d swindle us just as much.
Local government definitely is a loser in this draft budget, however. In exchange for the Scottish Government allowing councils to raise Council Tax by 3%, there are cuts of £327m to local government grants. This sort of financial relationship – whereby the lower unit of government is hamstrung by cuts from above and given insufficient powers to make up the shortfall – is exactly what the SNP leadership complains about concerning the tax powers devolved to Holyrood and austerity cuts to the block grant from HM Treasury. In reality the only solution in either case is by defying austerity budgets and the bourgois law that defends them. Any idea such as this, as we’ve explained previously, could gain much resonance amongst the SNP’s membership and support. However the leadership are far from willing to carry out such a thing.
The SNP tops will always argue, of course, that only with the powers of an independent country can the Scottish Government truly run Scotland in “Scotland’s interests”. But whose interests are those, really? With more power comes more responsibility, and with the new devolved powers coming in April 2017 and beyond, the Scottish Government will be more responsible for the management of the Scottish economy and its budget will reflect that. For so long as the SNP are wedded to capitalism, they will have to implement the agenda of Scottish capital when in Government.
In these times of great uncertainty following the Brexit vote and ever-declining predictions for economic growth, the austerity agenda of capitalism has become somewhat more cautious. We saw this with the new Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s Autumn Statement. The UK Government will adopt a slightly more Keynesian policy due to the instability of the British and European economic outlook, financed by the swelling national debt. This is the only area where the SNP are using Holyrood’s new powers to the maximum: borrowing money.
Currently the majority of the Scottish working class trusts the SNP to defend their interests. Where they want influence now is in the other half of their cross-class alliance for independence: the capitalist class. This draft budget which implements austerity cuts while trying to hide them behind misleading statistics and crumbs-from-the-table reforms shows this cautious new attitude.
The SNP will continue to speak up for “Scotland’s interests”, covering up the contradictory class interests at the heart of Scottish society and the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon has quickly become a stalwart defender of Scottish and British capitalist interests in the EU by using this deceptive slogan. She may still mention fighting the Tories from time-to-time, but on whose behalf? However the SNP have a problem in that their support comes from a healthy attitude of wanting to fight the Tories along with austerity, trident, warmongering and the rotten Westminster clique. I.e. an opposition to the some of the most unjust but inherent traits of capitalism. Even though Sturgeon et al are wedded to capitalism the mood and expectations created during the referendum and the SNPs rise are something which they will not be able to control forever.
The class contradictions of the SNP in time will lead to huge splits and formations of radical left wing currents where the ideas of revolutionary socialism will gain huge resonance. It is important now more than ever that we do not keep our criticisms of the SNP leadership to ourselves. If the working class does not fight for its interests – if we do not fight for socialism – nobody will. It’s not going to be handed to us by Parliaments or passed via referendum. 2017 will be a more turbulent year than 2016 as the crisis of capitalism and infighting among the ruling class intensifies. This is a precondition to revolutionary moments, but they will only come if we get organised, educated and take the offensive. Make Revolution your New Year’s Resolution!

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