Budget shenanigans and political grandstanding

Written by Campbell Gunn, 3×1 Strategic Adviser and former Senior Special Adviser to First Ministers Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond

The media can sometime make politics seem more exciting than it really is. After all they need to sell papers….. or get more clicks on their websites.

So last week’s Scottish Budget was presented as being a real cliffhanger, with the prospect of Finance Secretary Derek Mackay’s budget being voted down by the combined opposition.

But the minority SNP government’s Scottish Budget was passed on Thursday after a deal with the Greens.

This seemed to come as a bit of a surprise to some in the media, who claimed that both the Greens and the Liberal Democrats were “digging their heels in” over any arrangement in the final days before the Budget came to Parliament.

However, the reality is that the Lib Dems were never going to be a serious option for SNP negotiators, and 24 hours before the announcement of a deal with the Greens was made, Government sources were relaxed and confident that all would be well.

The deal sees additional spending of £220 million, with £160 million of that going direct to local authorities. That’s a positive for the SNP. However, the political negative of the deal is that the threshold for higher rate income tax will be frozen at £43,000, with Scotland foregoing the increase to £45,000 from which the rest of the UK will benefit.

The SNP claim that they are merely leaving the current thresholds unchanged, so no one will notice the difference. But higher rate taxpayers will find themselves around £400 pounds a year worse off than their counterparts south of the border.

The change affects only those earning over £43,000, so around 90 per cent of Scots will be unaffected, so the Nationalists will be hoping any electoral damage will be limited.

It will be difficult though, to counter the argument, which the Conservatives will use at every opportunity, that Scotland is now the highest taxed part of the country.

The deal with the Greens will see the Budget clear all three stages at Holyrood. And the agreement will have longer-term effects. The Greens are now firmly in bed with the SNP and that means that any “Indyref2” proposal which Nicola Sturgeon may (or may not) bring forward in the coming months will also receive their support at Holyrood.

On this issue, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon didn’t cover himself in glory with an interview in which he firmly ruled out Westminster clearance for a second independence referendum, if the Scottish Parliament demanded it, only to backpedal on the claim within hours.

Next week, the Scottish Parliament will debate Brexit, though there will be no pointless legislative consent motion tabled, following the Supreme Court ruling that the devolved administrations need not be consulted formally.

However, it will give the parties at Holyrood the opportunity to make political points and generally grandstand. There’s nothing our elected representatives like doing better than that.