Saturday 23rd April 2016
Ian Murray, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and Labour MP for Edinburgh South
Where next? In politics, that is the perennial question. With a Conservative Government wedded to further ideological cuts and an SNP Government content to merely manage them, we, in Scotland, face a stark choice: another dose of discredited austerity, or investment in Scotland’s future.
Setting out a vision for a country which both addresses the problems of the present and identifies, and seeks to exploit, the opportunities of the future, is no easy task.
In recent years, that task has been rendered more complicated by the extended debate on the constitution that has dominated the political discourse in Scotland. While that debate was necessary, it also meant that the real problems affecting Scotland – deep educational and health inequalities, a chronic lack of affordable housing, entrenched poverty and serial underfunding of local services – were left to fester.
However, with the Scotland Bill due to be ratified by both the Scottish and UK Parliaments, the debate on the constitution is over, and the stage is set for Scotland’s major parties to elucidate their visions for the future.
On May 5, people across Scotland will go to the polls to vote in the Scottish Parliament elections. Whichever party they select to govern, the new Parliament they elect will become one of the most powerful devolved legislatures in the world.
Over the next few years, it will gain control over tax on all non-saving and non-dividend income; 50 per cent of Scotland’s VAT revenues; and enhanced borrowing facilities. It will also gain control over £2.5 billion of welfare benefits, the freedom to create new benefits in devolved areas, and to top-up existing UK benefits.
Consequently, the next Scottish Parliament will have the power to radically reshape the social landscape in Scotland, and the ability to pay for it. If we use those new powers to their full potential, we can rejuvenate Scotland. That is what we, in Scottish Labour, aspire to. Our vision for the future is both practical and progressive: it is a vision designed to address the deep inequalities of the present and create new opportunities in the future.
The first stage of that vision entails repairing the damage inflicted by successive Tory and SNP Governments. To accomplish that, we would use the current powers of the Scottish Parliament to increase the Scottish Rate of Income Tax (SRIT) by one pence, using the funds raised to prevent further cuts to vital local services. Under our proposals, those on low incomes will be protected and nobody earning less than £20,000 a year will be worse off.
That is just the first chapter in our vision for the future. Social mobility has stalled in Scotland; in order to kick-start it, we must be bold and innovative.
Every Scottish child deserves a good chance in life, and a safe and secure home to grow-up in. To facilitate that, a Scottish Labour Government would use the enhanced powers over income tax due to arrive in April 2017 to increase tax for the wealthiest, using the additional revenues to establish a Fair Start Fund that would award £1,000 to primary schools for every child from a deprived background.
We would tackle Scotland’s chronic housing shortage by using the Parliament’s new borrowing powers to fund 60,000 new affordable homes and, rather than reducing and then abolishing Air Passenger Duty, as the SNP propose, we would maintain it, and use this money to help first-time buyers get onto the property ladder.
The SNP and Tories have no plans on tax and no vision for the future – they would rather maintain the status quo. Conversely, when faced with the choice between using the Scottish Parliament’s new and existing powers, or undermining Scotland’s future prospects, Scottish Labour will always choose to use the powers.
So where next for Scotland? Labour’s road to the future is bold and less travelled, but it leads to a more prosperous and equal Scotland. The stakes are high and the opportunities are vast; let us grab them with both hands.