In the run up to the 2010 election, the Institute for Fiscal Studies released a compelling report that clearly stated that each of Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats were not being honest about what tax rises they would have to implement and what they would have to cut in order to match the promises they were making during the campaign.

In terms of a funding gap, Labour were 87% short, the Conservatives 82% and the Lib Dems 74%. An abysmal performance at a time when trust in politicians was already at an all time low and a moment that should have sparked national outrage despite a seemingly largely unperturbed electorate.

We have of course seen the Conservatives and Lib Dems have to show their full post-election hands now that they are in power. VAT rises, NHS overhauls, massive cuts and huge job losses are a large part of the gap between the 2010 promises and the 2010-2015 reality. Added to that, of course, is the raising of tuition fees to £9,000/year for many universities south of the border.

As I said in a recent post and will say again, spending decisions that take place at Westminster have a direct impact on spending decisions at Holyrood. How can a block grant taken from an overall budget that does not include free elderly care, free prescriptions, free tuition, billion pound bridges and a bloated public sector stack up against the Scottish political wishlist of freebies, jobs and social security for all? The simple answer is that it can’t. We either have to top that block grant up with more money, rearrange priorities or fall in line with the approach taken down south, including introducing painful tuition fees. So far we have done none of the above to the necessary extent so the remaining option is for the whole devolution process to fall down like a house of cards under the weight of wishful thinking.

One party (the Greens) is saying that education should be free but we’re going to have raise some taxes in order to pay for it, other parties (SNP, Lib Dems, Labour) are saying that education should be free but we don’t have to make any noteworthy sacrifices to deliver this. I’m sorry, but who from the above sound like they have a solid grasp of the financial reality ahead of us? Who makes electorally toxic suggestions of tax rises lightly?

When I wrote the post on tuition costs only yesterday, Labour and the Lib Dems had not made their position on fees clear. They now have, university education will remain free over the lifetime of the next parliamentary term unless there is a Conservative majority in place or, perhaps with a little bit of history repeating, a Conservative/Lib Dem majority.

The funding gap for further education is estimated by some political parties and bodies to be £93m by 2014/15; a gap which NUS has called “clearly bridgeable” and which Scottish Labour said in a reply to me on Twitter was “eminently bridgeable”. (I wonder who composes the feed for @scottishlabour, hey?)

The problem is, that £93m gap is the wrong figure. As the Scottish Government’s report itself shows, that £93m (£97m in the report itself) does not take into account inflation (currently running at 4% and set to increase) and is based on an average English fee of £6,000 which is contradictory to the Treasury’s expected average tuition fee in England of £7,500. The ‘correct’ assumptions state that the funding gap is actually £202m, more than double what Labour, the Lib Dems and perhaps even the SNP are using to quickly pull their manifestos together. This is creating a financial black hole that will no doubt go largely unnoticed until governing parties have to break election pledges to fix it. Why not face up to the challenge now and treat the public like adults is all I’m asking?

Tavish Scott, to his credit, has tentatively mooted doing away with some ‘universal benefits’ in order to pay for free tuition. Although no detail was put forward, free bus passes for the elderly, at £199m a year (and rising), may plug the gap but it remains to be seen how bullish the typically flighty leader will choose to be on this. It’s hard to imagine a party so full of rural MSPs advocating a complete scrapping on free bus passes for the elderly.

Labour, who felt the need to charge students for studying in the good years of ever-increasing budgets when they were in power, now think they won’t need to when sitting in the cold, hard seats of Opposition. The SNP has not yet formally announced its official policy for financing students through their studies but you can bet that the next swirl of this downward spiral of overpromising and under delivering is just around the corner.

The Conservatives and the Greens are the only parties with a credible position on this. Either students pay upfront or back-ended fees in the form of a graduate contribution or other direct payment or we accept that a graduate contribution already exists in the form of income tax and fees are made free for students by raising the necessary funds elsewhere.

I believe in the latter and would vote so accordingly, neatly sidestepping the parties whose arguments simply do not stack up.

We have already been led up the garden path by political parties in 2010, let’s try not to have it happen again in 2011.