Posts Tagged budget

It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt

The media pundits and the blogocracy have got their regular metaphor of choice for the Budget. It’s high-stakes poker, and you can see why. John Swinney publishes a draft Budget/deals, then each party decides how to respond/play their hand. Infamously, in 2009 the SNP thought we weren’t committed to the insulation scheme being universal/were bluffing, and when the cards were shown/buttons pressed, it turned out we weren’t. Pocket rockets.

The analogies continue this time, although I can’t work out what the poker equivalent is for the Tories siding early with the SNP and supporting what’s effectively an Osbornomics cuts Budget: suggestions welcome. Equally, by voting against such an ideological Budget at Stage One the Greens have apparently folded early. It doesn’t feel like that to me.

It’s a flawed and misleading metaphor, and its time has passed. Perhaps in previous years, with the overall pot rising, that might have been a justifiable way to see the new minority-Parliament Budget process. But not now.

Now the decision before Parliament is whether or not to sanction about £1.3bn worth of cuts. Even if, like the SNP and the other opposition parties, you’re not prepared to take a serious look at raising revenue (despite the options we’ve already proposed: 1, 2, 3 etc), that’s what a Yes or an Abstain means. There’s a lot of ink spilt about this being a centre-left country, but the reality is that they’re four of a kind on the revenue vs cuts issue.

But it’s not about the men and Margo around the table. As per my comment elsewhere, the parties are not playing a petty game to determine who gets a good headline, or they should not be. It’s a year of Scotland’s public services, services relied on by the vulnerable, the ill, the homeless, the working poor and the unemployed. These are the most crucial set of decisions made in Scottish politics. John’s chosen a Tory budget, and that’s the real reason the Tories were in the bag before it began. They’re not playing a good hand, they’re recognising one of their own. A pair, if you like.

It was a poker post on the first class Burdz Eye View that got me thinking about this. She’s not alone – the CalMerc followed with one the next day, and I’m sure I’ve used the metaphor myself before. Here’s the Herald in 2008, and there’s a story missing here which suggests the Sun actually posted Budget coverage to

It’s compellingly simple. John, Andy, Derek, Jeremy, Patrick and Margo are the players. The aim of the game for the opposition parties, the argument goes, is to walk away with a good headline and a nice wee pot while the banker runs the game. It’s not even how it works – by the time there’s a full house in the Chamber the decisions have (generally) been taken as a result of a series of bilaterals. If you’re determined to find a games analogy, it’s more like Bohnanza, except it’s always the Minister’s turn.

The more the media and the bloggers treat it as a game, any game, the less seriously the real-life impacts of these cuts on communities across Scotland get taken. There are no points of principle at stake in poker – it’s just about your hand, how you play it and what you can take from the others. There’s a principle here, though – do we believe in public services or do we want lower taxes?

It all comes down to the Lib Dems now, they say. The Greens should step straight in and get a good deal, I’m told. Sure, we could no doubt negotiate for a little here or there, but it’d be set against those thousands of job losses, the thousands of vulnerable Scots who rely on local services currently under threat so John Swinney and the Tories can work together. If the SNP would rather try again (that’s perhaps the most important article on this year’s Budget) and find a centre-left consensus and look beyond the retailers levy to limit the cuts, we’ll be happy to talk, but any left party that backed this particular Budget in these circumstances would be a busted flush, pure and simple.

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Just choose your cuts?

Caroline Lucas and Patrick Harvie at Conference 2010 Less than a month ago, Jeff wondered whether any of the parties would be brave enough to consider using the tax-varying powers of the Scottish Parliament. I held off commenting because I hoped the Scottish Greens would vote at Conference to back revenue-raising to block the worst of the cuts, and indeed we did this weekend, overwhelmingly so.

The UK Government, has, we believe, made the wrong decisions with their deficit plans and spending cuts. They are enthusiastically regressive in the detail – a return to the work-house? – and economically illiterate in their overall effect.

Greens don’t want to see massive deficits pile up and have taxpayers’ money wasted on interest payments, but neither do we believe the payback should be made by the poor.

A massive clampdown on tax avoidance, a Robin Hood tax, a one-off wealth tax on the richest, these are the ways in which a progressive UK Government would act. But we do not have such a thing, any more than we had one prior to May.

UK Ministers have three dimensions to consider. Revenue, expenditure and borrowing. Scottish Ministers have only the first two (which is probably a good thing given the perverse desire of the other four parties here to blow billions on the Alex Salmond Additional Forth Bridge).

Without significant borrowing powers for the Scottish Government, John Swinney can only look at revenue and expenditure. Yet the SNP have themselves ruled out revenue changes. The tax varying power is “impractical”, despite having campaigned for it to be used not so long ago as the old Penny For Scotland. Council Tax will be frozen too, despite the regressive nature of the freeze as well as the tax itself.

The Labour leader has done the same, telling the Today Programme two weeks ago that:

“the debate in Scotland is about managing the reduction in the finances that we’ll have available”.

Both the SNP and Labour are terrified of frightening the rightwing press who have cheered on the coalition, and neither party feels they can afford the other slamming them for some “tax bombshell” or similar. In Jeff’s post he said he thought the Nats would be the most likely to be brave, but I never believed that. Their political proximity to the Tories has been striking, as has their growing terror at being evicted from office having achieved not much.

Neither the Conservatives nor the Lib Dems could credibly take a position which criticised their London colleagues’ cuts, either. Again, Jeff had the Libs down as second most likely to take a progressive position: that struck me as impossible too.

Contrary to the Scotsman headline, Scottish Green Party conference didn’t pass a call for a 3p increase in income tax. We voted for a manifesto which would find progressive ways to raise revenue, within the limits on Holyrood to do so, including Land Value Tax and the Scottish Variable Rate. The detailed proposals will go through the party’s Council, but I’ll eat my hat if they recommend the full 3p.

Every other party in Holyrood is now apparently committed to passing on the Westminster cuts in their entirety. The only debates for them are about where they fall. Should they hit health or housing harder? Should capital budgets be cut for roads or schools? (not a hard one, that)

So here’s the dividing line. The election will be about the cuts above all, and the Scottish Greens will be the only party in the next election offering an alternative to them.

Here’s how Patrick had it yesterday.

“Labour and the SNP are just bickering about how to implement the Coalition’s cuts. This vote today means the Scottish Greens will provide the people of Scotland with a pragmatic alternative, the only alternative to those cuts. When the Scottish public voted in 1999, they voted not just for a Parliament but also for that Parliament to have tax-varying powers. The options are limited, but they are there. If they remain unused during the gravest threat to public services in the post-war era, when will they be used?

“In May, the public will have a choice. They can vote for one of the four parties who either relish the cuts or are too afraid to challenge them. But they will also have an alternative – to vote Green, to boost the green economy, and to protect the public services we all rely upon.”

I’m proud of our position, and I’m looking forward to fighting an election on this basis – who’s with me?

Incidentally, the March 2010 UK Budget said what the powers would bring in: around £400m a year in 2011-12 (pdf, see A9) for a 1p increase.

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