IT IS ALWAYS easy to tell when good news comes out of Westminster for Scotland, in that it usually generates very little response from the SNP.
SNP politicians and their followers on social media, who are so quick to jump on any announcement which is in any way deemed detrimental to Scotland, are amazingly quiet when something positive is announced. And so it was with the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on Wednesday, where the absence of SNP reaction could only lead one to the conclusion that this was all actually pretty good news.
The context of the Autumn Statement was, of course, dire warnings in advance that this was going to lead to the Scottish budget being cut. Witness after witness came to the Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Constitution Committee, warning that there were likely to be cuts of up to £200 million in the Scottish block grant. The Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay, even justified delaying his budget until December on this basis.
The reality is somewhat different. Far from delivering a cut to Scotland’s budget, what the Autumn Statement does is deliver an additional £800 million in capital spending, and an additional £74 million in revenue spending. So the Scottish Government will have more to spend in coming years than it had previously anticipated.
This means that there are infrastructure projects across Scotland that can now be taken forward. Ruth Davidson was quick to call for a targeting of these resources, with four key priority areas: tackling fuel poverty, housing, investing in digital infrastructure, and rail. In all four areas, there will be substantial economic benefit from delivering projects which create local jobs.
There were a whole range of other initiatives announced by the Chancellor which will benefit Scotland, including £3.3 million to Scottish charities, which will allow the Aberdeen Museum Development Trust to renovate the Aberdeen Remembrance Hall, £200,000 for the Children’s Hospice Association Scotland, and £1.5 million for improving veterans’ services.
Perhaps most exciting of all, the new City Deal for Stirling and Clackmannanshire will be delivered, which means that every Scottish city will now have its own City Deal, delivering important infrastructure improvements and helping grow city economies.
It isn’t just the Scotland-specific initiatives that will benefit Scots. The personal allowance for income taxation will increase to £12,500 in April 2020, advantaging over 2.6 million Scots, and taking 113,000 people out of Income Tax altogether. The National Living Wage will increase from April next year from £7.20 to £7.50, in line with the recommendations of the Independent Low Pay Commission. And Fuel Duty will be frozen for the seventh successive year.
Despite concerns over Brexit, the UK economy is still the fastest growing in the G7. Even pessimistic forecasts demonstrate that in 2017, its slowest year, the UK is likely to grow as fast as Germany at 1.4%, surpassing the economies of France and Italy.
In response to concerns about the performance of British business, a major drive to improve productivity was announced by the Chancellor, with a package worth some £23 billion. This will involve increasing UK government spending on research and development (R & D) by £2 billion annually. Scottish universities and businesses will receive increased R & D funding that is at least equal to Scotland’s share of the UK population, and in the past we have always punched well above our weight when it comes to attracting these resources.
All in all, this is excellent news, supporting the economy, benefitting hard-working Scots, and delivering on Conservative commitments. Any reasonable Scot would welcome the Autumn Statement, and the fact that the SNP has been so negative about it demonstrates that as a party it is more about narrow political interest than the good of the country as a whole.