Borders MSPs at odds over government budget

Scottish Government finance secretary Derek Mackay.
Scottish Government finance secretary Derek Mackay.

The Scottish Government budget for next year agreed this week is either a triumph or a disaster, according to the Borders’ two constituency MSPs.

Those varying verdicts are, unsurprisingly, down to party allegiances, with the Scottish National Party’s Christine Grahame giving it the thumbs-up and her Conservative neighbour Rachael Hamilton begging to differ.

Ms Grahame, MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, said: “This is a budget for a stronger economy and a fairer society, with increased funding for the NHS and protection for low and middle-income earners.

“The Scottish Government is delivering lower income tax for 70% of Scots, with every worker earning less than £33,000 paying less in tax next year, while protecting public services across Midlothian and the Borders which we all hold dear.

“This budget brings an additional £400m to NHS Scotland, delivers a pay rise for public-sector workers, £756m for affordable homes, additional funding for the arts and culture sector, a £4bn investment in infrastructure, including in superfast broadband, as well as significant investments in research, education and childcare.

“In the face of massive Westminster cuts, ongoing Tory austerity and a damaging hard Brexit, this budget provides investment to seize the opportunities of tomorrow.”

Mrs Hamilton, MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, is less impressed, however, fearing it will have an adverse impact on the Scottish economy.

“It is bitterly disappointing that the SNP government, with the help of the Greens, have forced through their plans to make Scotland the highest taxed part of the UK,” she said.

“The SNP government have broken their manifesto promise and ignored the fears of 23,000 Borderers and carried on with their agenda that sees inadequate funding for local services and higher taxes.

“The SNP government have disregarded constructive ideas put forward by the Scottish Conservatives, like increasing Scotland’s large business tax supplement in line with the rest of the UK.

“Instead, the SNP government would rather take money out of the pockets of hard-working Scots than grow the Scottish economy.”

Mrs Hamilton did make some effort to build bridges between parties, though, by praising Deputy First Minister John Swinney and former SNP leading light Alex Salmond during yesterday’s debate.

“Alex Salmond spent a number of years trying to build the trust of businesses in Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon has now lost that trust,” she said.

“The Federation of Small Businesses says that confidence has fallen to near-record lows, and today, against the wishes of high street shops across Scotland, the SNP is going even further.

“Its nat taxes will reduce the take-home pay of more than a million Scots.

“Derek Mackay’s predecessor John Swinney understood well the importance of Scotland’s business rates being no higher than those of the rest of the UK.

“The massive disparity between the large business supplements north and south of the border puts Scottish businesses at a clear disadvantage.”

The budget was passed by 67 votes to 50 at Holyrood yesterday, and Scottish Government finance secretary Mr Mackay said: “This is our opportunity to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to build a fairer and more prosperous country, and to put our progressive values into action.

“The motion will raise for the tax year 2018-19 an extra £219m to invest in public services, to tackle poverty, to support Scotland’s economy and to protect people on low incomes, thereby making the system fairer and more progressive.

“The new starter rate, combined with an increase in the personal allowance, will result in 70% of all income tax payers paying less tax than they do this year on their current incomes.

“That means that no one who earns less than £33,000 will pay more than they did last year and that more than half of taxpayers will pay less than they would pay if they lived elsewhere in the UK.

“The proposals mean that, for the majority, Scotland will be the lowest-taxed part of the UK.”