THE Tories appear to be running the “we-really-think-voters-are-fools-and-won’t-notice-our-double-standards” campaign for the local elections.
In September, Tory finance spokesperson Murdo Fraser, said: “My party supports proposals to end the council tax freeze.” Yet when a council ends that freeze he complains that “council tax bills will rise ... unreasonably”. The cap in Scotland is three per cent; in England it’s 4.99 per cent – which he must back since local government is run by his party at Westminster.
He claims the Scottish Government made cuts to local services despite the Fraser of Allander Institute saying the draft budget increased funding for local services by £200 million before the Greens secured an additional £160m. In England, the Local Government Association says: “Councils have dealt with a 40 per cent real-terms reduction to their core government grant” over first five years of Tory government.
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The Scottish Tory leader calls for action on business rates. Yet she voted against a budget in the Scottish Parliament which meant 70 per cent of businesses will pay either no or less rates than now. Then her own councillors voted against rates relief proposals on Moray council.
So with such conflicting rhetoric what are the Tory positions in the coming elections? End the council tax freeze as Murdo says or attack ending it as, erm, Murdo says? Complain about an “unreasonable” three per cent cap whilst supporting a 4.99 per cent cap? Oppose £360m extra for local services whilst reducing English local funding by 40 per cent? Call for lower business rates while opposing no rates for 70 per cent of business whilst their councillors vote down relief for Moray businesses?
The upshot of the Tories’ behaviour is that they have conflicting positions about what they would do in power which give voters no firm idea what they will get if they were in power at Holyrood.
I HAVE long been a fan of Michael Fry and I rather fancy his vision for an independent Scotland,where our public sector is smaller, our businesses are focused on growth and exports, and the fact that we would be the “new kids on the block...paying a higher premium on fresh borrowings” would “induce prudence in the liberated Scotland from the start”.
He is less clear on the share of the UK debt we would inherit – I can’t believe we would get off Scot-free. The Guardian estimated £81bn in 2012 on a National figure of £988m. It’s now around £1500bn so it would hopefully be somewhere south of £120bn – the equivalent of nine years of NHS Scotland spending. Neither did he ponder he amount of reserves we would need to support a Scottish currency – estimates range from £10bn to £40bn.
On Europe, Mr Fry recently wrote in The National: “The concept of Scotland outside the EU yet inside the single market is certainly in need of more convincing arguments ... the practical obstacles are enormous”.
My problem with all this, and the reason I am against independence, is I don’t think the SNP’s core voter base will relish the level of cuts, restrictions or general reality that the transition to former Tory candidate Michael Fry’s independent Scotland and the ongoing fiscal and behavioural rectitude require.
IT is becoming tedious to keep repeating that if Scotland is expected to take a per capita share of the UK’s debts we will also take the same share of the UK’s assets. Even a minimal knowledge of double entry book-keeping and balance sheets should make that fact easily understandable.
Those assets will include the value of government, military and research establishments as well as the UK’s military hardware. Nuclear weapons we will of course leave on the UK side of the balance sheet.
Nor should we overlook our share of the gold and foreign currency reserves held in the misnamed Bank of England. That alone will serve to reassure the international money market about our financial stability, especially after the debt is sold off in the form of Scottish Government bonds.
This is how every other normal nation arranges its finances. Scotland will do likewise.