How SNP government votes for cuts and austerity

On Wednesday 16 December, the Scottish National Party’s John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Constitution and Economy, delivered his budget statement to the Scottish parliament. He described it as a ‘Scottish alternative to austerity’. The following week, 7,000 people in the country sought emergency food parcels in the run-up to Christmas Day.

The SNP has positioned itself as a progressive anti-austerity force in Scotland and the United Kingdom. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon proclaimed when she was elected leader in 2015 that her central aim was to tackle poverty. Swinney has now reconfigured the priorities: ‘Critical pillars of Scottish life – our schools, hospitals and police – will not be sacrificed to the Chancellor’s austerity obsession.’ As a consequence, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has estimated that cuts of up to £500 million per year will fall on other areas of spending up to the end of the decade. Cuts to unprotected departments of 2.9% in 2016-17 will rise to 10.7% by 2020.

The bulk of the cuts will fall on Scotland’s 32 local councils with a devastating effect on jobs and services. The Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities estimated cuts of £350 million would follow. This translates into losses of thousands of council jobs and the loss of services for the poorest sections of the working class: the unemployed, the low paid, the vulnerable and the old. On 20 January the joint SNP and Labour council in Edinburgh voted for a package of cuts that will involve 2,000 redundancies, cuts to services and rises to charges. Glasgow’s Labour council and Dundee’s SNP run council are meeting over the next few weeks and look set to pass budgets involving 3,000 and 700 redundancies respectively. Cuts and charges means old folks who fall in their homes have to pay to be assisted.

Anticipating the effects of the cuts to Scotland, IPPR Director Russell Gunson said: ‘The poorest households in Scotland are facing a double whammy of cuts to benefits and potential cuts to public services in Scotland.’ While Holyrood and Westminster squabble over Scotland’s grant allocation, children are going hungry. 17,000 men, women and children were referred to food banks during December 2015; over 12 months demand has risen by 53% and in one area by 444%. Trussell Trust manager Ewan Gurr stated: ‘... there are families struggling on tight budgets where increased winter fuel bills and the absence of free school meals can mean having to make a decision between being cold or going hungry.’ At the end of the same month, a survey by the Scottish teachers’ union, the Educational Institute for Scotland, reported a 51% rise in children coming to school hungry and begging or stealing food from classmates or staff rooms.

The SNP bleats that it is concerned about those affected by the cuts: ‘We will always stand up for Scotland...We will stand united against unfair policies like the Bedroom Tax and spend millions every year to protect the most vulnerable from Tory cuts’ (Nicola Sturgeon, election flier 5 January 2016). The independence-supporting Sunday Herald highlighted the fact that one in five children and adults now lives in poverty in Scotland. An editorial recognised the deficit in real action to oppose the cuts and warned that the SNP that it must put ‘progressive policies front and centre’ of its programme (3 January 2016). No chance – the SNP has not the slightest intention of mounting a serious challenge to the ruling class offensive. Tory, Labour, SNP are indeed all the same.

Michael MacGregor

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 249 February/March 2016


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