Budget drama in Scotland – Willie Rennie wants “an education focus as never before”

The Scottish Government unveils its budget this Thursday. The SNP mislaid their majority in Holyrood in the elections last year so there could be a bit of drama between now and February when the Finance Bill is finalised.

The last time a Budget fell was in 2009 when the Greens, to everyone’s surprise, voted against. A couple of weeks later, to nobody’s surprise, they voted for it but hadn’t extracted anything of consequence from the Government.

When John Swinney was Finance Minister, he used to engage pretty well with the other parties. Willie Rennie was able to get things like free school meals, tens of thousands of college places and nursery education for 2 years olds put in. However, now that we have started beating the SNP pretty comprehensively, the atmosphere has turned a bit nasty.

New Finance Minister Derek Mackay is playing games with crucial inter-island ferry services in Orkney and Shetland, both represented by Liberal Democrat MSPs. Various SNP Ministers have been giving the very strong impression that they would help the Islands Councils with the cost of these ferries without which some remote communities simply could not survive.

Now, however, they are inferring that it’ll only go in the Budget if the Lib Dems promise to vote for it. That sort of posturing doesn’t play well in those communities. The issue was debated in Parliament last week during a Lib Dem opposition day and the Transport Minister Humza Yousaf made a pretty blatant threat.

There is a window of opportunity for Liberal Democrat members of the Scottish Parliament. Either they can engage positively in the budget, have a discussion about this important issue and side with their constituents, or they can play party politics.

I mean, we’d brought the issue to the floor of the Parliament, which was discussing it at that time and made its view plain by passing the Lib Dem motion. If SNP ministers fail to honour Parliament’s wishes, that is a pretty serious thing. 

If the SNP came up with a radical, reforming Budget that was going to invest to make  our public services fit for purpose again, I would be arguing that we should support it. The reality is, though, that they’ll be delivering eye-wateringly horrendous cuts to local government again and in those circumstances, it would be very difficult to imagine voting for it.

Willie Rennie outlines his approach to the Budget today on the Scottish Lib Dems’ website.

I want an education focus as never before. The government’s structural tinkering with education has stalled. The budget must get behind teachers, support classroom learning, and match the investment that has proved to increase attainment around the UK.

This autumn the Scottish Government u-turned on its previous objections to part-time college places. We need to get behind colleges to open up new economic opportunities for older workers changing careers and women returning to work.

There are concerns that SNP plans to expand early years provision are insufficient. They do not fully recognise the scale of the recruitment challenge and the buildings necessary to accommodate.  We need to get this right because investing in early years provision is the best educational investment.

“And the budget needs to tackle the woeful gap in the numbers of new mental health staff being trained. These are the people will transform the way we treat mental ill health. Their future work will help thousands more to get back to their jobs and their studies.

This is investment that is specific and targeted. Its aim is to grow long term economic prospects for Scotland. It is clear what we will get for the extra, modest 1p tax that is needed to pay for it. Unlike other proposals put forward this isn’t a super-complicated tax change that opens the door to ever higher taxes. It is limited and targeted.

The Greens, on the other hand, want huge tax rises, particularly in the top rate, which they are not likely to get. Will they cave like they did last yearend end up with little or no changes in return for their support?

We shall have to wait and see how all this unfolds over the next couple of months.



* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.

One Comment

  • Willie is correct to champion education – but it will be in vain if children go to school hungry.

    The numbers using food banks is growing exponentially (up by nearly half again compared to 2016 in East Lothian where Universal Credit was introduced last January). Tackling poverty should be a priority as a prerequisite to education. You learn nothing on an empty stomach.

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