Sturgeon says blocking IndyRef2 would be ‘absurd’
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And Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has said the party’s total failure to cost any of its plans prior to last week’s Holyrood elections should sound alarm bells for Scots as Ms Sturgeon renews her push for a second referendum. The SNP took 64 seats in the Scottish Parliament, leaving it just one short of an overall majority – but Ms Sturgeon is nevertheless claiming it offers a mandate for a so-called IndyRef2, stating her case to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a phone call on Sunday.
However, Mr Johnson pointed out that while nationalists preferred to focus on soaring rhetoric and talk of Scotland being liberated, the SNP – and to an extent all three major parties – had neglected to talk about brass tacks.
Writing in The Times, he said: “A look at the manifestos not just of the SNP, but of Scottish Labour and Scottish Conservatives too, reveals just how far the consensus in Scottish politics has diverged from that in England.
“No university tuition fees for the Scots. The personal care elements of social care are free for all, not heavily means-tested.
“Overall spending per person is about 30 per cent higher than it is in England.”
The additional spending was almost entirely funded by cash flowing north of the border in accordance with the Barnett formula, a mechanism used by the Treasury to adjust public expenditure in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, Mr Johnson explained.
He added: “Funds also flow to poorer English regions, and to Wales and Northern Ireland. But those flows compensate for low levels of income.
“Scotland is not poor. A Barnett formula based on ‘needs’ would transfer much less to the Scots.”
While the SNP had increased income tax somewhat, the amount of extra revenue had largely been negated by lower growth.
Nevertheless, the Barnett formula allowed for higher across-the-board public spending, with Scotland spending an extra £1,000 for every school pupil, and spending per person on transport, environmental protection, culture and housing higher than in England by between 40 and 90 percent.
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The SNP, Labour and the Tories had all gone into Thursday’s elections pledging to extend the welfare state, Mr Johnson pointed out.
Promises ranged from 50 hours a week for free childcare for pre-school children and free bus travel for the under-25s, free dental care, breakfasts and lunches all year round for all primary school-age children, and a £15 an hour minimum wage for care workers.
In addition, all three parties were talking “in positive terms” about a universal basic income – a concept, Mr Johnson pointed out, which existed nowhere else in the world.
Where were all the parties intending to get the money from to pay for all these goodies?
He said: “That of course was the point of devolution – to allow Scotland to make different choices.
“But where were all the parties intending to get the money from to pay for all these goodies? Not a question which Scottish Labour or Conservatives will have to answer. The SNP will need to, though.
“You will search in vain for the costings of many of the key policies in the SNP manifesto or for anything beyond the first year of a five-year parliament in Labour’s. No hint of tax rises to pay for spending increases.”
The Scottish Government had the tax-raising powers, Mr Johnson pointed out.
He said: “If the ambitions and promises are real then that is what the Scottish government should do.
“It will perhaps prove easier, though, to ignore that possibility and blame others when funding proves inadequate.
“The power is there, but so is the opportunity to abrogate responsibility.”
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