Ian Murray: Let’s beat SNP austerity with penny for schools

File picture: John Devlin
File picture: John Devlin
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POLITICS, like life, is all about choices. Those choices should be based on a clear set of principles. Those principles should define the choices you make, and the impact they have on others.

Last week, the Scottish Labour Party made a bold policy announcement that, when faced with a choice between using the powers of the Scottish Parliament or cutting into Scotland’s future, we would choose to use our powers.

The priorities have always been clear – we want to protect the vulnerable and work towards a more just and equitable society by investing in policies that promote, rather than impede, social mobility. Policies that protect our local services and invest in the future.

My postbag is bulging with communications from constituents who are concerned about the social care their elderly relatives receive, the pressure on local schools, the lack of affordable housing, and the fact that they feel their children will do worse than them.

And the news that Edinburgh council will have to implement further disproportionate and draconian cuts to their budgets, and will be fined by the Scottish Government for not implementing them, means that things are only going to get worse.

Why does this matter?

Well, it will cost 2000 jobs in Edinburgh and 15,000 across Scotland. It will pare our local services back to the bone. Edinburgh’s schools, for example, cannot take another round of cuts. Teacher numbers are at a ten-year low. Headteachers tell me there is nothing left in the tank and it is the education of pupils that will suffer.

I have always been of the belief that cuts to education aren’t just cuts to our children’s future; they are cuts to the future prosperity of everyone.

But it doesn’t need to be like this. We can break from Conservative austerity on the one hand and the management of that austerity by the SNP on the other.

The whole point of devolution was about using the Scottish Parliament to do things differently. Scottish 
Labour Leader, Kezia Dugdale MSP, has set out a radical plan to prevent these cuts to education and other vital services. We would use the powers we have over income tax to set a rate 1p higher than the rate set by George Osborne.

By everyone contributing a little bit more we could stop the devastating impact that the SNP’s Budget will have on local services. 

This is not an easy choice but it is absolutely necessary if we want to have any semblance of local services left.

Respected independent think tanks such as the Resolution Foundation and the IPPR have stated this policy is progressive. Anyone earning less than £20,000 a year will be no worse off. In fact, because there is a £100 annual rebate built in for the lower paid, they will be better off.

But despite all their anti-austerity rhetoric, the SNP government voted to block these proposals. They would rather see education budgets cuts, and thousands of jobs lost, than use their powers to do something about it.

I knocked on 26,500 doors during the general election in May and many said they would be willing to pay a little more tax for better services and a fairer society.

It’s a difficult choice but one we must take before it’s too late. We have the powers to do it – let’s use them.

• Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South