Hunt’s grown up budget is a lesson for SNP - Sue Webber

Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the LothiansSue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothians
Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothians
It was always going to be too much for the SNP to welcome a Conservative budget, so by their standards, the description of Wednesday’s UK budget as a “missed opportunity” is glowing praise.

That was about all the departing Deputy First Minister John Swinney had to say, when his government had just been handed another £320 million from the funding commitments announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt.

This will bring the total settlement from the UK Government in 2023-24 to more than £42 billion, but of course in the SNP’s world no figure can ever be enough. Sure enough, there was John Swinney at his miserable best, saying the new money was “limited” and, horror of horrors “we will have to find money from within the Scottish Budget to invest in public services, provide fair pay rises and help people with the cost of living.”

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I must have missed something because I thought that was what the Scottish Government was supposed to do, but he must also have hoped we had all missed something else, that in December it was revealed the Scottish Government had underspent in the previous year by an astonishing £2bn.

So, while the SNP carp and moan about the UK Government while more money than they can spend flows north, there should be real concern that the benefits Jeremy Hunt announced will not make their way into Scottish pockets.

Wednesday’s budget certainly caught out their leadership hopeful Humza Yousaf, who tried to pass off a plan to give 22 hours of free childcare a week to one and two-year-olds as a new announcement when the promise was made by the SNP before the 2021 Holyrood election.

That’s now two years ago and the SNP is no closer to honouring that pledge, but on Wednesday Jeremy Hunt announced 30 hours of free childcare for children between 9 months and two years, and with a specific promise to start in April next year with 15 hours for two-year-olds, building up to all children between nine months and three years entitled to the full 30 hours by September 2025.

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Of course, it is up to the Scottish Government to match the service, and who knows how long that will take if the SNP goes through the usual charade of trying to do things differently for the sake of it.

Direct funding avoids the problem, and apart from the £8.6 million allocated to Edinburgh’s festivals, Edinburgh University should be in line to benefit from the £900 million for artificial intelligence research and the £2.5 billion ten-year quantum research and innovation programme.

While the SNP turns its back on nuclear and the North Sea, the UK government is investing £20bn to secure cleaner, sustainable energy which will boost the Forth Green Freeport, which the local SNP and Greens rejected.

But as opinion polls show support drifting away as the rifts the SNP has covered up for years are exposed, more people can see their depressing grievance agenda for what it’s worth.

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While the SNP leadership candidates talk nonsense about delivering independence in under five years or new currencies within a couple of months, and the Scottish Government presses on with botched legislation like the deposit return scheme, Westminster is getting on with delivering practical, serious policies for serious times.

Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative Lothian MSP

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