Liz Truss's fuel bill plan is just Robin Hood in reverse - Tommy Sheppard

The last item of parliamentary business of Boris Johnson’s premiership was a debate on sewage pollution. Fitting, don’t you think? After all, more than anyone he turned our political discourse into a cesspit, setting mendacity as standard and jettisoning integrity and morality as he went. So, farewell then, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. You won’t be missed.

Prime Minister Liz Truss speaking in the House of Commons to set out her energy plan to shield households and businesses from soaring energy bills. PIC: House of Commons/PA Wire.
Prime Minister Liz Truss speaking in the House of Commons to set out her energy plan to shield households and businesses from soaring energy bills. PIC: House of Commons/PA Wire.

But could the next one be even worse? Liz Truss emerged victorious this week from a long Tory leadership race that was tedious and terrifying in equal measure. Early signs aren’t promising.

Rarely has there been such a mismatch between the problems facing a government and their prescription for dealing with them. Truss seems ideologically opposed to the measures necessary to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.

Her mantra of tax cuts may have won votes from the small clique of middle-aged right-wing people that comprise the Tory rank and file, but it makes absolutely no sense in the real world.

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We must follow the lead of countries who do it all so much better - Tommy Sheppa...

The Tory party was founded to give voice to the rich and powerful, and Liz Truss is taking them back to their roots. That’s why she will protect those with capital and penalise those without.

Her attitude to energy prices is a case in point. Of course it’s right to freeze energy prices. If we don’t, millions will face extra hardship, small businesses will go to the wall and inflation will run rampant. But the freeze should be paid for by taxes on the obscene profits corporations are now making, rather than by consumers.

The Truss plan protects profits, keeps siphoning money out of the real economy to be accumulated as private wealth, and places a future burden on all of us to fund it. And those who are worst off, on low and fixed incomes, will pay the biggest proportion of their income in future bills. It’s basically Robin Hood in reverse.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead, the UK government should do four things. First, levy a windfall tax on excess profits of the giant corporations and use it to peg domestic energy bills. Second, uprate social security payments generously. Third, bring in a more extensive business support programme to help small business meet rising costs. And fourth, use an emergency budget to fund cost-of-living wage increases for public sector workers.

The Tories won’t do this of course. Nor will they devolve economic powers to Scotland to allow us to take a different approach here. So, the Scottish Government will do what it can, and commendably has already done a lot. Freezing rents, outlawing evictions, increasing child payments to low-income households, increasing free school meals and other measures will help people here. But we still have no control over most social security, business taxes, government borrowing, and the essential levers we need to manage our economy.

There is a way to make sure government policy serves the people rather than the corporate elite. To have the capacity to deal with rising living costs and the increasing poverty and inequality that follows, we need independence.

The arguments in the Supreme Court next month about having another referendum matter.

As a normal independent country we could be sure to have both the agency and the will to make the changes necessary to protect the people the Tories keep letting down.

Tommy Sheppard is the SNP MP for Edinburgh East