Scottish Budget: SNP's misguided priorities are keeping council workers on poverty pay and making cost-of-living crisis worse – Ian Murray

As we’ve come to understand quite clearly over the last decade, aided by the catastrophes of Brexit and Covid, politics is about choices.
Scotland's homeless people are suffering as temperatures plummet (Picture: John Devlin)Scotland's homeless people are suffering as temperatures plummet (Picture: John Devlin)
Scotland's homeless people are suffering as temperatures plummet (Picture: John Devlin)

As John Swinney prepares to announce the Scottish Government’s budget, he is able to choose whether to use Holyrood’s significant devolved powers to help Scots and our public services, or whether to leave tens of thousands of Scottish families out in the cold this winter.

Despite all the hot air in his inevitably grievance-laden speech to MSPs, with temperatures in Scotland plummeting, people across the country are facing the toughest winter in recent times. Parents continue to choose between feeding their children and heating their homes as the prices of energy and food soar. Homeowners are looking at £500 more on their monthly mortgage bills through higher interest rates.

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Yes, this is a crisis started in Downing Street by a Tory government that has failed the country on economic stability, growth and living standards. They crashed the economy. But devolution means we have a government in Holyrood with ample tools at its disposal to provide some help. Unfortunately, all they do is incessantly bang the drum for independence above the noise of the real needs of Scots.

The reality of another abysmal week for Scotland’s NHS really puts the task for Swinney into perspective. Last week, a mere 63.4 per cent of attendances at A&E were seen and resulted in a subsequent admission, transfer, or discharge within four hours. Shockingly, over 3,000 patients languished for over eight hours in an emergency department, and a further 1,276 patients were forced to suffer for more than 12 hours before being admitted, transferred, or discharged.

Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary was among the worst affected, despite the heroic efforts of the staff there. I know how hard they work, and how much they sacrifice, particularly at this time of the year. The GP crisis is no doubt having an impact.

But they are being let down by a government that has lost sight of the people’s real priorities. Scanning a newspaper yesterday, I saw two stories side by side: “Scots patient spent 15 hours in an ambulance outside hospital in freezing temperatures” and “SNP announce plans for a new bill on Scottish independence”.

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As an indication of Nicola Sturgeon’s record and priorities, this speaks for itself – not to mention that the education attainment gap, which was her “defining mission” to close, has just widened again. Similarly, I’ve been angered by the pictures on social media of freezing homeless and vulnerable people waiting in a line for hot food from a charity in Glasgow. A young boy clasping a bread roll in anticipation of some food.

Heartbreakingly, it doesn’t have to be this way. The priority for this budget must be tackling the cost-of-living crisis by directing support to those most in need and ending the scandal of poverty pay across the public sector. Local authorities and public bodies must be provided with adequate funding to offer fair pay deals to workers.

Councils have faced deep spending cuts year-on-year from the SNP – far outstripping any cuts to the government’s grant from Westminster. But this budget must give our city and people what we need. Scotland cannot afford another year of the wrong priorities.

Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South

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