Yousaf’s conference speech was a jumble of U-turns - Ian Murray

The SNP’s conference in Aberdeen could not have been more different to what we witnessed at Labour’s conference in Liverpool.
ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 17: Leader of the SNP, Humza Yousaf waves after giving a speech on day three of the SNP conference at The Event Complex Aberdeen (TECA) on October 17, 2023 in Aberdeen, Scotland. Humza Yousaf addresses conference for the first time as party leader today and will pledge an extra £300 million for the NHS to cut waiting lists. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 17: Leader of the SNP, Humza Yousaf waves after giving a speech on day three of the SNP conference at The Event Complex Aberdeen (TECA) on October 17, 2023 in Aberdeen, Scotland. Humza Yousaf addresses conference for the first time as party leader today and will pledge an extra £300 million for the NHS to cut waiting lists. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)
ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 17: Leader of the SNP, Humza Yousaf waves after giving a speech on day three of the SNP conference at The Event Complex Aberdeen (TECA) on October 17, 2023 in Aberdeen, Scotland. Humza Yousaf addresses conference for the first time as party leader today and will pledge an extra £300 million for the NHS to cut waiting lists. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)

In Scotland’s north-east there was a party licking its wounds, with empty seats in the hall and a focus on the past as members concocted yet another desperate and incoherent strategy on independence.

But on Merseyside there was a party energised and enthusiastic, talking about what really matters to people such as tackling the cost-of-living crisis and looking to the future.

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Labour put forward a New Deal for Working People, a publicly-owned GB Energy company based here in Scotland, and an end to the division and decline of the SNP and the Tories.

But Humza Yousaf’s first conference speech was a jumble of u-turns and replays from the SNP’s 2007 manifesto.

Fresh out of ideas for 2023, after 16 years of broken promises Scots aren’t buying it anymore.

The headline policy was another council tax ‘freeze’, which was a last-minute u-turn from the First Minister after he previously threatened rises of more than an eye watering 22 per cent.

What a shambolic way to run government.

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It’s no wonder that local authorities, and even the nationalists’ coalition partners the Greens, are up in arms.

The SNP has underfunded councils for a decade and this latest plan cannot come at the expense of vital council services on which communities rely. Remember Edinburgh is the worst funded council in Scotland.

Clearly, the steep council tax rises for Edinburgh residents that Yousaf backed at the start of this week were completely unacceptable and would have hammered families during a cost-of-living crisis.

But local services need the support of central government and the right response would have been to directly give councils the resources they need – not just pull the rug out from underneath them like this.

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Let’s not forget that the SNP has multiplied the austerity it has passed down to councils – a cumulative £6 billion from core council budgets since 2013/14, while the government’s own budget has grown at twice the rate of local authorities.

And what is concerning councils across Scotland is that previous SNP freezes have not been properly funded, leaving them to fill the black hole in their budgets from service reductions.

For a First Minister who claimed that he wanted to change the relationship between the Scottish Government and councils, he is going about it in a very unusual way.

Sadly, it is local councillors who could be forced to make even tougher decisions about which services they should cut.

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Do they let our roads deteriorate further, close more libraries, or leave bins overflowing?

Nobody should be in any doubt who is to blame for the state of council services – the buck stops with the Scottish Government, which needs to provide a fair deal in direct funding to local authorities.

Edinburgh City Council – which runs our nation’s capital – has been shortchanged for far too long.

We need a new relationship with local authorities, one based on cooperation with the fair funding deal based on the services they provide and respect for the crucial role they play.

Otherwise, our schools, social care, transport and city infrastructure will continue to decline as the SNP plays the same old divisive tune.

Ian Murray is MP for Edinburgh South