Tomorrow is all about the money. The money that makes our worlds go round. When John Swinney will be expected to show us the money and he’ll retort to the Opposition to show us the colour of theirs.
And frankly, it would be just as interesting and a whole lot more enjoyable if MSPs just played their favourite money-themed songs to the nation.
The fact is we kinda know what to expect tomorrow, right down to the speeches and the key messages. The SNP Government will blame the big bad wolf of Westminster for turning off the taps and having the effrontery to deny what is rightfully ours in any event. Expect too the usual call that if we only had all the powers of a normal country, control of all the economic levers how different it might all be, only that crucial bit of in what way different will not be spelled out.
Labour will ignore the economic reality of our times and that we are in this mess because their UK government helped get us here and call for more. More spending on more things and more stuff to make our lives more better. Oh, and more jobs please. Without so much as saying how, why and what with, never mind what they’d make less to give us more.
The Lib Dems will ignore their complicity as junior partners in the Westminster coalition, repeat the refrain that if the government stopped dreaming about the supposed never-never and just concentrated on the here and now, we’d be better off. But they might also pitch a few interesting ideas on how and where to spend the little money we do have.
The Tories will do likewise and if they are true to form, they will posit the most interesting ideas and alternatives to help generate economic growth. Much of it will be ignored, which is as it should be, seeing as how interesting does not necessarily translate into workable nor desirable.
As for the Greens, well it depends which ones turn up. Will it be the green Greens who lambast the Scottish Government for its failure to invest in environmental measures, our low carbon ambitions and public transport infrastructure? Or will it be the social justice Greens who lambast the Scottish Government for its failure to address poverty, inequality and demand a back to the future economic approach?
So, having sorted out the messaging, what about the money? Helpfully, last year’s Spending Review and draft budget laid a breadcrumb trail and largely, it will be as you were.
Health, benefiting from a manifesto commitment to be protected from cuts, will see its budget increased, with more money destined for health boards – a 3.3% increase, in fact. Sport, which falls under this portfolio, is a big winner but much of its £47 million increase is for Commonwealth Games delivery. Finance, employment and sustainable growth will also see a marginal increase in budget, as will infrastructure and capital investment. Meanwhile, education and lifelong learning will see a near £200 million increase in budget. That’ll be to pay for no tuition fees then.
The losers are culture and external affairs (down £5 million), rural affairs and the environment (down £19 million on last year) and justice (down £50 million on last year) and local government (down over £200 million on last year).
To add to the fun, the re-alignment of portfolios with the move of the Depute First Minister from health, wellbeing and cities to infrastructure and capital investment will involve some money moving around too. She took cities and welfare reform with her, so there is likely to be a small budgetary transfer. Although it would be helpful if the Finance Secretary didn’t forget (again) to make budgetary allowance for mitigating the impact of welfare reform, given that it becomes all too real in the coming financial year.
It will be interesting to see if the cuts in headline budgets proposed last year come to fruition – a dent of £200 million for local government will surely result in considerable cuts to frontline services. The Finance Secretary might well be tempted to allow those axes to fall. Those coalition deals which Labour groups cut with minority groupings to keep the SNP out of power in local authorities might not seem quite so clever now. Who wants to be in power, if power means finding ways of doing more with less and upsetting voters along the way?
Moreover, these are the actual figures and do not reflect the real terms’ position. They take no account of the “estimated GDP deflators published by HM Treasury“. The Spending Review applied a deflator of 2.7% to the estimates for 2013-14. Thus, a supposed Scottish budget of £28.27 billion is worth only £26.86 billion in real terms, which means cuts for everyone. Expect the Finance Secretary to make much of this.
And unless he is proposing to requisition some of the fossil fuel revenues which flow from the North Sea to the Treasury or has discovered a tree which really does grow money, however the Finance Secretary packages it, all spheres of public expenditure are going to have to work out what to spend less on in the coming year. Which sets us up nicely for the annual game of managing expectations – already begun by North Lanarkshire council. Only this year, it will be conducted with exceptional vigour, with councils in particular, trying to outdo each other on the outrage their initial cuts’ proposals will foment among the populace.
So, there we have it. You know what lines the parties are likely to take. You know what messages MSPs are likely to try and impart. And most importantly, you know enough about the money to understand that we have less to spend – much less – on vital public services that we all need and cherish.
Aren’t you glad I saved you the bother of listening in tomorrow?