With the Scottish Parliament elections set to take place in May, the SNP are expected to once again top the polls. As for the other parties, Kezia Dugdale’s beleaguered Scottish Labour will be attempting to fight off Ruth Davidson’s conservatives for second place.
So, with Dugdale desperately needing to win back disillusioned voters, she may live to regret sending Jackie Baillie, the Scottish MSP, onto yesterday’s Sunday Politics. In an interview with Gordon Brewer, Baillie attempted to put forward her party’s new economic policy which claims to offer a way to end austerity which is not ‘prescriptive’. Alas Brewer was unconvinced, suggesting that the policy amounted to promising to put people’s taxes out without knowing what the money will be spent on:
JB: The critical thing is that this is a pledge to end Tory austerity, to use the powers that we now have.
GB: Let me quote you something that Kezia Dugdale said, she said the pledge to end austerity won’t be prescriptive, about what the next government spends — it will simply set out the path that must be followed in order to dispense with austerity. What does that mean?
JB: Well, what it means is that in normal circumstances we know what the Scottish government spending plans already are, we know what the UK government spending plans are, we have based are calculations on those and we have set out the usual tax measures in place.
GB: But what does not being prescriptive about spending mean?
JB: Because you need to account for say if it’s a very deep recession we enter into, no-one wants that to happen. You need the flexibility to respond to that so for example, Alastair Darling when he was last chancellor made a cut in VAT, we would want to ensure that businesses and the economy can be responded to.
GB: I understand that, but you are in effect saying to voters in Scotland that we are going to put your taxes up in order to spend more money on the public sector but we’re not that bothered about what the money is spent on?
JB: No, that’s not the case at all, if you look at our proposal for having a 50p top rate, that is entirely going to go onto education for a fairer start fund. So, there is a thousand pounds going per child…
GB: Sorry, I’m not saying that you have not outlined specific things you want to do with the money. What I’m saying is to say that you will not be prescriptive about what the next government spends, is in effect to tell the people their taxes are going up and that what you care about as the Labour party is putting their taxes up and spending more money in the public sector rather than what the money is spent on.
Things didn’t improve much for Baillie as the interview progressed with Brewer implying that she lacked a basic grasp of economics:
GB: You are not pumping money into the economy, your extra money is offset by putting people’s taxes up. In terms of ending austerity that’s not an end to austerity it’s merely shuffling it about — it’s a very basic point
JB: We’re not shuffling it about, I assure you of that
GB: Yes you are
JB: No, because by investing in education, you actually start to grow the conditions to kickstart the economy
GB: That’s a different point
JB: We have plans to build 60,000 affordable homes. That’s investment in construction that contributes to building GDP
GB: But I’m sorry, that might all be just fantastic, but it doesn’t get you round the basic point that putting people’s taxes up is by definition sucking demand out of the economy. So, it may well be that all your investment plans are just wonderful but you can’t say they have anything to do with ending austerity.
As the pair continued to go round in circles for the duration of the interview, the SNP’s Pete Wishart concluded that exchange could hardly be labelled a ‘car-crash’ interview. After all, that ‘would show a lack of respect to automotive accidents’:
To call that Jackie Baillie interview a 'car crash' would show a lack of respect to automotive accidents. No wonder they are where they are.
— Pete Wishart (@PeteWishart) March 20, 2016
Jackie Baillie 'actually' running Scotland's public finances must be the the thing of the worst Scottish nightmares. @Sun_Pol_Scot
— Pete Wishart (@PeteWishart) March 20, 2016
Mr S suspects the Scottish Labour fightback has a long way to go if they are to fend off the Tories come what May.
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