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The Week In Scotland – Week 50

The Scottish Budget

The Scottish Budget served up no real surprises. Kate Forbes claims most Scottish taxpayers will pay less than those elsewhere in the UK, although the National Insurance rise imposed by the UK government will disproportionately hit lower earners. Public sector pay rises to £10.50 per hour, the Scottish Child Payment doubles to £20 per week in April.

In line with Scottish priorities, NHS and Social Care get £18bn, with £1.2bn to mental health and £50m for a Whole Family Wellbeing Fund. The poverty-related attainment gap gets £200m and £50m is earmarked to tackle drugs deaths. £4bn goes to social security and welfare, including £1.95bn to start Scotland’s Adult Disability Payment in 2022-23. £41m goes to the Scottish Welfare Fund assisting those in trouble, £544m to early learning and childcare, and £831m for affordable housing.

The figure of £4bn stands out. Those who are unable to work need social security, for example, the disabled, but what about taking some of the social security element for a Job Creation/Guarantee scheme to provide services like social care, and recoup some of the investment through tax? Why can’t we?

Covid’s ongoing impacts get £23.1m, and retail, hospitality, and leisure rates are reduced by 50% till about mid-June next year. The Scottish government is also pledging £100m to help with Omicron disruption to the hospitality sector over Christmas.

The UK government gives £430m from the UK Reserve fund for vaccines, plus £220m in early payment from January’s Supplementary Estimates. But as the Scottish government was expecting £268m in January, this leaves the budget short by £48m.

The Green budget

Landfill tax will rise, to encourage recycling. The Just Transition Fund for the oil and gas industry, especially in the northeast, gets £20m this year, rising to £500m over the life of the parliament. Other green projects helped include decarbonising the rail network (£1.4bn), large scale heat decarbonisation projects (£60m), energy efficiency (£336m), and the Green jobs fund (£23.5m). Circular economy funding is £43m, with £150m for walking, wheeling, and cycling. £69.5m goes to woodland creation and sustainability, £53m to restore the natural environment and £110m is set aside for free bus travel for young from January 2022.

Local Government finance

Since 2017, the Scottish government has transferred to the local government the equivalent of a 3% council tax rise in return for local authorities not increasing council tax. Now, this subsidy is withdrawn and local authorities can increase council tax by as much as they want.

Stephen McCabe of CoSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) thinks the increase will be no more than 3%, but local councilors are in a quandary with elections next year. With greater demands on their services, particularly social care, councils have been starved of funds for over a decade, and must also pay wage rises not included in their budget allocation, and employers’ national insurance costs set by the UK government.

NHS Lothian

has been found guilty of repeated failure over 9 years to properly identify children as deaf, delaying assistance they may have received. Children 5 and under were particularly affected. The average age when hearing loss was diagnosed was 4.5 years, much higher than in England. There will be a review, and some families have been contacted already, but if you are affected, phone the helpline on 0131 465 5457.

Legal

The UK government is to consult on substantial reform to the Human Rights Act (HRA) and examine its commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Dominic Raab claims there is no intention to withdraw from the ECHR but citizens will find it more difficult to bring human rights claims to domestic courts. The HRA will
be replaced with a Bill of Rights incorporating the ECHR plus other rights.

Foreigners may not have the same rights as UK citizens and all claims must pass a ‘permission stage’ to prove they have suffered a significant disadvantage before it even gets to court. It will be more difficult to sue public authorities on human rights. The general aim is to make the government less accountable.
The ECHR is written into the Scotland Act, so there may eventually be a two-tier system with devolved matters protected under the ECHR and reserved matters not protected. Raab would not commit to getting the consent of devolved legislatures to reform the HRA, but will consult on any changes.
But that’s what they said about the Brexit deal. Then the ‘consultation’ had no involvement on our part We were told what the UK/England had decided. We had no right of veto. And in recent stand-alone trade deals negotiated by the UK, Scotland has been well and truly sidelined.

‘Not Proven’ Verdict

The Scottish government has launched a consultation on abolishing the ‘not proven’ verdict in Scots law. Not proven means not guilty. If it were to be abolished, it might impact on the majority required for a verdict, or on the retention of corroboration (the need for 2 separate sources of evidence against an accused). Have your say on this at  onsult.gov.scot/justice/not-proven-verdict before 11th March 2022.

Poverty and Housing

The Green MSP for North East Scotland Maggie Chapman points to Shelter Scotland figures that more than 70,000 children are on social housing waiting lists in Scotland (‘We have a mountain to climb with housing crisis’, National, December 10th). Rough sleeping has increased, with 256 people dying on Scotland’s streets last year.

110,000 affordable homes are planned by 2032, with £50m to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over the parliamentary term. Rent controls are planned. But it’s hard to believe anything will change.

The much watered-down short-term lets regulations seem to show a government in thrall to professional bodies who naturally wish to promote their businesses but seem oblivious to the social cost.

An unforeseen drawback of the Short term lets Chief Inspector Nicola Robison of Police Scotland gave evidence to a Holyrood Local Government committee highlighting one ill-considered consequence of the proliferation of short-term lets – their use in prostitution, drug dealing, and as fronts for illegal puppy farming. Police say prostitutes and drug dealers set up shop and move around Scotland at will. Shona Robison has already refused to bring in rules against ‘overprovision’, claiming local authorities already have such powers.

Energy Poverty

One-third of Scots are worried about rising bills and over one-quarter of households now live in fuel poverty, defined as 10% of income going on energy (613,000 families). But this may mask the true figure as the national gas grid does not connect remote areas. 275,000 households pay over 20% of their income keeping warm. 27,000 people in Britain die annually of cold-related diseases. The cold is simply not good for lungs and heart, or for wellbeing.

The Scottish government’s 2011 to eradicate fuel poverty rings hollow. The Scottish Socialist Party demanded a Right to Warmth to be enshrined in law and payment/compensation from the government to those who cannot afford this. However, there is as yet not even a Right to Food.

Women’s and Trans Right

University of Pennsylvania transgender swimmer Lia Thomas sees nothing unfair in competing in the same competition as biological females. Lia, a biological male who identifies as female, competed for Penn men’s swimming team for 3 years without distinction before transitioning and annihilating the female opposition in the women’s competitions. Lia claims the transition has not helped in performance.

A consultation on trans ‘conversion therapy’ has been extended for an extra 6 weeks from 10th December. In a reversal of gay conversion therapy, trans conversion therapy involves NOT going straight to affirmation, hormones, puberty blockers, and surgery, but risks criminalising anyone who even suggests counseling as the first step. Have your say at

https://mailchi.mp/sex-matters/its-time-to-respond-to-the-conversion-therapy-consultation

Game hub

Gamerhub, a consumer games site, is teaming up with the Scottish Games Network (SGN) to promote Scotland’s gaming sector to the world, by carrying news and updates from developers, creators, and publishers, while SGN will use Gamerhub content to publicise new games and link consumers, academia and business. Gamerhub aimed initially to bring X-box gamers together but has broadened out to include apps, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Playstation.

The gaming industry is a Scottish success story, which started in Dundee. It is estimated to contribute £97m in direct and indirect taxes to the Treasury.

Independence

Scotland’s budget includes a provision of £349.5m for constitutional matters, which may go towards indyref 2 planning. George Kerevan thinks now might be Scotland’s moment (‘Why Scotland must seize its moment and go for independence’, National, December 13th). Pointing to the convergence of the Christmas party furore, Westminster sleaze, and even international events, he thinks the SNP should not align Scotland in a new cold war against China (over human rights) and Russia (over Ukraine), but should seize the moment to confront the UK and assert Scotland’s statehood.
Maybe Scotland should even rip up its own budget and declare its intention to borrow whatever we need, prompting a showdown with the UK. SNP and Alba MPs could withdraw from Westminster, and ultimately Scotland could risk a unilateral referendum. When Ian Blackford led an MP walk-out of Westminster, 8000 members joined the SNP. Maybe in the end dramatic action of some sort will be what wins independence.

Finally

Could this be the end for Boris as PM? The Liberal Democrats took North Shropshire, a seat which had been Tory for 200 years, with over 5000 majority. If the circling vultures claim Boris’s scalp, could this eventually lead to a snap General Election when Scotland might seize her chance?

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