22 January 2013

S4M-05407 Budget (Scotland) (No 2) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05407, in the name of John Swinney, on the Budget (Scotland) (No 2) Bill. We are pretty tight for time, so if members can confine themselves to their speaking times that would be a great help. Cabinet secretary, you have 14 minutes.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I hope to provide a more measured contribution. James Kelly may have been slightly unwise to highlight IT projects. I merely direct him at Labour’s NHS England IT project, on which £12 billion was spent before it was abandoned. We can do a great deal better in Scotland, and we always do.

In preparing for the debate and scrutinising the motion before us, I found more startling the issue of omission rather than commission, in that Opposition members have omitted to lodge an amendment to the motion. Therefore, we can expect the Labour Party, which is most vocal in its demands but least visible in identifying actions, of necessity to vote for the unamended motion and thus endorse all that it contains; if Labour’s vote is one of abstention or outright opposition, it would thus seek to disrupt funding for health, transport, education and local government.

I am a little more optimistic than my colleague Kenny Gibson. Although Mystic Meg probably has a more sensible idea of what is going to happen, I was encouraged by Ken Macintosh’s opening remarks, in which he said that more

“unites us than divides us.”

Therefore, I will lay my money on the idea that, ultimately, Labour will decide that the finance secretary has produced a motion and a budget that are worthy of support. The whole issue is a matter of parliamentary process and rules. Credibility that is sought through debate absolutely falls to naught if it is not pursued by every means available.

I am sure that Government budgets are never produced without vigorous internal debate, keen external scrutiny and, where required, counterproposals that are tabled, debated and decided on. Those are somewhat missing from this debate so far, except in certain respects.

We should not imagine that finance ministers get their way all the time. The Parliament has previously rejected and then accepted our finance minister’s proposals. I will quote from Cabinet minutes to show that, on occasion, things can be no easier internally. The finance secretary’s alarm can be put to one side, because my example, which saw a finance minister have to ask

“that his dissent from this decision should be recorded”,

comes from 8 May 1919, when the chancellor was Austen Chamberlain. I am delighted that the successful proposition, which was on Royal Air Force officer pay, came from my father’s cousin James Stevenson, who was attending Cabinet. I can assure members who have not seen me at Cabinet that I was of course always impeccably behaved and supported the finance secretary, because he is always supportable.

Those with infrared eyes and who peer into the murky undergrowth can see the occasional glimpse of Labour’s agenda. Ken Macintosh talked about using underspend. Of course, in government, the Labour Party has a long history of building up huge underspends, which was an issue that the SNP Government had to confront in its first session in government.

Ken Macintosh also said that savings can be a help. We are moving from measuring the input to what we do, to looking at the value that we deliver. I cite one example that is drawn from transport in which, on this Government’s watch, a partnership between Transport Scotland and Network Rail has delivered exactly in the way that is desired. That is the Paisley canal project, the original budget for which was £28 million, but which was delivered on time for £12 million. That is the approach that the Government will take; it is less about cutting the output and more about getting effective use of the input.

Ken Macintosh: By cutting the Edinburgh to Glasgow rail improvement programme, how has the Government delivered on its promises to the commuters of Stirling, Dunblane and Alloa?

Stewart Stevenson: The member knows perfectly well that the investment programme for the railways in Scotland is far in excess of anything south of the border. Indeed, in the not-too-distant past, RAIL magazine carried a cartoon that referred to “ScotRail England”, because people south of the border want our policies.

Labour focuses on education, but it takes no responsibility for the £332 million that appears in the budget to cover public-private partnership projects, which, in essence, were done on Labour’s watch. History can speak louder than words and, for Labour, it certainly does.

On the cuts commission, killing the bus pass and losing bus routes will cost; charging the old for prescriptions will lead to increased mortality, which might save, but in ways that I do not think that we would want to; and the proposals would load debt on to students. Of course, for the UK Government, today’s deeply depressing lending figures represent about £87 billion a year in Scottish terms, which is much more than our budget.

We are in a position in which the SNP promises and delivers.


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