Jackie Baillie MSP, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Constitution and Economy, calls for the establishment of a new budgetary watchdog for Scotland.
We are on the cusp of a new era in Scottish politics. The major new tax and welfare powers coming to Scotland mean the Scottish Parliament is not just the centre of political activity in our country, but also increasingly responsible for the future of the nation’s public finances.
We need our public institutions to reflect this new reality. That’s why Scottish Labour has proposed a new watchdog that will be responsible for providing independent, reliable and impartial projections about what the future holds for the public purse.
A Scottish Office for Budget Responsibility (SOBR), which should be established immediately.
Following the referendum Scotland’s confidence in itself is at an all-time high, but confidence in our politics doesn’t match that. Too often people are promised the earth, but when it comes to delivery government is often found wanting.
But everything has changed in Scottish politics now. With the devolution of major new tax and welfare powers to Scotland through the Smith Agreement, things will be unrecognisable. The old way of doing things won’t work. What ministers may have got away with in the past won’t cut it in the future.
Never again should the people of Scotland be misled about the future of our country. We need more transparency and responsibility, so the people of Scotland can trust what they are being told. The SNP promised a second oil boom, and produced some dodgy figures to make their case. The worrying events of recent days make it clear that their claim just wasn’t true. Our oil workers, and all Scots, deserve better. This is after all about jobs.
With a new SOBR it will be for the independent and impartial experts to set out their assessment of the future of Scotland’s finances, taking into account projections about the oil price. They won’t have ministers standing over their shoulder ordering the numbers to be raised ever higher to satisfy political objectives.
The major new powers coming to Scotland through the delivery of “the Vow” made during the referendum makes the case even stronger. A significant amount of the taxes Scots pay, including the full rate of income tax, will be under the control of the Scottish Parliament. Taxpayers need to have confidence that there is a watchdog holding ministers to account.
A Scottish OBR should be set up, not just in advance of the new tax powers coming to Scotland, but also before the Scottish parliamentary election next year.
Political parties seeking the trust of the Scottish people shouldn’t have anywhere to hide. I want Scottish Labour’s manifesto to be open to scrutiny, so that the experts can kick the tyres and check under the bonnet of our vision for making Scotland the fairest nation on earth.
It cannot be right that at the moment voters are asked to go to the polls without knowing whether what they are being promised by the various parties stacks up.
So here is Scottish Labour’s pledge. If the other parties agree, we will go into the election next year with each manifesto having been examined by the expert economists at the SOBR. Each should be given a scorecard of economic credibility.
There will be no place to hide. Instead of the usual claim and counter-claim that is the traditional hallmark of election campaigns, voters will be able to see which party’s policies stand up to scrutiny. It will then be for voters to judge for themselves which party offers the most credible vision for Scotland.
Over the coming days and weeks we will set out further details of our demands for what we want to see from the Budget. We will be guided by a very simple principle – the Budget should contribute to make Scotland the fairest nation on earth. Tinkering around the edges won’t address the big challenges we face as a country.
A Scottish OBR will, at the very least, provide transparency and trust in the forecasting and stewardship of the nation’s finances. And with all these new powers coming, it is urgent.
This article first appeared in Scotland on Sunday.