Jim O’Neill of Cunninghame South CLP recounts his latest chat on the radio with Chic Brodie MSP, covering SNP cuts and the great SNP Council Tax let-down.
For those who are new to my witterings, I have a weekly joust on the Irvine Beat Sunday Phone-in with the host, SNP MSP Chic Brodie. Sometimes I can struggle for issues but not this week. There was a veritable cornucopia of items I could choose.
Should I go with Alex Neil’s unfunded welfare promises? No, I’ll wait till he tries to tell us how he will pay for them without cuts or tax rises. Or what about Coffeegate, given they get it free and when I was a councillor we had to supply our own. No, just too ludicrous for words.
But there were two areas I thought I could get a response. How does cutting £10m from the fund designed to encourage disadvantaged students into higher education do anything to promote the SNP Government’s alleged aim to get poorer people into further and higher education? Chic dodged the issue and referred to greater funding of the attainment fund.
I had to point out that I taught in the Gorbals and the biggest barrier to our pupils accessing higher education, because they were just as able as in other schools, was not ability but family perception and family poverty. Their families needed them to be out earning as soon as possible. The situation has not changed. Attainment funding is welcome, but it is direct funding that makes higher education more possible as a choice for these young people. The SNP is betraying that choice.
But the big issue of the week was the non-announcement on the removal of the Council Tax. Having won two elections over the past ten years on the promise of removing the evil council tax, they have failed to come up with an alternative and are giving every sign of having rushed out an idea just to say something before an election.
The bold Chic admitted that there had been no consultation with SNP MSPs so Nicola will have to take all the blame. Band H still starts at £212,000 but people with houses worth £1/2m, £1m, £2m or those great big estates and castles owned by people like Anne Gloag and Brian Souter will pay no more. Progressive? Not a lot.
Marco Biagi, the Local Government Minister, has challenged the opposition to come up with alternatives. His memory must be failing as Labour suggested that the number of bands be increased some time ago, to ridicule from the SNP. Also the Co-operative Party, of which Kez is a member, has supported land value tax. I don’t know what Labour will settle on, but it will surely have had more thought than Nicola’s plan.
At the same time, Swinney, while lifting the council tax freeze, is limiting any increase to 3%. What is it about Holyrood Ministers that they will not trust locally elected Councillors to make key decisions for their own communities? This is not just the current Government but was the same during the Lab-Lib coalition. There is a local government election coming up next year. No councillor will want to go into that having just levied a swingeing Council Tax increase.
By this time, Chic had been bludgeoned into silence and he swiftly brought the discussion to an end. Don’t worry Chic. I’ll be back next week.