MP for Edinburgh North and Leith
Brexit and the Internal Market Act
Earlier this year, The Sunday Times announced that the UK now has more billionaires than at any point in its history.
Many benefited from providing the online services we relied upon during lockdown, and their combined wealth grew 20% between May 2020 and May 2021.
To drive home just how much one billion pounds is; if you saved £100 a day, you’d have £1 billion in your bank account in about 27,000 years.
So, now that England is facing an expensive social care crisis, which sector of the community will Boris Johnson turn to in his hour of need? That’s right, he’s increasing national insurance payments, a deeply regressive form of taxation that will disproportionately affect low-income families and young people!
If you think that sounds unfair, it gets worse. Health is a devolved issue so Scottish taxpayers already pay their bit every month towards the running of healthcare in Scotland. This National Insurance increase is principally for the social care service in England, shamefully neglected for many years by successive UK governments.
Scottish taxpayers will be paying twice – once for the health and social care system they actually use and again for a system they do not.
That Boris Johnson says he’ll eventually return it as a lump sum to the Scottish Government is irrelevant; it’s not for the Prime Minister to direct how devolved budgets should be spent. Besides, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for any promise of his to be honoured.
This double taxation should be seen in the context of the UK Government’s opinions on our hard fought-for devolution itself. Boris Johnson reportedly proclaimed it a “disaster” during a Zoom meeting with Tory MPs and Jacob Rees-Mogg dismissed it as “constitutional tinkering” in the House of Commons.
If they were looking for a way to begin restoration work on their pre-1999 concept of Scotland, they found it in the form of Brexit and the Internal Market Act.
This sweeping legislation, passed last winter, allows Westminster to overrule Scottish Government decisions on everything from food standards to the environment. Judging by this new National Insurance proposal, they’re not stopping there either.
In 2014, the Better Together campaign assured us that Scotland’s powers would never be altered without the express consent of Holyrood, yet here we are.
We were also told to vote “no” to avoid a rise in energy prices, and I’m sure you’ve seen the news that energy prices are set to balloon this winter. Many energy suppliers are predicted to go bust and bills are soaring, a deeply worrying prospect on top of the 40% increase we’ve already seen between 2015 and 2019.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the Secretary of State for Energy, claimed there is “absolutely no question of the lights going out or people being unable to heat their homes.”
I don’t find that a very reassuring statement from a government minister in the sixth richest country in the world, particularly when his party has been content to oversee a 3,800% increase in food bank use during their tenure.
One in four people in Scotland are already dealing with fuel poverty; even if the lights did go out, would the UK Government care? What disaster would inspire them to leap into action?
If this wasn’t enough, the £20 Universal Credit uplift, a lifeline for so many people during the pandemic, is ending. That’s a loss of £1040 a year for 40,000 people in Scotland alone. The UK has some of the highest poverty levels in western Europe.
Which means the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments have (yet again) joined forces and written to UK ministers expressing their grave concerns regarding this punishing cut but, once again, to no avail.
How much more must people take?
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has accused the SNP of “scaremongering” for pointing out what seems obvious to everyone but the UK Government: their policies have terrible real-life consequences for people.
Trying to encourage economic growth by keeping their citizens trapped in penury is an interesting approach for the so-called party of business.
The Conservative Party no longer deserves that title.
They are the party of poverty, nothing more.
The £20 Universal Credit uplift ends…