Westminster’s failed economic policy has deepened the challenge of delivering a return to sustainable growth and would see cuts to public spending in Scotland applied for years to come, the Scottish Government's Finance Secretary, John Swinney, said in response to UK Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement on 5 December 2013.
Mr Swinney also suggested that the £3.1 billion cuts that Scotland is already facing will be outstripped by the £4 billion a year cuts proposed by Westminster in the event of a vote against independence in the national referendum in September 2014.
There is a better way forward say pro-independence advocates, who include the governing SNP, Greens, independents, socialists, community activists, social liberals, students, trade unionists, dissidents within the Labour Party, and others.
Taken alongside the Chancellor’s proposed increases in the pension age, his measures last week underline that decisions on Scotland’s economy and public finances should be taken in Scotland, the Finance Secretary declared.
The benefits of having decision-making powers in Scotland are highlighted, the Scottish Government says, by the latest GDP figures which show the economy grew by 1.8 per cent during the last year, faster than the UK as a whole.
Scotland's employment, unemployment and inactivity rates are also the strongest of the four nations of the UK. "These factors demonstrate that with limited powers over the economy we can deliver real improvements. With full powers we could do much more," Mr Swinney said.
He continued: “The Autumn Statement shows the damaging economic consequences for Scotland of a vote to remain part of the Westminster system. This is delayed action directed not at helping people with the cost of living but at embedding austerity.
"Scotland’s budget is being cut by 9.9 per cent in real terms over the current five year spending review period. In addition to these £3.1 billion of cuts, Westminster politicians have now threatened to introduce £4 billion of additional cuts if Scotland votes against independence.
“It is ludicrous for Westminster to claim increased funding for Scotland when today’s announcement does not make up the ground lost by cuts announced earlier this year.
“The UK Government’s austerity approach has missed out on key opportunities for growth. Despite the Chancellor's claims, by the end of 2015 the UK economy is forecast to be 5.9 per cent smaller than was projected in June 2010 and the UK economy remains smaller than it was prior to the recession.
“That missed opportunity means borrowing will be £197 billion higher than projected in June 2010. That is the cost of Westminster’s economic failures.
“It is now becoming clear that it will be Scotland’s pensioners, now and in the future, that will pay the price of Westminster government’s austerity. Under Westminster plans people in Scotland will enjoy fewer years of retirement than people in almost any other country in western Europe.
"The increase in the pensions age will specifically hurt people on lower incomes who unfortunately have lower life expectancy and fewer alternatives to the state pension.
“Following a vote for independence, the Scottish Government will review the proposed pension age increase to 67 and make sure the pension age in Scotland is fit for Scotland’s people rather than the Westminster treasury.
“Scotland has paid more per person in taxes every year for the last 30 years than the rest of the UK. Our finances are strong and we can more than afford to be an independent country. With the approach to public spending that we have seen from the Chancellor today it is clear that Scotland cannot afford not to be an independent country.”
Commenting on the latest oil projections from the Office of Budget Responsibility Mr Swinney said: “The OBR oil forecasts are simply not consistent with industry expectations for production or current price trends. For example, despite offsetting the costs of record industry investment the OBR fails to account for the resulting increase in production.
“The Scottish Government’s forecasts are based not on the high price projections of DECC or the OECD but on a cautious assumption that prices remain at $113 in cash terms and on the industries’ estimates of production. Scotland has a vibrant oil and gas sector and will continue to do so for many decades to come.”
There is disagreement between Mr Swinney's SNP and others, including the Scottish Green Party, on the extent to which Scotland should -- or needs to -- rely on carbon based industries in its transition to sustainability and a clean energy future.
Scottish Greens are highlighting recent comments by former NASA Goddard Institute boss and renowned climate scientist Prof James Hansen, who said: “Governments are allowing and encouraging fossil fuel companies to go after every conceivable fuel, which is an obtuse policy that ignores the implications for young people, future generations and nature. Whether governments continue to be so foolhardy as to allow or encourage development of all fossil fuels may determine the fate of humanity.”
Patrick Harvie, MSP for Glasgow, commented: “While the SNP and the pro-UK parties fight over who’s the best supporter of North Sea oil extraction, those of us who genuinely care about the future understand it is a resource to be conserved and used wisely rather than plundered and to hell with the consequences.
“To commit to extracting every last drop the Scottish Government is simply copying Westminster’s position. By taking control, Scotland has a chance to do things differently, responsibly.”
* More from Ekklesia on the Scottish independence referendum: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/scottishindependence