As millions head for the dole queue, SNP’s pay hike for its army of fatcat bureaucrats is morally bankrupt

IN these straitened times, the public sector gravy train is still firmly on track, with its passengers socially distanced – and handsomely remunerated.

Some traditions are harder to sweep away than others: the pandemic has destroyed livelihoods, but the vast bureaucracy of government appears sacrosanct.

In the midst of economic turmoil, they’ve cashed in on inflation-busting pay hikes of up to 12 per cent, as Covid-19 runs riot beyond the walls of their cossetted realm.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, who got the job when her predecessor Derek Mackay quit over his extensive online interaction with a teenage boy, signed off the deal in April.

She’d only been in the job for five minutes, but quickly got the hang of Nationalist politics, displaying a woeful – and unforgivable – lack of understanding of the fiscal context.

Such magnanimity at the taxpayer’s expense was doubtless warmly welcomed by the massed ranks of government officials, including those in charge of planning for the coming economic Armageddon.

We’ve known since the moment lockdown began that GDP would be sent into freefall and we’re hurtling towards the deepest slump since the Great Depression, with taxes likely to surge and public services brought to their knees.

With nearly three in ten employed Scots now furloughed, at stratospheric cost to the public purse, the economy is in a state of suspended animation – and when it stirs there will be terrifying repercussions.

Now we learn that up to one in ten Scots face losing their jobs in the chaos that lockdown has unleashed, bringing unemployment to levels not seen since the 1980s.

Undeterred by the prospect of lengthening dole queues later this year, the order was given to ensure government bureaucrats were lavishly rewarded with hikes to salaries that were already eye-wateringly high.

Civil servants on £54,487 a year will now receive £61,006 – an increase of. 12 per cent, while a Government mandarin earning £67,148 will see their salary soar to £73,935 under the new terms – a leap of 10 per cent.

The pay rise handed to civil servants will be more than 10 ten times higher than the rate of inflation in many cases.

Let the good times roll, even if Chancellor Rishi Sunak has forecast a ‘severe recession the likes of which we haven’t seen’.

In Soviet Russia, Stalin’s hierarchs always ensured they had the best mod-cons and Western luxuries while their people starved to death.

Here in Scotland the ruling elite talks a good game on social injustice – but they’re just as skilled at feathering their own nests as those despicable old tyrants.

Looking out from their home office windows in between checking their bank balances, they can reflect on their enormous good fortune, but it comes at a heavy price.

The cash flowing into their private school fees or new cars could be diverted more usefully to the business of economic recovery – but where would be the fun in that?

More importantly, there’s the inconvenient question of credibility: how can we expect those living high on the hog at our considerable expense to mastermind the rebirth of a shattered economy?

It’s a tone deafness that is staggering in its scale – and for those on the bread-line, as their companies collapse or they lose their jobs, just another illustration of the venal hypocrisy hard-wired into the upper tiers of the machinery of state.

(Under pressure: Finance Secretary Kate Forbes caused anger with pay hikes for mandarins)

An entitlement culture has taken root so deeply that it can never be fully excised, and nor is there a shred of political appetite to curb its growth.

For years the SNP has bleated about ‘austerity’ at every turn, imposed on Scotland by an uncaring Tory regime in London, and now we can see why their loathing of it was quite so visceral.

Austerity is a foreign concept to the army of apparatchiks inured from the dystopia unfolding around them, many of them either implicated in this government’s many abysmal failures during lockdown, from care home deaths to the disaster of ‘home learning’ – or busily employed in attempting to airbrush them out of existence.

More than 856,000 unemployed people across the UK submitted benefit applications in April, taking the number of people out of work to 2.1million – the highest level since 1996.

Meanwhile the Treasury is bankrolling 80 per cent of wages for about eight million temporarily laid-off workers under its Job Retention Scheme at a cost likely to top £50billion.

These statistics are almost impossible to compute because they are so dizzyingly high, but even the economically illiterate (take your pick among the SNP Cabinet) could understand what they spell out, in no uncertain terms: catastrophe.

Yet at the highest levels of government, allegedly preparing for a post-pandemic world where we can begin to put this nightmarish ordeal behind us, it’s a different story entirely.

Is it any wonder that Nicola Sturgeon’s big idea when she announced the first moves out of lockdown was a four-day week?

And of course she pledged the public sector would lead by example.

It’s that kind of laudable selflessness in the face of adversity that will inspire countless workers to set about the task of putting their lives back together with renewed vigour.

We can be sure that in the public sector those four-day weeks might not carry quite such a sting as they would for workers in private firms, for whom a four-day week will always be a pipe dream.

It’s unworkable nonsense, dreamt up by a government far out of its depth, and steeped in student union politics which have no place in the desperately bleak months and indeed years to come.

Most unpalatable of all, our taxes will rocket to cover not just the price of the economic reconstruction that will define the rest of our professional lives – but also to safeguard the swollen incomes of our high-earning public servants.

In the world of private commerce, of which most of our political class know nothing, pay cuts and redundancies have been inevitable.

Businesses are crying out for some sign that they will be able to start making money again (well, someone has to pay for all those self-enriching fat cats…)

Instead they get vaguely-worded blueprints, if they can be called that, which couldn’t possibly enable to them to get back up and running.

Sacrifices have been made all round, for sure, and ministers never tire of preaching about how we’re all in it together – they’re experts at this high-grade sanctimony and cant.

But the problem is that this time they’ve been caught out looking after their own – while the people who put them in office looked to them for leadership.

Keep looking, and indeed keep paying your taxes, if you’re lucky enough to have an income – the state clearly needs every penny to stuff its insatiable maw.

*This appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on June 3, 2020.

Home Affairs Editor, columnist, leader writer, Scottish Daily Mail. Twitter: @GrahamGGrant Facebook: @sdmnewspaper