By Graham Grant
SO many appalling failures have been racked up by the SNP that it is easy to lose sight of the really big ones.
Chief among them is the fact that Scotland is heading for the lowest level of economic growth in the developed world.
We were sixth worst in 2016 but will plunge to the bottom of the table in 2019, according to the latest disturbing analysis.
The Tories, who produced the forecast, also warn that the SNP has failed to match UK growth in 30 of the 42 quarters since 2007.
Backing up their concerns are independent experts who say the last time the Scottish economy languished in such doldrums was 60 years ago.
It’s hard to see those statistics as anything other than disastrous, but this is the backdrop for the SNP’s planned tax raid – almost certain to get Holyrood approval in an initial vote this week.
Those proposals, unveiled in last month’s (DEC) draft Budget, will shrink the pay packets of 757,000 Scots.
And the 1.1million people – 45 per cent of the workforce – who earn above £26,000 will pay more than those earning the same amount south of the Border.
Supporters of the plan point to opinion polls suggesting most of us are desperate to give more of our cash to the government.
Mind you, those surveys tend to ask people if they would be happy to pay more tax for better public services – not exactly a foregone conclusion.
There’s also a big difference between what you tell a pollster, what you’re prepared to put up with in reality – and how you will vote in the next election.
Governments tend to pay a heavy price for tax rises, but the SNP simply can’t help itself: after all, what’s the point of having all these shiny new powers if you can’t use them?
As a minority administration, the Nationalists are looking to their traditional allies, the Greens, to get their Budget through, and it faces its first parliamentary hurdle tomorrow (WEDS).
Green co-convener Patrick Harvie, as head of the six-strong group of de facto SNP backbenchers, is only too keen to assist – indeed Mr Harvie would like to see the top rate of tax raised from 45p to 60p.
Happily, this isn’t on the table – it would be utterly calamitous, sparking a mass exodus of higher earners – but the Greens can still be counted on for their vote.
That’s not to say they want nothing in return: they are demanding more money for local government, a better pay settlement for public sector workers and swifter progress in tackling climate change.
You can be reasonably sure that Finance Secretary Derek Mackay has some money squirrelled away, despite Brexit and ‘Tory austerity’, to ensure that much of Mr Harvie’s wish-list can be honoured.
Mr Harvie has been at Holyrood for nearly 15 years without ever winning a constituency vote – and now holds the whip-hand in the debate over the future of your pay-packet.
The Finance Secretary has spoken of the ‘progressivity’ of his tax plans, and has even claimed, rather ambitiously, that they could help attract people to Scotland.
Whether the many thousands who would flock north to get first-hand experience of the SNP’s tax hike would outnumber those moving south to escape it isn’t entirely clear.
It’s possible that the Greens will exploit their power further by pressing for even bigger tax rises – and it may be that the SNP will be unable to resist, if it wants it Budget to be passed.
Meanwhile, in the real world, figures from the Scottish Consumer Sentiment Indicator reveal a growing number of families expect their cash situation to get worse this year.
Scottish Retail Consortium director David Lonsdale warns that ‘family finances are under strain and disposable incomes do not stretch as far as they used to as inflation continues to outstrip wage growth’.
He said: ‘Given anaemic official predictions for Scottish economic growth, we hope to see parliamentarians work collegiately to pass a Budget that prioritises measures which bolster private sector investment and consumer spending.’
Thinking, collegiate or otherwise, might be something of a step too far for the Scottish parliament.
Last week Nicola Sturgeon was rebuked for calling Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie a ‘pathetic attention-seeker’.
For his part, Mr Rennie was told off by the Presiding Officer for accusing Miss Sturgeon of lying about the closure of the children’s ward at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley.
You might think that the charge of ‘attention-seeker’ from someone who threatens an independence referendum on a more or less weekly basis (helping to scare off businesses and investors) is a bit rich.
Either way, there isn’t much evidence of ‘collegiate’ behaviour among our bickering tribunes (apart from the SNP/Green love-in), who for the most part seem unable to grasp the scale of the economic crisis.
Much of this inability to acknowledge the problem, let alone tackle it, stems from the constitutional paralysis which interprets any criticism of the SNP as a Unionist slight on Scotland.
To give him some credit, Economy Secretary Keith Brown was to be found on Twitter on Sunday graciously admitting it was ‘entirely legitimate’ to question stagnant growth – but then blaming it all on the Tories.
The other tried-and-tested bogeyman is Brexit, constantly cited by the SNP as a drag on the Scottish economy.
But according to the SNP’s own figures, Scottish exports to the EU have been declining since 2011 – some five years before the vote to leave.
Millions wasted on giveaways, from baby boxes to ‘free’ prescriptions, and the systemic incompetence which has become a key characteristic of devolved politics naturally have nothing to do with the economic malaise.
The extent of the SNP’s commitment to jump-starting growth can be seen in its current fixation with a universal citizen’s income – cash from the state for everyone, regardless of whether or not they are working.
Nationalist MP Kirsty Blackman has suggested it should be pegged at £20,000 per person, a barmy plan which would cost £107billion a year.
A ‘growth commission’, set up in 2016 and led by former Nationalist MSP Andrew Wilson, is busy formulating plans for the currency in an independent Scotland – preparing for a parallel universe the electorate has already rejected.
And what of the billions of pounds the SNP is turning away while it prepares to put up your taxes?
One of the costliest errors the SNP has made (aside from the purchase of Prestwick Airport) is the ban on fracking, in October last year, following a two-year moratorium on new developments.
The SNP’s own research suggested the gas drilling technique could bring 3,100 jobs and £6.5billion of investment to Scotland.
Tomorrow’s (WEDS) vote is an opportunity for MSPs to spare thousands of families from a ruthless tax grab that will demolish any hope of an economic revival.
But don’t hold your breath: history suggests the likelier outcome will be nothing more ‘progressive’ than a grubby stitch-up from a failing government and its Green partners.