Shame we can’t heat our country with Sturgeon’s hot air promises
AS millions of families face an agonising dilemma over how to pay their energy bills, Nicola Sturgeon is the bystander First Minister.
She’s looking on from the sidelines, insisting that she can’t fix it as she lacks the powers — but someone else really must do something about it, and soon.
Doom-laden rhetoric has been dialled up to maximum, with Miss Sturgeon warning of a ‘looming disaster’, amid fears that the price cap for electricity and gas bills could reach £6,000 a year by next April.
But her government is impotent in the face of this oncoming catastrophe, or so it appears — its only option is to make alarmist statements about financial apocalypse — but Martin Lewis is doing a decent job of that on his own.
There’s no overstating the problem, of course — Greg Jackson, head of Octopus Energy, says UK bills are rising from £15billion to £75billion, equivalent to 9p on the basic rate of income tax, while inflation is projected to hit 18.6 per cent in January.
But Miss Sturgeon isn’t nearly so helpless as she would have us believe — it’s a cynical ploy to ramp up resentment against ‘Westminster’, even if the real culprit is Putin and his gangster state’s invasion of Ukraine.
You’d never think to listen to her that in fact she heads a government with considerable powers.
The Autumn Budget of 2021 delivered the largest annual funding settlement to Scotland since devolution, at £41 billion, while total public spending rose by 21 per cent in 2020/21 to £99.2billion, according to the official GERS stats — a fresh batch of those are due tomorrow.
There’s a lot that Miss Sturgeon could do to help families make ends meet, starting with reversing some of the punitive tax raids her government has instigated in the name of ‘progressive’ reform.
For anyone living north of the Border, taxes are steeper for people who earn lots of money (more than £27,850 a year).
In return they get ‘free’ perks such as baby boxes, painkillers on the NHS that would have cost less in a supermarket, or university places — though there aren’t anywhere near enough to go round for students based in Scotland — and failing public services.
While the Tory leadership contest has been dominated by talk of tax cuts — the only questions being when they should happen and by what margin — this kind of Right-wing policy-making is heretical in Scotland.
As the Mail revealed last month, research by the Fraser of Allander Institute shows a 1p cut to the basic rate of income tax — planned for 2024 by the UK Government — would hand a £420million funding boost to the SNP.
But unsurprisingly SNP ministers have already made an assumption in their spending review that they will not follow the tax cut move.
Business rates are likely to rise again next year despite companies battling to stay afloat as their own energy bills rocket.
And the workplace parking levy, an absurd plan that might well have been cooked up in the back of a chauffeur-driven government limousine, poses a further threat to the economy as it struggles to remobilise after Covid.
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes ended the freeze on council tax increases last year, meaning that most people’s bills rose by 3 per cent — but bigger increases are on the horizon next year, even as councils warn of service cuts.
Cash has been squandered on needless devolution of benefits — which has proved a predictably disastrous process.
Social security spending is set to rise by 48 per cent as a result, hitting £6.4billion by the final year of the parliament.
Yet while the health budget in Scotland is projected to go up by 2.5 to 3 per cent, NHS England will receive an average real-terms annual increase of 3.8 per cent over the next three years.
Even so, John Swinney had no compunction about writing to Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi last month, demanding extra cash from Westminster to fund more public sector pay hikes.
This is a spendthrift government living far beyond its means, and its insistence that it is little more than a spectator as energy bills spiral out of control is a charade.
You might dimly recall that Miss Sturgeon once came up with an ambitious plan for a state-owned energy company, announced to the 2017 SNP conference in Glasgow.
Energy would be bought wholesale or generated in Scotland and sold to customers ‘as close to cost price as possible’.
In its 2021 manifesto, the SNP said that work on the new company had been ‘halted’ during the pandemic, and efforts were being ‘refocused’ on a public energy agency.
The SNP Government says there has been ‘significant change’ since those plans were mooted, including ‘dynamic challenges’ in the ‘energy supply market’, and net zero targets which require a ‘step change on the demand side in terms of how people use heat’.
It’s a long list of pitiful excuses — but the inescapable truth is that the energy company pledge was just a soundbite.
Now it’s on the scrapheap, together with all the other unfulfilled or unworkable commitments that this ham-fisted, hypocritical government has cobbled together over the past 15 years.
Meanwhile, the SNP opposes nuclear and fracking and has turned its back on the North Sea oil and gas industry to placate its Green partners.
So there’s limited prospect of longer-term energy security to keep fuel bills in check in the decades to come.
It’s a sick irony that while you work out how you’re going to afford to heat your home this winter, the government has been busy dreaming up ways to tear Scotland out of the UK — fantasy economics as problems pile up in the real world.
A growing phalanx of civil servants has been enlisted to put together a prospectus for the bold new nation Miss Sturgeon envisages, and as we revealed last week the cost of this endeavour has topped £1million, with another £20millon price-tag for the proposed referendum.
Yet even among SNP voters there’s not exactly an overwhelming appetite for a second poll in autumn next year — the current timescale — and overall support for a 2023 vote has fallen.
Every effort is being made, and every sinew strained, to put together an exit plan for Scotland to escape the Union, regardless of the cost — and that will become painfully clear once again when those GERS figures are published by the Scottish Government.
Yet when it comes to your gas bill, Miss Sturgeon has only hot air to offer — wringing her hands and fulminating but unable to lift a finger to help, or so she claims.
It’s much easier to demonise our supposed colonial overlords in Whitehall for their centuries of ruthless oppression.
Mind you, the Union ‘dividend’ in 2020/21 was £3,100 per person — so maybe oppression does have its bonuses.
As always, the priority for Miss Sturgeon and her colleagues isn’t keeping your bills down, it’s stoking the myth of the Westminster bogeyman to salvage its foundering dream of breaking up Britain.
- This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on August 23, 2022.
- Follow me on Twitter:@GrahamGGrant