Alex Salmond: Budget is “missed opportunity” and “punishes pensioners”

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By a Newsnet reporter

Addressing Holyrood MSPs during First Minister’s Questions yesterday, Alex Salmond attacked George Osborne’s Budget, saying that it was a “missed opportunity” and that it punishes pensioners but rewards the wealthiest.

Responding to a question from SNP backbenchers, Mr Salmond said: “The Chancellor’s Budget is a missed opportunity to get the economy moving to deliver greater fairness. The Budget allocated next to no meaningful new resources or contained any new initiatives to support growth in the economy.”

He added: “No doubt they’ll blame the Liberal Democrats for last year, just as the Liberal Democrats will blame the Tories for the effect on the pensioners this year. If that is the summit of the Tory ambition, then it’s hardly surprising they’ve been reduced to the current poor position in Scottish politics.”

Mr Salmond claimed that 330,000 pensioners would be affected by the changes introduced by the Chancellor.  By 2016-17 around a half million Scottish pensioners could face a notional loss of income of up to £220 annually due to the freezing of the pensioners’ tax allowance.  

Turning to the Conservative benches, Mr Salmond added: “We’ve got to the stage where the Conservative Party in terms of their determination to pursue their own agenda are prepared to punish millions of pensioners across the UK – half a million pensioners in Scotland – reverse the policies of Winston Churchill and they wonder why next to nobody is voting for them?”

Speaking in response, Conservative MSP Gavin Brown said the Scottish Government failed to give the UK Government credit for other Budget decisions, such as a cut to corporation tax and an increase to personal tax allowances.  Mr Brown said: “[Mr Salmond’s] answers have completely ignored those two very important measures for Scotland.”

The First Minister also criticised changes which the UK Government wants to make to pay for public employees.  Mr Osborne has said that he wants to make public sector pay more “responsive” to local pay rates and proposes to freeze the pay of public sector workers in poorer parts of the UK.  Mr Obsborne claims that in some parts of the UK, public sector pay is as much as 18% greater than equivalent work in the private sector, and wants to freeze public sector pay until private sector rates catch up.  

About 32,000 public sector workers in Scotland have their pay set by the UK Government and are potentially threatened by the change.  The Scottish Government has vowed not to introduce any similar measure for public servants whose pay rates are set by Holyrood.

Mr Salmond said: “This move could penalise public servants, damage public services, increasing regional pay disparities and resulting in spending cuts to pay for higher public spending cuts elsewhere.  This will do nothing to promote growth or fairness and I think the Chancellor should think again about this half-baked plan.”

Tory Chief Whip John Lamont then asked the First Minister whether he considered that “separation from the rest of the United Kingdom could be negotiated within a year of an independence referendum”.

Mr Salmond criticised Mr Lamont for his choice of language in describing independence, saying: “If John Lamont was so confident about his position then he wouldn’t feel the need to describe the process of independence and self-determination and self-respect in such pejorative terms.”

Mr Salmond said the Your Scotland, Your Referendum consultation has now received 7,000 responses.  This figure is more than double the number of responses received by the UK Government’s consultation.  The First Minister then said that the consultation document contains “a timetable for what will happen after a vote for independence in the autumn of 2014”.

The First Minister added: “I’m sure that in his heart that he [Mr Lamont] genuinely agrees that the proposed timetable is proper, and following a Yes vote in the referendum the first elections for an independent Scotland will take place in May 2016.”

“What is it about independence that so frightens the Conservative Party that it dare not speak its name?  Might it be because the number of independent countries in the world has increased from some 50 to almost 200 in the United Nations.

“How many of these independent countries in the United Nations describe themselves as ‘separated’ countries, or engaged in the process of ‘separation’?  I look forward to the United States of America celebrating ‘Separation Day’ on July 4.”