By Martin Kelly
Labour MP Alistair Darling is facing ridicule after claiming that Scotland does not currently have to make any spending cuts as part of the UK.
Mr Darling, who leads the anti-independence campaign, was responding to new figures which show Scotland’s budget deficit is now narrowly greater than that of the UK, after having been lower for several years.
Yesterday’s GERS report showed that infrastructure spending and reduced oil revenue due to lower tax take, had hit the Scottish budget in year 2012/13.
The figures showed that currently, the budget deficit of the UK was slightly better than that of Scotland, with only 0.1% separating the two. The change followed a five year period during which Scotland’s budget deficit, at 4.3%, had been markedly lower than the UK.
However the temporary increase in the Scottish budget deficit brought claims from those opposing independence that Scotland would be forced to cut public spending if independent. Better Together leader Alistair Darling went further and insisted that Scotland does not currently have to make any spending cuts as part of the UK.
Commenting on the GERS figures, Mr Darling said “if Scotland was independent today we would have no option but to cut spending on services like schools and hospitals or put up taxes – or probably both. Today as part of the UK we don’t have to do that.”
The claim from the former Labour Chancellor was immediately ridiculed by the SNP, with MSP Jamie Hepburn describing it as “bizarre”.
Commenting, Mr Hepburn said:
“Alistair Darling’s claim that Scotland is not experiencing cuts as part of the UK is beyond belief. It is an incredible slap in the face for the tens of thousands of people in Scotland struggling with Westminster’s cuts and utterly divorced from reality.
“He should take that message to some of the households affected by Westminster’s welfare cuts and see how his ludicrous position goes down.”
UK Chancellor George Osborne has already committed to a further £25bn of cuts which will affect Scotland. Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls has pledged to implement similar cuts should Labour be returned to power.
Westminster politicians have also repeatedly expressed their desire to inflict a £4bn cut to Scotland’s budget by axing the Barnett formula if there is a No vote.
The comment from Mr Darling is one of a series of bizarre statements made during the referendum campaign, which included a warning that a newly independent Scotland would lose its triple-A credit rating – whilst at the same time criticising the UK Government for staking its reputation on keeping a triple-A rating, something it subsequently lost.
The Labour MP also previously suggested that there were just 2 billion barrels of oil equivalent remaining in the North Sea – despite having said while Chancellor there were over 20 billion barrels and industry figures showing there are up to 24 billion barrels remaining.
Mr Darling also described a shared sterling area as “logical” and “desirable” before then denying ever having said so.
Mr Hepburn added: “Perhaps Alistair Darling doesn’t have a problem with the brutal scale of the damage being done to communities in Scotland by Westminster’s cuts agenda, but the ordinary people who are actually experiencing them certainly do.
“Alistair Darling is the former chancellor who promised to inflict cuts that were ‘deeper and tougher’ than those experienced under Margaret Thatcher – but even he must surely see just how damaging Westminster’s actions are to people in Scotland.
“Alistair Darling is rapidly developing a track record of making absurd or utterly confused statements as he tries his best to defend his Tory allies in Westminster – the same Tories he previously branded as ‘mad’.
“People in Scotland would have far more respect for Alistair Darling if instead of treating them like fools he just admitted to the enormous level of harm being caused to communities in Scotland by Westminster.”