By Bob Duncan
The SNP has claimed that Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has “nowhere to hide” and must apologise for her “catastrophic error of judgement” as new figures show Scots are not the nation of scroungers she portrayed to her party conference in Birmingham.
The SNP asked the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) to recalculate the figures which underpinned the Tories’ analysis, but this time for the rest of the UK.
The results showed that the percentage of ‘net contributors’ in Scotland was almost identical to that in the rest of the UK. The revelation, say the SNP, has effectively destroyed any credibility Ms Davidson may have had on the subject of the economy of Scotland.
SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn, who is Deputy Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee was scathing about Ms Davidson’s misleading assertions, saying:
“This really has been a catastrophic error of judgement from Ruth Davidson. She deliberately chose to fiddle the figures in a way that talks down Scotland, but now she has nowhere to hide.
“What she didn’t tell the Tory faithful down in Birmingham was that the figures she published for Scotland are actually comparable with the rest of the UK. Quite why she chose to conceal this fact – which she knew wouldn’t get her the cheap headline she was after – is something only she can explain.
There was fresh embarrassment this afternoon for Ms Davidson after Tory grandee Lord Forsyth – one of her key backers in her leadership election – described her presentation of the figures as ‘unfortunate’.
On the BBCs Daily Politics show, he said: “To accuse people on the public sector payroll of being dependent on the state; it’s an unfortunate way to present it.”
This intervention by Mr Forsyth was a response to Ms Davidson’s claim that 88% of Scots do not “make a net contribution to Scotland’s economy”. This group includes all armed forces, civil servants, police officers, teachers and NHS workers, as well as pensioners.
The Daily Mail quoted John Mclaren of the think tank, the Centre for Public policy Research (CPPR), as saying:
“This is not just benefits, this is middle-class families with three kids sending them to school being paid for by the state. If you want to call them spongers that’s up to you, but it’s not about benefits, it’s everything – police on the street, schools and the rest.”
Even the figures used to provide the headlines have been disputed by many commentators. Stephen Boyd of the STUC, writing in the Guardian newspaper, claimed that Davidson “has got her sums very wrong on the economy”.
He wrote: “The facts of the matter are that Scotland’s public spending to GDP ratio is only slightly better or worse than that of the UK as a whole depending on whether or not a geographical share of oil revenues is included in the calculation.
“Many of the most enduringly successful economies in the world manage to sustain public spending and public sector employment ratios at similar or higher levels.
“Davidson’s grand idea that removal of ‘government diktat’ is necessary to unleash Scotland’s pent-up private sector potential is simply risible. Labour and product markets are regulated on a UK-wide basis and the evidence is unequivocal; Scotland is a good place to do business.”
The SNP’s Jamie Hepburn also criticised Davidson’s attack on Scotland’s pensioners:
“It is her insult to pensioners which is the worst of all. They have paid thousands of pounds in taxes throughout their working lives, but Ruth Davidson believes they haven’t made a net contribution to Scotland. No wonder the Tories were so keen to introduce a Granny Tax.
“If Ms Davidson wants to have a serious debate about the role of the public sector in Scotland, then let’s have it. But let’s start with the facts, and let’s not start by insulting pensioners who have contributed through their taxes all of their lives.
“When even prominent backers such as Lord Forsyth are distancing themselves from her, it really is time for Ms Davidson to hold up her hands and admit she has got this dreadfully wrong, and apologise for her insult to Scotland.”