‘The Union is Damaging Scotland’ says Swinney

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SNP Finance Minister John Swinney has described the Union as something that Scotland can no longer afford.

Mr Swinney’s remarks came at the start of the second day of the SNP’s conference in Perth and was a direct reference to the decade of cuts that are about to be inflicted on Scotland as a result of the deficit left behind by the last UK Labour government.

Speaking to delegates at the Perth conference Mr Swinney claimed that the forthcoming Holyrood elections offered Scots an opportunity that they could not afford to miss.  He argued that Scotland needed the powers that would enable economic growth in order to protect front line services.

Mr Swinney said:

“The stark truth is that we can no longer afford the Union.

“Financial Responsibility would give us control over tax and economic policy, allowing us to encourage economic growth, the very thing that the Westminster parties are in danger of choking off with their cuts.  Scotland cannot afford to lose this opportunity.

“We have shown we can deliver efficient government.  We have shown we can use the powers of devolution to deliver strong public services for our people.  We have shown we can take steps to support economic recovery.  We have done all of this within the limited powers of devolution.  Just think what we could deliver for our country with the full powers of an Independent Scotland.

Mr Swinney confirmed that protecting front line services remained a top priority for the SNP and paid tribute to the team that had achieved over £1.47 billion of efficiency savings this year alone.

Looking forward to the future and the climate challenges ahead the SNP’s Finance Minister also highlighted the role of Scotland in reducing carbon emissions saying:

“Scotland’s world leading climate change targets won plaudits internationally.  And we are now making real progress on achieving our aims.  Stewart Stevenson recently announced that we are now more than half way to our goal of reducing emissions by 42% by 2020. With a reduction in emissions of 3.7% in 2008 – the first full year of an SNP Government – that represents progress which is good for jobs and good for the environment.

“Over the past year we have also seen significant Government action on work to adapt to a low carbon economy:

•  A Scottish Green Bus Fund worth £3.4 million to help with the purchase of low carbon vehicles;

•  As part of the Climate Group’s commitment to plant 1 billion trees by 2015, we have taken the lead and will be planting 100 million trees – 20 trees for every one of us in Scotland;

•  And as a result of our clear and decisive steps in office, we have increased our targets for renewable energy production from 50% to 80% by 2020 – a Government acting to deliver the renewable revolution in Scotland.

Mr Swinney also called for the immediate release of Scotland’s Fossil Fuel Levy fund currently sitting in a London bank account saying:

“And the next part of the renewables revolution in Scotland will be greatly assisted if we can get access to the Fossil Fuel Levy – £190 million of Scotland’s money, held in an Ofgem bank account – destined to invest in the next generation of renewable development.  That’s backed by business, by trades unions and by the environmental groups.  The only obstacle is the accounting rules of the United Kingdom.  I say to the UK Government, get the red tape out of the road and let us invest in our country’s renewable future.

Pull together
The reasons for a further council tax freeze were spelled out by Mr Swinney who said:

“We know that these are tough times and we need to pull together as a community. 

“We are committed to working in partnership with Local Government and tackling the financial challenges we all face together. That is why we have increased the local government share of the Scottish Budget, reversing the years of decline under the previous administration. And that is why we will continue to work with local government to achieve our shared objectives of building a better Scotland.

“The Scottish Government recognises that these are tough times for families across Scotland – people need all the help they can get. That is why we have maintained the Council Tax freeze over the past three years saving Scottish tax payers £420 million – that is worth an average of almost £200 to each and every taxpayer.”

Mr Swinney drew attention to what he described as Labour’s ‘crocodile tears’ over the Tory/Lib Dem coalition cuts pointing to the £500 million of cuts Labour had imposed on Scotland before they lost the UK general election.

He added:
“But for all their crocodile tears over cuts – let’s not lose sight of the fact that it was Labour who cut Scotland’s budget by £500 million – and promised us that would just be the start.  If they had been re-elected, their proposed cuts would be ‘deeper and tougher’ than those under Margaret Thatcher.”

Mr Swinney ended his speech by pledging to build a Scotland that is fair and prosperous and takes responsibility for her own actions.

“Let’s bear in mind that spirit as we build for the future. We want to build a Scotland that is fair and prosperous.  We want to build a Scotland that takes responsibility for her own actions.  We want to build a Scotland that seizes the opportunities of the day and creates a bright future for all our people.”

Conference broadcast coverage:

Hear Mr Swinney’s full speech on STV – the audio is less than perfect:
http://video.stv.tv/bc/news-091016-swinneyspeech/?up=1

Here is the BBC’s coverage of Mr Swinney’s speech
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-11547485

Here is a BBC Radio 4 interview with Nicola Sturgeon
http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9094000/9094761.stm