'Compromise' As Budget Faces Holyrood Vote

2 February 2017, 07:27

The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay has stressed the need for "compromise'' on the Budget as his tax and spending plans face a key Holyrood vote.

MSPs will vote on the general principles of the Scottish Government's Budget Bill for 2017-18, with Mr Mackay insisting large areas of his proposals should be able to win "unanimous support''.

With the SNP no longer having a majority at the Scottish Parliament, the Finance Secretary has to win the support of at least one other party.

The Tories and Labour are expected to oppose the Government, and talks have been taking place with both the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats.

But Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie, who is looking for ministers to commit £400 million additional spending to areas such as education, mental health and transport links to the Northern Isles, said "significant compromise'' is still needed.

Green co-convener Patrick Harvie has stressed he is "entirely willing to put pressure on the Scottish Government to give ground'', but he has also said he is "not willing'' to see the Budget fall as that could trigger "emergency cuts'' to public services.

Mr Harvie, who has been pushing for the Scottish Government to increase taxes for higher earners, said: "There is going to be no budget if we can't get agreement across the chamber, and a majority support for a budget.

"If parties just dug their feet in and said 'my way or the highway', then the whole thing would fall and we would begin to see emergency cuts being made to public services across Scotland.

"I'm not willing to see that happen, but I am entirely willing to put pressure on the Scottish Government to give ground on the position that it's taken so far.''

Mr Mackay has previously refused to budge on the SNP's income tax plans, which largely follow those of the Conservative Government at Westminster apart from on the 40p tax rate - where Holyrood ministers plan only to increase the threshold in line with inflation instead of the larger rise proposed south of the border.

It is the first time the Scottish Government has had powers over income tax rates and bands, and the Finance Secretary said his Budget is of "huge importance to Scotland''.

He said: "I do not expect that all parties will agree with every aspect of the draft Budget but there are large areas that should have unanimous support.

"This is a Parliament of minorities and we must all recognise that compromise is the only way any party will be able to make good on the promises it made to the people of Scotland.

"I am confident that those who share that view will find the common ground needed to come to agreement, support this Budget and invest in our crucial public services.''

Mr Rennie said, however, that the Government has "just a few hours left to have a change of heart and to make the significant compromises needed to build consensus across the Parliament''.

He insisted: "Despite making considerable effort to engage in constructive talks with the Scottish Government, we are firm that if we do not see the changes we believe the country needs then we will vote against the Budget.''

Tory finance spokesman Murdo Fraser said his party would only talk with the Government "so long as it abandons its bid to make Scotland the highest-taxed part of the UK''.

Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said her party would try to halt cuts to public services, claiming: "The SNP's £327 million cuts will devastate communities across the country. The cuts will mean fewer teachers and support staff in our schools, 15-minute care visits for our elderly, cuts to social work departments and welfare advisers to support our most vulnerable.

"The SNP has spent years campaigning as an anti-cuts party. If the nationalists don't support Labour's fully costed plan to stop the £327 million cuts then their hypocrisy will be there for all to see.''