Danny Alexander renews attacks on Scottish independence costs
Questions over costing of pledges raised as Alex Salmond accuses Westminster of driving many Scots into food poverty.
Three of the Scottish National party’s main independence pledges, including free full-time nursery care, would cost much more to fund than Alex Salmond’s government has admitted, the Treasury has claimed.
Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, said the cost of headline pledges to give free childcare to all under-fives, slash air passenger duty by 50% and cut corporation tax by 3% would require tax rises or spending cuts worth £1.64bn a year by the early 2020s.
In the UK’s government latest attack on the Scottish government’s proposals, the Treasury paper focused deliberately on the promise to offer 1,140 hours of free childcare for all children aged one to five by 2026, stating that alone would cost an extra £1.2bn.
The pledge in the white paper, which was unveiled by the first minister on 25 November, has won plaudits for its ambition, with ministers in Holyrood claiming it would provide 35,000 jobs, but Alexander said: “The reality is that the white paper shows nothing about how they would pay for these commitments. The Scottish government cannot claim it is going to spend what it will not have.”
He claimed Scotland was already seeing modest corporation tax cuts, with further reductions to come, and would get tax-free childcare from 2015, under UK government policies. These programmes were fully costed, Alexander said, adding: “The real choice next year is between unfunded promises that ignore the realities of being a new and separate country or an economic, political and social union – in the UK – that has stood the test of time. I believe we are better together and I look forward to continuing to make that case in 2014.”
His allegations came as the first minister visited an emergency food bank in Edinburgh, where he spent time packing food parcels and meeting volunteers with the Trussell Trust, which runs 43 food banks in Scotland and says there has been a fivefold increase in people using its services in the past two years.
Salmond said food charities had cited the UK government’s policies on welfare reform, delays in getting benefits, benefit sanctions and falling incomes as the main reasons for the growth in demand.
Insisting only independence would allow Scotland to protect the vulnerable, he said: “The UK is already one of the most unequal societies in the developed world, and the UK government’s welfare cuts programme unfairly impacts on some of the most vulnerable members of our society. [UK] ministers need to account for the impacts of their welfare decisions which are driving so many into food poverty.”
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s deputy first minister, said the Treasury analysis focused solely on costs rather than the benefits of her government’s policies. It “completely ignores the dynamic impact of the policies we are proposing to increase economic activity, which will boost growth and tax revenues,” she said.
“The most serious point behind all this is that the vastly different choices in spending priorities has now been laid bare. Westminster is pressing ahead with a new generation of weapons of mass destruction, at a cost of up to £100bn, and at the same time is attacking the Scottish government’s plans to transform childcare in an independent Scotland.”