I don't have time to go into the detail but I'll try to write about the budget later in the week. For the record, I am extremely proud of John Swinney, I think he's shown himself to be extremely able and has done everything he can to protect jobs and services in the face of the deepest cuts imagineable from Westminster.
I particularly like that he is now compelling the councils to stick to what they agree, IF they agree it. I can't see why they wouldn't. Everywhere else is facing cuts of around 6% but local government can get a cut of only around 2% if they agree to certain things like teacher numbers, freezing the council tax etc. It will mean the difference of around £420 million. But whereas before, councils like Glasgow could simply agree to certain things but not bother to implement them ("we don't think small class sizes make a difference" for example), this time they have to make up the budget that ensures these agreements are met BEFORE they get the extra money.
Good! COSLA have agreed but now we need all 32 local authorities to agree. I think they're being offered a tremendous incentive to do so and at the same time YOU get NO INCREASE IN COUNCIL TAX, CONCESSIONARY FARES stay in place, FREE PERSONAL CARE is guaranteed and a variety of other measures are agreed to.
I am also delighted that he has said if we have a pay freeze for public sector workers earning over £21,000 per annum, we can maintain the pledge for no compulsory redundancies. It's rotten not getting a pay increase, I know that, I have been there often enough myself. But you have to be fair to John and acknowledge that he's proposing that to keep more folk in work and he is freezing the council tax too. He's also chosen not to do what the Greens wanted to do and that is increase income tax. That's because it can only apply to the basic rate and therefore would hit the poorest hardest. Oh and prescriptions - charges will be abolished as planned in April.
Other things of note - public sector workers on under £21k will get an increase of at least £250 a year, the additional 1000 police officers we've put in since coming to power? They're staying put and we're funding it. A living wage for those whose wages the government controls will be at a minimum of £7.15 per hour. Bonuses where the government can control it - suspended until further notice! Distinction awards for NHS - frozen for the foreseeable! I could go on but I did start by saying I don't have time to blog about this.
Having said all of that the SNP government has had to implement cuts of £1.3bn imposed by Westminster so it can't possibly be pain free and no doubt over the coming months it'll become clear who will be worst affected. The Labour Party groan if you dare to mention this in parliament but there's no getting away from the fact that WE HAVE NO CONTROL OVER THE AMOUNT OF OUR BUDGET! As Jeremy Kyle would say: "FACT"!
There is only one way to rectify that and that is by becoming Independent. Whilst I was relieved and proud to read John's proposed budget today, I also felt so sad that we can't just do what any other country in the world would do and use full economic powers to suit Scotland's economy, to grow Scotland's economy, to make Scotland a better place for us all to live in. We have to get our heads round doing that and soon. For now, I think John Swinney has done an incredible job and all with one hand tied behind his back. Think what he would do if that hand was untied. You can untie it. You can vote for Scotland's Independence.