Watching Derek Mackay rattle out a battery of new taxes in last week’s Budget debate, as Nicola Sturgeon nodded along beside him, I was reminded of a scene from the Oscar-winning crime biopic Bonnie and Clyde.
Our hoodlum heroes introduce themselves to a gas station attendant with Faye Dunaway’s immortal line: ‘I’m Miss Bonnie Parker and this here is Mr Clyde Barrow. We rob banks.’
If anything, Sturgeon and Mackay’s heist was more brazen. They didn’t even carry Tommy guns.
We are approaching 12 years of the Nationalists in power and this latest Budget is the most confiscatory yet. Driven leftwards by the need to win Green votes, Mackay’s fiscal blueprint proposes to plunder earnings at every opportunity and make Scotland an even more difficult place to do business.
As a result of the measures announced by the Finance Secretary on Thursday, more than a million Scots earning over £27,000 will pay higher income taxes. That includes those notorious members of the super rich, police constables (£29,000 after seven months on the beat) and teachers (£27,400 at point one on the pay scale).
Mackay also raised the three per cent cap on council tax rises to 4.79 per cent, paving the way for households to be charged even more for the pleasure of sorting their refuse into five different wheelie bins every week.
Those at least are upfront, Bonnie and Clyde taxes. Snuck in alongside them were new powers for local authorities to impose a tourist tax and car-parking taxes. Tourism brings in £11billion to the Scottish economy, which is naturally something you’d want to discourage by making hotel and other accommodation more costly.
Waggish critics of the parking tax have dubbed it a ‘Poll Tax on wheels’ but it is actually a work tax — a levy on going to your job every morning. It is based on a scheme rolled out in Nottingham and ministers promise an exemption for NHS and frontline emergency staff, neglecting to mention that teachers down south have to pay up to £500 a year just to park at their school.
Given their already troubled pay negotiations with teachers, don’t be surprised if ministers agree to waive the tax for them, but what of other public sector workers — to say nothing of those of us in the private sector?
Making it harder to go out to work ranks as one of the most rash, regressive, ill-conceived policies this government has ever pursued and they once freed a mass murderer.
Like most measures that hurt the poor and middle earners, it has been thought up by people on handsome salaries, with index-linked pensions and a generous travel allowance and agreed in sleek, air-conditioned meeting rooms where taxpayers get to fund the bottled water but have little other input.
Derek Mackay has his critics but he was a clever and reform-minded leader of Renfrewshire Council and he knows how politics works. He may have read out this declaration of war on Middle Scotland but its authors were the woman sitting beside him and the man she shares a breakfast table with.
Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell, the duumvirate that runs this country, decided the contents of the Budget. Both were once peerless political strategists then met each other and became the ultimate power couple of UK politics.
However, they have lost their touch and are completely out of touch with the nation they rule over. Sturgeon was a solicitor then an MSP then a minister; Murrell was a party staffer before becoming chief executive of the SNP. It’s been a great many years since either of them worried about paying a bill.
The Murrells have no concept of the damage their smash-grab Budget will do to families and small business owners. Scotland sits right outside their doorstep on Charlotte Square but is very far away from them.
For proof, look no further than the First Minister’s decision to jet off to North America this week in the middle of Brexit, a fatal infection outbreak in Scotland’s biggest hospital and a pay dispute with teachers. If the job bores her that much, she can hand in her ticket any time.
The Scottish Conservatives sense an opportunity in all this. A source tells me: ‘The SNP has had its 11-year honeymoon and been Teflon-coated because people have given it the benefit of the doubt, which was built on things like the Council Tax freeze, which didn’t cost a great deal of money but which said: We’re on your side, we understand the pressures ordinary folk — not rich people — are under.
‘Now the SNP is raising Council Tax, charging higher income tax to anyone earning over £27,000, and saying: We’re going to tax your car park at work too. It’s gone from being on your side to being on your back. And it’s not just the SNP, it’s Nicola. She’s such a divisive figure and is now continually hectoring at people.’
The First Minister is beginning to show signs of the Late Maggies — she’s hung around too long, half the country’s sick of the sight of her, and even her Cabinet ministers are (slowly, tentatively) daring to imagine a future without her.
She is not helped by her zeal for browbeating us all into obedience to whatever faddish notion has crossed her desk that morning.
Last year, addressing an audience of care-experienced youngsters, she solemnly described herself as the ‘Chief Mammy’ of Scotland. In her more lucid moments she might reflect that lip-curling, finger-jabbing moral superiority is neither nurturing nor endearing. She comes across not as Mother of the Nation but as Nanny Sturgeon, a martinet who, unable to improve public services, has settled for improving us instead.
Sturgeonism, to the extent such a thing exists, is regular updates on failing schools and hospitals interspersed with scolding over how many calories were in last night’s dessert wine. At least Mary Poppins let you have a spoonful of sugar to get the medicine down.
There is, however, no way to sweeten this Budget. It is not just an attack on Middle Scotland but a brutal hobbling of those who aspire to be middle earners — a broadside against the idea of being middle-class. It is a Budget from a First Minister hellbent on taxing us from the baby box to the grave.
Scottish Labour has become something of a boys’ club, a predictable outcome whenever the far-Left takes over. They think men should be out overthrowing capitalism while the women stay at home sewing the Cossack hats.
Jenny Marra delivered the most devastating response to the Budget, despite holding no post in what Richard Leonard optimistically calls his ‘Shadow Cabinet’.
While finance spokesman James Kelly bawled at Derek Mackay like a punter whose horse had just done him out of a hundred quid, business manager Neil Findlay accidentally emailed his speech to the Finance Secretary in advance.
Marra was fierce and factual. She contrasted spending with dire outcomes in health and education, warned the NHS would go bust without reform and showed how Scottish Government cuts have led SNP-run Dundee City Council to contemplate compulsory redundancies.
‘Workers in the “Yes City”, as the SNP likes to call us, have been betrayed by their own First Minister,’ she remarked, acidly.
If Labour has a future, Marra is it.
Whitehall has drawn up top secret plans for the royal household in case of post-Brexit unrest and, like most of this government’s top secret plans, we learned of this one on the front page of a Sunday newspaper. The idea is to evacuate Buckingham Palace and whisk the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh to a secure location. Good thinking. Just don’t let Philip drive.
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Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.