England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Scottish Budget offers nothing for working-class people

By Socialist Alternative Scotland

Public services in Scotland are in crisis. NHS waiting lists are now twice pre-Covid levels. Last year 215,625 homeless households (including 9,860 children) were trapped in temporary accommodation, 52% up on 2014. Similar statistics emerge in education, social care and transport.

The stark reality of life in Scotland in capitalism’s ‘age of disorder’ was shown by the recent 10% leap in Scottish drug deaths (the highest in Europe). While former Scottish National Party First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declared cutting deaths a ‘national mission’, SNP cuts in her own constituency forced the closure of Turning Point 218, a pioneering service for women drug users. A year on from Sturgeon’s shock resignation, her successor Humza Yousaf’s claim to be leading an ‘anti-austerity’ government is in tatters.

Labour and SNP councils pass on cuts

Recent debate has focussed on Yousaf’s planned council tax freeze. Announced at his party’s autumn conference without consulting SNP council leaders, let alone council workers or service users, this was meant to be a ‘vote winner’ following defeat at the hands of Labour in the Rutherglen by-election. Yet the concessions given with one hand are taken with the other. Yousaf’s deputy and Finance Secretary, Shona Robison’s December budget revealed this freeze meant £62 million of cuts to council services, on top of a 26% cut in social housing construction. Speaking from a four-star skiing break in Chamonix, Robison said these cuts would “support households struggling with the cost of living crisis”!

Most SNP and Labour councillors tamely passed the cuts on. Two councils, Labour-led Inverclyde, and Argyll and Bute (Tory/Liberal), passed budgets combining cuts and tax rises (the worst of both worlds!).

More misery for Scotland’s care users

None of the strategies on offer from capitalist politicians help workers facing job losses or essential services under threat, from bin collections, through schools and nurseries to social care, which is in particular crisis. As Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Yousaf introduced a Bill to establish a National Care Service (NCS), a ‘top priority’ in the SNP’s 2021 election manifesto.

The NCS is now not planned until 2029, three elections and a pandemic later. Meanwhile, staff shortages, cuts and privatisation mean increasing misery for Scotland’s 100,000 care users and the government has still not implemented its April 2023 ‘promise’ to pay care workers £12 per hour (compared to union claims for £15).

Organise working-class resistance

Viewing this devastation, it is hard to realise that Scotland’s public services remain in better shape than south of the border. SNP and Labour politicians like to claim that this is due to their statesmanship over recent decades. But in reality it is down to the social weight and traditions of struggle of Scottish working class communities. When Thatcher handed English and Welsh water and sewage to private profiteers in 1989, triggering three decades of price hikes, water shortages, and environmental catastrophes, similar moves were halted by a mass campaign, Hands Off Water, led by Scottish Militant Labour, Socialist Alternative’s forerunner in Scotland.

The same power and resistance can win today. Workingclass communities need to get organised, linking up with strong rank-and-file shop stewards committees in every local authority and health board, uniting the struggle to defend and extend public services and achieve the political and social change needed to end this carnival of chaos and misery: an independent socialist Scotland able to play a part in building a voluntary democratic socialist federation of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales 

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