If it matters to Scotland it matters to us
The UK government is in the process of spending an extra £800 million over and above Scotland’s usual budget on Scottish projects.
It is our share of the “levelling up” fund announced last November by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The £800 million is to be spent by constituency, which means about £13.5 million per Westminster seat.
There is an obvious and important flaw in this policy. If it is meant to “level up” it should not be spread over the country, but targeted at the poorest constituencies or communities.
It is then a nice idea poorly executed. I doubt any Scottish constituency will notice the money, attribute it to the largesse of the UK government or feel equal to Kensington as a result, or wherever the benchmark for levelling-up is meant to be.
That however is not the SNP critique. Apparently the extra £800 million, along with an additional £6 billion in covid recovery funds, adds up to “austerity”.
That is despite Scotland enjoying the highest level of spend in its history.
Austerity is that unusual word used to describe the Tory cuts of 2010. In theory these savaged Scottish spending in an ideological purge of the public sector.
Economic data actually shows a dip in the Scottish block over the last decade but nothing like as severe as stated at the beginning.
However, it is central to the SNP Indy argument that Scotland suffers from Tory cuts.
Never mind that all governments reduced spending around 2010 or that an indy government will have to make cuts (according to SNP economic guru Andrew Wilson).
Covid borrowing makes the banking crisis of over a decade ago very small beer. We are in a much worse situation.
Government finances are a mix of super high borrowing, lots of spending and, now, a bit of frantic clawing money back.
A valid critique of the UK government approach is that its incoherent, flawed (see levelling up) and desperately optimistic for a bounce back. But austerity it ain’t.
Yet Alison Thewlis, the SNPs finance spokesperson in Westminster, insists its just the same big bad wolf come to eat your granny.
“The Tory government is threatening Scotland’s recovery by imposing more damaging austerity cuts – when it should be delivering a major fiscal stimulus to create jobs and boost the economy,” she says.
No mention of the nearly £7 billion in extra funds that have come to Scotland in the last 12 months, equivalent to an extra 25% on the Scottish block.
She wants spending equivalent to President Biden’s multi-trillion dollar package.
The SNP have even found a slogan for this. “Boost it like Biden”. Because nothing spells economic literacy more than adapting a film puff – Bend it like Beckham – from 20 years ago.
What is really odd is Thewlis’s explanation of austerity.
“Tory plans to slash universal credit, impose a public sector pay freeze, and end furlough prematurely will act as a roadblock to recovery and leave millions of people struggling to get by,” she says.
Pity the poor people in England who have no choice but to suffer this fate. However, Scots are not helpless victims. Thewlis doesn’t seem to realise that the SNP government was offered more social security powers in 2016 but declined them.
These did not include universal credit, but had they been adopted, could have been used to funnel more money at people struggling to get by. If this is now ‘austerity’ it is of the SNP’s choosing.
Her colleague Shona Robison attempted the same deception when calling for more powers to tackle poverty. To which sensible Nats thought – why doesn’t she use the ones already there?
Thewlis seems happily oblivious to the fact that public sector pay in Scotland is decided by Nicola Sturgeon, not Boris Johnson. That’s why NHS staff are on different rates either side of the border.
The Scottish government does not control furlough, but that doesn’t stop it coming up with other schemes to help people.
Most egregious of Thewlis’s misdirection is that Scotland had an election last month, where the phrase “Boost it like Biden” was never used, nor was there any suggestion of a huge spend.
The SNP have borrowing powers they could max out, and tax-raising ones they could deploy. They could have done a Biden, but did no such thing.
The SNP govern in poetry and campaign in prose. The impression of socialism is given in office, but it defaults to conservatism in elections. If she’s disappointed by this, join the queue.
When listing ‘austerity’ she didn’t mention the issue of the week, the cut to foreign aid spending by Johnson. Unusual for the SNP not to take a swipe at Boris. Unless of course she and the party know cuts are inevitable under her plans, and they just don’t trust Scots with the truth.
Just when Scotland thought it was out, they pull us back in again. We wanted intelligent debate but it’s a return to the word vomit that passes for policy.
The Scottish education system is “on the verge of a crisis”, the new president of a Scottish teaching union has warned.
Speaking at the NASUWT Scotland’s virtual annual conference, Kirkcaldy primary school teacher Bernadette Easton said that teachers feel “demoralised, unsupported and unrecognised”.
The cumulative impact of the pandemic on top of pre-existing pressures of excessive workload, assessment requirements and the failure to equip schools with the resources and support they need to meet the needs of all pupils were among the concerns raised.
‘Teachers have gone the extra mile’
Ms Easton also warned there had been a rise in stress and mental ill-health among teachers in the last year.
She said: “Teachers have gone the extra mile to facilitate remote learning for all young people and this has not been without its challenges.
“The pressure on every professional speed learning how to use Teams, how to innovate with digital technology, how to deliver an effective level of education.
“There was an expectation of near normal education, in a situation which was anything but normal. It is no wonder there has been an increase in mental health issues by teachers.”
Ms Easton said teachers have been left vulnerable due to a lack of safety mitigations in some schools and the pressures of trying to juggle remote teaching with in-person teaching.
She said: “The workload involved in trying to support pupils back in to the classroom, the unpaid hours given to meet deadlines and prepare for variable platforms of learning have placed the profession under tremendous strain.
“Teachers have been undertaking live lessons, often on their own devices, worrying about having to teach from their home, concerned about how they were judged and perceived on these new platforms by pupils, parents and senior management.
“The government certainly needs to look at teacher workload again.”
“We need an education system which is prepared”
She called upon the Scottish Government and employers to equip, prepare and support teachers for the ongoing impact of Covid and ensure teachers are “not lighting a candle in the dark and trying to find a way out”.
Ms Easton added: “We need an education system which is prepared – prepared for the challenging effects of Covid on children, prepared to bridge the digital divide in ensuring all children can access remote learning, and prepared in case there is another wave.
It is no wonder there has been an increase in mental health issues by teachers.”
Bernadette Easton, president of NASUWT Scotland.
“We must ensure everything is in place so we are not lighting a candle in the dark and trying to find a way out.
“There must be consistency and a uniform approach to remote learning moving forward. And, there must be greater focus on the physical and mental wellbeing of teachers, making sure they can feel safe and are not overloaded.”
The Scottish Government has previously pledged more than £200 million in funding for local authorities to help provide support to schools and families during the pandemic.
A government spokesperson said: “In the last year, teaching and non-teaching staff in our schools and early learning and childcare settings have performed extraordinarily under challenging circumstances.
“They have refocussed their work to support pupils in a range of imaginative, creative and stimulating ways.
“This government will put the health and wellbeing of pupils and staff at the forefront of our Covid recovery plans.
“We look forward to working constructively stakeholders to ensure we nurture an environment that has at its core the highest quality of learning and teaching.”
Dominic Cummings has accused Nicola Sturgeon of undermining the Covid response by “babbling” about private discussions at Cobra meetings.
In evidence to the House of Commons science committee, he said: “As soon as you had these meetings Nicola Sturgeon would just go straight out announce what she wanted straight afterwards.
“So you had these completely Potemkin meetings without anyone actually digging into the reality in detail, because everybody thought as soon as the meeting is finish everyone’s going to just pop up on TV and start babbling.”
Mr Cummings also suggested the views of Ms Sturgeon and other devolved leaders on the pandemic were not considered by Downing Street.
He said: “I can’t really say if they were well listened to or not, I can’t really remember what they were saying and I can’t really remember much of the discussion around that.”
The comments came as Boris Johnson cancelled a virtual coronavirus “summit” with the devolved leaders after it was branded a “PR exercise”.
The prime minister invited the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish leaders to a meeting tomorrow to discuss the “shared challenges” facing the UK after the pandemic.
But the meeting was pulled this afternoon in response to a joint letter signed by Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford.
The letter stated: “We are writing about the proposed 4-nations summit on Covid recovery, which you have suggested should take place this Thursday afternoon.
“We are both deeply committed to taking part in such a summit and to working appropriately together on Covid Recovery – but, as we are sure you do, we want the meeting to be a meaningful discussion with substantive outcomes, and not just a PR exercise.
“Our view is that this will be best achieved if further detailed preparation is done in advance.”
It added: “Further discussion between our officials, leading to the summit taking place on an agreed date, perhaps as early as next week, would allow for a much more meaningful exercise, and avoid the risk of it being just a PR or box-ticking exercise.”
Number 10 confirmed the meeting had been cancelled this afternoon, a spokesman added: “It is disappointing that the Scottish Government feel the need to delay this meeting so they have more time to prepare.”
Asked whether it would be rescheduled, the prime minister’s spokesman said: “The PM is keen to speak to the first ministers about our recovery, we want to do that as soon as possible but we don’t have a date set.
“We want to work with them to find a new date to schedule this.”
The meeting would have been the first time the leaders have met since the May 6 elections, in which the SNP won a historic fourth Holyrood term.
Residents in Glenrothes have complained about the stench from Stenton pond, which has turned green with raw sewage.