Speech by Finance Secretary Derek Mackay to SNP Spring Conference

Below is a speech given by Finance Secretary Derek Mackay to the 2017 SNP Spring Conference. Check against delivery.

Well, John Swinney did warn me – he had a full head of hair when he started as Finance Secretary.

I’ve kept my hair so far, but as you can see – it is going grey.

To be fair maybe that started before this role – it started when I was transport minister!

Conference, it has been an honour to serve as your party Business Convener for almost 6 years now: Transport Minister, Local Government Minister and of course previously as Leader of Renfrewshire Council.

But there can be no doubt that the greatest privilege is to have been appointed by the First Minister to serve her and Scotland as Cabinet Secretary for Finance & the Constitution.

Just over three weeks ago, this Government delivered its first budget in this term. I was proud to lead that process,  delivering on the mandate we secured at the Scottish elections last May, guided by the priorities set out in the Programme for Government.

Conference, I was under no illusion of the scale of the task to balance the Scottish budget and secure support for it.

It was an historic budget that used our new income tax powers for the first time to deliver stability and security and protect the social contract that the people of Scotland so value.

I recognise that we are in a parliament of minorities, each party with its own priorities and commitments, and so my duty is to find consensus and common ground on key spending decisions to deliver sound governance of the finances of the nation.

The SNP, the largest group in parliament by far, having secured a record high share of the constituency vote, has every right to pursue the delivery of our policies. But I listened carefully and acted on issue after issue, building a budget that could be supported by everyone.

Well, I tried!

What was the response from across the chamber to my willingness to offer areas for agreement?

They voted against the budget anyway!

And in doing so they opposed £900 million of extra spending for our public services.

The Tories opposed it because I didn’t pass on their tax cuts.

Their budget demands tell you all you need to know about their priorities.

Tax cuts for the top 10 per cent of income earners, tax cuts for the biggest 10 per cent of businesses and tax cuts for the top end of the housing market!

Conference, these are not our priorities.

Our priorities are investment in vital public services – the NHS, education, early years, police, childcare, digital, housing, infrastructure, local services.

We also want to grow Scotland’s economy.

With Funding for City Deals, new Innovation and Investment Hubs in Dublin, London, Brussels and Berlin and £4 billion being invested in key infrastructure projects.

We want Scotland to be a good place to do business.

So we are extending the Small Business Bonus to deliver our election promise that more than 100,000 businesses will not pay rates at all.

The £660 million for rates relief ensures that 7/10 premises in Scotland will pay either the same, less or no business rates at all from the 1st of April.

We want to deliver a world class education system which allows all children and young people to fulfil their potential.

£1.6 billion of investment in higher and further education means no tuition fees and  maintains at least 116,000 full time college places.

Closing the attainment gap is our number one priority so we are providing an additional £120 million  directly to our schools to raise standards for all

And we are embarking on delivering our vision for childcare through £60 million of investment in the first phase of work to expand  free early learning and childcare. 

We want to protect our precious NHS.

In 2017/18 NHS revenue spending will increase to £12.7 billion – an increase of £120 million above inflation and the first step towards delivering our commitment to increase the NHS revenue budget by almost £2 billion by the end of this parliament.

Within that, we will see, for the first time, funding for mental health services exceed £1 billion.

We’re directing  £107 million more into in health & social care integration and making an additional investment of £72 million in primary care and GP services.

We are also focused on tackling inequality and making Scotland fairer. 

The 2017/18 budget will deliver a living wage for social care workers, invest in a new social security system, and continue to protect people from  the bedroom tax.

And on Monday, we just announced £590 million to build affordable housing across Scotland, with all 32 local authorities sharing £422 million. That includes £19.4 million for Aberdeenshire and £12.3 million here in Aberdeen.

Conference, the SNP budget delivered the best deal for tax payers and public services in the whole of the UK. 

In Scotland, the Tories talk low tax, whilst in England they hiked the council tax.

Whilst the council tax freeze which provided much-needed relief for household budgets through difficult times has come to an end, council tax in Scotland is still lower on average  than South of the Border.

The Tories are for higher taxes, but only if you are poor, or sick or seeking education.

And just this week of course the Tory chancellor, so proud of his budget jokes, had to U-turn on his increases in taxes on the self-employed. Well he’s not laughing now.

The Scottish Tories now serve as the warm up act for the PM.

They follow their  bosses, telling us they don’t want divergence on tax from Westminster, reverting to type. Opposing Scotland using our hard-won powers.

The Tories say they want the same treatment on tax on both side of the border.

But I’ll give you an area where there should be the same treatment on tax.

Our police and fire services should be able to reclaim VAT – as is the case in England. That would provide an additional £35m every year to our vital emergency services.

Do we really expect fairness from the Tories? 

Let’s not forget that so far, they have cut Scotland’s budget by £2.5 billion between 2010/11 and 2015/16. And there are savage cuts still to come.

Our budget is expected to be 9.2 per cent lower in real terms in 2019/20 than it was in 2010/11.

Despite these fiscal challenges, I delivered a budget for the coming year which increases the spending power for local services by over £400 million.

At every opportunity, we manage Scotland’s finances to maximise value for the taxpayer.

Take our approach to digital connectivity.  Broadband is largely a reserved matter.  We could have sat back and waited for Westminster to invest in Scotland’s digital infrastructure.

But we didn’t.  We decided that giving homes and businesses access to broadband would help our economic ambitions and  tackle inequalities by bridging the digital divide.

And by working carefully with the private sector, we have secured even greater value through something called Gainshare. This generates income for the public sector .

So I can announce today that through Gainshare, there is an additional £15.6 million to invest in high speed broadband.

An additional 17,000 homes and businesses across 27 local authorities will benefit, with funding targeted at areas with low speeds, including Aberdeenshire, Angus, Dumfries and Galloway, Perth and Kinross, the Scottish Borders and Stirling.

Conference, this is the difference the SNP makes in government.  Making the most of our money and our budget to benefit more people and more communities all across Scotland.

Delivering budgets, and finding compromise is not entirely new to me, conference.

10 years ago, when the SNP first became the Scottish Government I was not in parliament, I was a local councillor.  I led the SNP at Renfrewshire Council, taking the group from opposition to administration for the first time.

So as we face these council elections, I know only too well the important difference local government can make to people’s  quality of life.

So I want all our SNP candidates  to be inspired by the ability to deliver real change at a local level. SNP councils deliver in communities across the country.  The work of our councillors is immense and often goes unsung.

When I was  leader in Renfrewshire, I inherited a council whose Labour administration had run out of ideas, energy and ambition. Housing, schools, community facilities and the environment all needed attention. 

I was also very struck by all the evidence I had seen that the more we could do in early years, the better the life chances of our young people. 

So, with determination, innovation and a team approach we found ways to invest new resources in early years, housing & environmental regeneration.

We delivered new & expanded community facilities, improved social care and established a programme of new and refurbished schools.

This is what we can do in local government, and this is why Scotland needs more SNP councils, to keep on delivering in partnership with the Scottish Government.

For a generation, Labour told people you had to “vote Labour to keep the Tories out.”

2014 might have killed that line stone dead. But the “cosying up” together started in 2012 when Labour and the Tories entered into unholy alliances all over Scotland to keep the SNP out of council administrations.

Who’d have thought it –  the Labour party preferring to enter into coalitions with the Tories, just because of its dogmatic and irrational opposition to the SNP. No wonder Labour is now on 14 per cent in the opinion polls.

And when asked about that level of support by Holyrood magazine, here was their response: “the polls being bad for the Labour party isn’t news. It’s been that way for some time now.”

As we embark on these council elections, let me tell you something I am really proud of: we will have more female candidates than ever before, because we took action to achieve this.

It is about time our council chambers more closely reflected the diversity of the communities they seek to represent, and this party was right to take action to encourage more female candidates to come forward.  

Conference, I said earlier we were a parliament of minorities, but there are many areas of agreement in our national parliament in Edinburgh. Let me tell you one. 

A majority of MSPs support Scottish independence. And those MSPs carry a mandate to hold another referendum whether Westminster likes it or not.

Conference, the First Minister’s announcement on Monday clearly struck a raw nerve.

First we had Labour’s MSPs and lone MP telling us that they would vote against the right of Scots to choose their future.

Whenever I hear the supposed defenders of Scotland’s working class communities talk like this, I am reminded, conference, of where I come from.

I was born and grew up in a working class family in a working class scheme in Renfrew.  All around me were people who had voted Labour all their lives.  

The right to have a say and a voice had been hard fought and won over many decades.

And conference, I wonder what happened to the party that used to stand up for these communities and fight for them to have that right.

Of course, we should expect nothing more from the Tories.  They’ve spent centuries perfecting the craft of keeping people down and in their place.  Scotland has been no exception.

So we aren’t surprised that yesterday, they told us no.  No you cannot have a choice.  No matter that you voted to have that choice.  The answer is no.  Not  at any time of your choosing.

The arrogance is breath taking.  An unelected Prime Minister telling our elected First Minister what she can and can’t do.  The sole Tory MP in Scotland telling the majority parties at Holyrood what they can and can’t do.

Tories telling Scotland what to do. Well, that worked out well for them in the past, conference.

But let’s resolve here, at this conference, right now, to not stoop to their level.

The independence cause has never been stronger, but the need to reach out has never been greater.

To persuade people to choose a different future, we need to listen to why they voted no last time.

How we conduct ourselves really matters. As democrats, we must respect the right of people to disagree with us.  

And treat our opponents as we wish to be treated ourselves.

So, if you care about this cause – no shouting.  No abuse.  No nonsense.

Because they will be watching us, waiting for the opportunity to cry division and dischord.

Yet all we are doing is giving the Scottish people the chance to choose what sort of future they want for their country.  

To have their say.  And to be listened to.

Conference, that is Scotland’s right and we cannot, should not allow the Tories to take it away from us.