It’s not always appreciated, but sorting out spending choices for a country is much like managing a household budget or your personal finances.
Yes, it’s on a massively bigger scale, but the same basic rules apply to both – and each are, in their own way, every bit as challenging.
If you spend some of your hard-earned income on one thing, there’s less cash to spend on something else. You want that new coat? Fine, but it might mean cutting back on other things.
And so it is with the nation’s finances. More money for one policy area inevitably means less for another area – unless of course more money can be found to increase the overall pot.
Holyrood doesn’t have full economic powers yet, so we can’t borrow in the same way as other countries do to boost that cash pot.
But we do now have more powers over tax, and that issue was centre stage when the Scottish Government’s Budget passed its first stage in parliament last week.
A tax package was agreed which means that all income tax rates will be frozen next year and the annual salary level at which people will begin paying the higher rate of tax will remain unchanged at £43,000.
That threshold affects the top 10 per cent of taxpayers in Scotland, and freezing it will generate an additional £29 million for public services, compared to our initial plan to raise the threshold in line with inflation.
That move was not one we took lightly, but was part of a compromise agreement with the Scottish Greens which was essential to getting this year’s Budget passed.
Our Budget is a very good deal for Scotland. Overall, 99 per cent of Scottish taxpayers will pay no more than at present.
And the freezing of the £43,000 threshold will mean those higher earners affected will contribute £7.70 a week more – not more than they do now, but more than similar taxpayers in other parts of the UK. To put that in context, it’s less than the price of a single prescription in England – but it will help fund our schools, hospitals and other services.
Crucially – and contrary to what has been suggested in places – it will mean that more money is available to support local services than was the case last year.
Thursday’s vote was a hugely important one. Without a Budget agreement, councils and other public bodies can’t make their own spending plans, services would be under threat and ultimately wages wouldn’t be paid.
Of course things would never get to that stage – although with the behaviour of some politicians at Holyrood I sometimes wonder how far they would be prepared to take things in the name of opposition for opposition’s sake.
Because the simple truth is that the Budget talks and debate have exposed a yawning credibility gap among the Holyrood opposition.
The Tories wanted us to cut tax, Labour wanted us to raise more, the Lib Dems played at talking on a deal but were never going to do one. Only the Greens were prepared to be constructive – and they won a good deal as a result.
The divide is now between those who want to govern and achieve for Scotland – and those who simply want to wreck things.
It’s a divide between those who want to deliver for our communities and an agenda intent on leaving us at the mercy of right-wing Tories at Westminster.
This article was originally published in the Daily Record.