SNP accused of ‘fantasy economics’ over Scottish independence ‘blueprint’


Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP was accused of playing ‘fantasy economics’ today after ‘blueprint’ for an independent Scotland recommended decriminalising drugs, introducing punitive new taxes and re-introducing freedom of movement.

The Social Justice and Fairness Commission set up by Nicola Sturgeon in 2019 made a raft of recommendations to form a radical manifesto for the country if it managed to split from the rest of the UK.

The 132-page report, led by two SNP MSPs, was cynically released weeks after the party was returned to a further five-year term in charge at Holyrood in the Scottish parliamentary election.

Billed as ‘a blueprint, a route map to a more socially just Scotland’ it includes recommendations on drug decriminalisation, new green taxes, looser immigration rules and the introduction of a universal basic income (UBI).

But it was slammed by opposition politicians as unaffordable this afternoon, with the Scottish Conservatives’ shadow social justice secretary Miles Briggs saying: ‘This wish-list from the SNP is not remotely credible. 

‘Their election manifesto wasn’t costed and this blueprint for their vision of a future Scotland isn’t either. It is based on fantasy economics. 

‘They simply don’t accept the reality that independence would already cost Scottish families thousands of pounds before their plans to spend even more public money. 

The Social Justice and Fairness Commission set up by Nicola Sturgeon in 2019 made a raft of recommendations today to form a ‘blueprint’ for the country if it managed to split from the rest of the UK.

Scotland had the highest rate of drugs deaths of any country in the EU before Brexit took place at the end of last year.

Scotland had the highest rate of drugs deaths of any country in the EU before Brexit took place at the end of last year.

The SNP vision for an independent Scotland

DRUGS 

The report calls for a ‘citizens assembly’ to examine the case for decriminalising drugs for personal use and involving addicts in building ‘consensus across political parties and wider society about the drug laws and policies’ of the country.

‘Our way forward must reflect that addiction is a health issue, which should be underpinned by human rights and pragmatism. Criminalising people who are traumatised, suffering and need help will not make the problem go away.’

TAX 

The report brands the UK tax system ‘dysfunctional’ and the need for reform is is ‘heightened by the climate emergency, and by the pandemic.’ he report supports widespread reform of the tax system, with more ‘progressive’ taxation so higher earners pay more, as well as the greater use of green taxes to address the climate emergency. 

‘Those with the broadest shoulders need to carry a bigger share of the load in order that those with the least are not plunged into deeper depths of poverty and despair. But we need to be alert to the changing world economy. 

‘Tax competition between countries has forced corporate tax rates down, high net-worth individuals have been able to avoid paying their fair share, and the growth of big tech companies represents a further challenge. Together with action on climate change, it is clear that taxation is a matter for international cooperation as well as national choice

UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME 

Exploring the issue of a universal basic income – a minimum income for everyone without means testing – the report says there are ‘significant potential advantages’ but identifies ‘practical and complex issues’ with the idea, as well as requiring much higher tax levels than exist currently.

‘Our goal is to eradicate poverty by ensuring everyone in Scotland reaches the agreed minimum income. UBI is a potential means through which to achieve this aim, but we recognise there are practical and complex issues that require resolution to ensure UBI could deliver in this regard – not least how to ensure those with additional living costs (for example due to childcare, living in an area with higher cost housing, or disability) get the additional support they need, and how the transition from a predominately means-tested to universal system could be managed.’

IMMIGRATION 

The report proposes allowing free movement, with visa schemes that benefit rural and remote areas at risk of depopulation, allowing asylum seekers to work and creating an independent agency to adjudicate on asylum applications. 

‘The contrast between Scottish and UK policies and perspectives on migration is stark. 

‘While Brexit Britain seeks to clamp down on freedom of movement and make it even more challenging for people to remain here or bring their talents to our shores, we recognise that new Scots are needed for Scotland to flourish…

‘The UK Government’s one-size-fits-all policy on immigration is hugely damaging to Scotland. Its relentless pursuit of a hostile environment is inhumane and ineffective, and entirely at odds with Scotland’s needs.’ 

‘Even the SNP’s own advisers highlight that a universal basic income would mean a tax rise for almost everyone and be devastating for Scotland’s economy.’  

Among the plans in the report is a ‘citizens assembly’ to examine the case for decriminalising drugs for personal use. It also wants to involve addicts in building ‘consensus across political parties and wider society about the drug laws and policies’ of the country.

Calling for a ‘fairer, bespoke approach’ to immigration in Scotland, the report also argues the UK Government’s post-Brexit ‘pernicious’ drive to reduce migration and barriers to entry has created insecurity and undermined communities.

On tax, the report supports widespread reform of the tax system, with more ‘progressive’ taxation so higher earners pay more, as well as the greater use of green taxes to address the climate emergency.

It also discusses the ‘significant potential advantages’ of a universal basic income (UBI) to replace benefits.

Scotland had the highest rate of drugs deaths of any country in the EU before Brexit took place at the end of last year. The SNP has faced mounting criticism over its failure to tackle the problem despite 14 years in power.

The commission backs trialling safe consumption rooms ‘with a view to expansion if it proves effective’ as part of efforts to address Scotland’s drug deaths crisis.

Residential rehabilitation services must also be expanded, the report argues, ‘to ensure that this is a viable option available quickly to those who could benefit from that service’. 

The report said that tackling Scotland’s drug problem ‘will require bold and radical action’.

‘As a society, we need to reflect how we view and respond to addiction, and that includes looking at issues around decriminalisation for personal use.

‘As we have emphasised in our report, transformational change that is long-lasting and successful is best rooted in consensus. 

‘We would therefore propose utilising a process such as a Citizens’ Assembly to look at the issue of decriminalisation as part of efforts to tackle addiction, in recognition of the fact support has grown for such an approach in response to the public health crisis and on the basis of evidence of success elsewhere in the world.

‘Of course, powers over drug misuse remain reserved to Westminster, so this is something that would need to be progressed with independence and through advanced preparation for such transfer of powers.’

It also cites the example of Portugal, which decriminalised personal drug use 20 years ago and has experienced lower drugs deaths across the past two decades.

The commission’s deputy convener, Neil Gray, said: ‘One of the obvious and important lessons learned by producing this report during the period of the coronavirus crisis is that huge changes can be achieved if the political will exists to be bold, dynamic and innovative.

‘Alongside all those who contributed to the commission, I believe we have delivered a blueprint, a route map to a more socially just Scotland, one that focuses on how we should make policy decisions that can help us build a fairer and happier society.’

The Social Justice and Fairness Commission was set up by Nicola Sturgeon in 2019 and its report says it wants to offer a ‘blueprint to future governments’ on key policy areas if Scotland was to break away from the UK.

Tackling poverty in Scotland should be ‘the single most important ambition that the Government of an independent Scotland could seek to achieve’, according to the report.

But it claims poverty in Scotland cannot be eradicated without Scottish independence, suggesting Holyrood can ‘just reduce or mitigate its effects’. 

Calling for a ‘fairer, bespoke approach’ to immigration in Scotland, the report attack’s Boris Johnson’s Westminster Government, saying: ‘Its relentless pursuit of a hostile environment is inhumane and ineffective, and entirely at odds with Scotland’s needs.’

Instead, the report proposes allowing free movement, with visa schemes that benefit rural and remote areas at risk of depopulation, allowing asylum seekers to work and creating an independent agency to adjudicate on asylum applications. 

The report adds: ‘The commission believes that we should shift the burden of taxation away from productive parts of the economy that we want to encourage, towards areas and activities that we want to discourage.’ 

The commission's deputy convener, Neil Gray, said: 'One of the obvious and important lessons learned by producing this report during the period of the coronavirus crisis is that huge changes can be achieved if the political will exists to be bold, dynamic and innovative.

The commission’s deputy convener, Neil Gray, said: ‘One of the obvious and important lessons learned by producing this report during the period of the coronavirus crisis is that huge changes can be achieved if the political will exists to be bold, dynamic and innovative.

Scotland is Europe’s drug death capital 

Scotland had the highest rate of drug deaths int he European Union before Brexit.  

Last December Nicola Sturgeon was accused of presiding over a ”national tragedy and disgrace’ after the figures rose.

The National Records of Scotland published data which shows 1,264 people died in 2019 from causes linked to narcotics – a 6 per cent increase on 2018’s figure of 1,187.

It was the highest figure since records began in 1996, and has doubled in the past decade, with the death rate also more than three times worse than the UK as a whole.

Heroin and other opioids including methadone were implicated in 1,092 deaths – some 86 per cent – more than in any previous year.

It led to renewed calls today for facilities such as drug consumption rooms to be introduced to help tackle the issue. 

Nearly 70 per cent of the deaths were men, and more than two-thirds were aged between 35 and 54.

Three quarters of all the deaths were in five areas; Greater Glasgow and Clyde (404), Lanarkshire (163), Lothian (155), Tayside (118) and Ayrshire and Arran (108).

Heroin alone was implicated in 51 per cent of deaths, although some 94 per cent of fatalities involved more than one substance.

The Scottish Tories last night appealed for cross-party support for its ‘Right to Recovery’ plan to open up access to treatment and rehabilitation programmes.

It would enshrine in law the right for addicts to the necessary alcohol and/or drug treatment option that they seek.

It also backs a land value tax as part of a reformed property taxation system that could ‘remove our dependence on council tax, land and buildings transaction tax (LBTT) and non-domestic rates’.

Exploring the issue of a universal basic income – a minimum income for everyone without means testing – the report says there are ‘significant potential advantages’ but identifies ‘practical and complex issues’ with the idea, as well as requiring much higher tax levels than exist currently.

Setting out plans for a ‘democratic renewal’, the report suggests ‘agreeing, defining and enshrining our shared values and goals’ in a written constitution that sets out the responsibilities of any Government.

Mr Gray added: ‘The SNP MSP added: ‘We have focused on issues affecting Scotland that have been particularly prominent and pressing during the pandemic, those that offer the greatest scope for tackling poverty. And, while the Commission has merely scratched the surface, the potential that exists to develop policy that delivers our shared ambitions is enormous.

‘This report takes the first steps but now there is a need to delve deeply, to develop detail for practical implementation, and to build consensus.’

Responding to the report, Scottish Conservative housing spokesman, Miles Briggs, said: ‘This wish-list from the SNP is not remotely credible. Their election manifesto wasn’t costed and this blueprint for their vision of a future Scotland isn’t either.

‘It is based on fantasy economics. They simply don’t accept the reality that independence would already cost Scottish families thousands of pounds before their plans to spend even more public money.

He added: ‘This report also talks up a raft of policies that the SNP have the powers at their disposal right now to tackle. We’ve heard it all before from SNP ministers on scrapping or reforming council tax during their 14 years in office.

‘It was also Nicola Sturgeon who took her eye off the ball in relation to drug deaths and slashed funding for vital rehabilitation services. They don’t need drug laws to be devolved to fix that right now.

‘The Scottish public deserve the SNP’s focus to be on our recovery from Covid, rather than talking up their plans for an independent Scotland.’

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