The latest polls will make thrilling reading for FM Nicola Sturgeon today. Sky News is predicting a hung Parliament, with Labour short by 40 seats and the SNP holding the balance of power with 53 seats.
With just 100 days to go, the SNP argument is that a strong band of SNP MPs going to Westminster in May will put them in a unique position to influence, negotiate and deliver on a raft of policies essential to boost Scotland’s economy and this analysis by Sky News backs that scenario.
So where should they prioritise? There are a number of key policies that will be essential to pursue for Scotland, over and above ensuring the delivery of the original recommendations laid out in the Smith Commission.
- Living wage – a move against austerity
- Job creating powers – working with industry to attract high quality, high value jobs
- More support to encourage business growth
- Control over VAT for tourism – to further strengthen and grow the sector
- Oil fund – to protect the industry against further shocks
A strong, prosperous economy is essential to create a fairer, more equal society, and to lift families – both employed and unemployed – out of poverty. At our recent AGM there was almost unanimous support for the living wage to be the baseline as opposed to the minimum wage, yet currently fewer than 100 Scottish companies have committed to paying the living wage. Business for Scotland will be launching our living wage campaign in the next few weeks.
Austerity damages the economy, it keeps the poor poor and hurts families. Currently women, mostly mothers, are affected the most by benefit cuts: women in Scotland are suffering 68% of all Westminster welfare cuts which, over a five-year period of 2010-11 to 2015-16, amounts to a cut of £4.1bn.
We also need to move on Equal Pay and get on with implementing pay transparency. Women across Britain are still earning on average 81p for every pound a man earns, leaving themselves and their families poorer. It’s hard to encourage more women into an unfair, unequal, poorly paid workplace, and more women in the workplace is essential: from an economic perspective, every 1% increase in the female workforce boosts the economy by £117m in tax revenues.
Scotland needs job creating powers but we also have a social duty, a duty to encourage children from families who have spent years on benefits that work is important and, importantly, to ensure there are more opportunities and better paid jobs for them. To do that we need to work with industry to create those better, higher value jobs, and with schools and universities to ensure they provide the training and education necessary for our young people to gain the skills to take up those opportunities.
We need to foster better relations between businesses and the communities their employees live in. We need more support for start-up businesses, not necessarily financial, but more, better incubators and mentoring schemes, as well as different levels of support for high-growth, potentially high-employment businesses too. There needs to be support for small businesses to introduce the Living Wage. We need to somehow address late payments, which I know from experience can damage and even ruin a small business. And it’s also important to do what we can to ensure we stay in the EU, Scotland benefits from European business, and European employees – watch this space for news on Business for Scotland’s campaign for Scotland to remain within the EU.
Smith didn’t go as far as recommending the devolution of corporation tax (despite Northern Ireland being given control over corporation tax) but we can still attract big companies. It’s about supporting them to move here but getting something in return: for example, they have to pay the living wage and employ local people. And they should all have to pay their fair share of tax, including the American corporates currently paying little or nothing at all.
We need to better use the British embassies across the globe, they haven’t been used to promote Scotland, and we need to make sure that changes. In 2013 Business for Scotland carried out a survey to see how many embassies were having an event on St Andrew’s Day, the answer? None! These are opportunities to show the world what an amazing place Scotland is. Everybody knows Scotland’s historic contributions to the world – in medicine, science, technology, engineering – we need to be recognised and respected for those things today.
Control of air passenger duty (APD) is a welcome Smith recommendation, but without control over VAT on tourism related activities it falls short of the full impact we could make. Reducing VAT would boost small businesses, particularly those in rural areas, and would attract new holidaymakers and generate more flights.
Finally, we need to protect our oil industry, plan for the future, and exploit the export and technology opportunities we have to cushion Scotland in the event of price fluctuations.
Exports from our oil industry are still very strong, we export expertise and technology, and that hasn’t been affected by the dip in price which, experts say, is being held artificially low for political reasons, but is predicted to rise again.
What we need is a strong fiscal regime, an oil fund – which we needed decades ago – and Westminster needs to stop fiddling with tax rates. We need stability to encourage the big oil companies to continue to plan and invest for the long term, and to protect and grow the 225k high quality jobs in the sector.
The UK Govt has the opportunity in the budget in March to introduce an investment allowance, a positive step to help assist investment activities of oil and gas companies, to reduce the supplementary charge in a bolder fashion than in the Autumn Statement and to take steps to ensure further exploration activities. There is still enormous resource in the north sea to be tapped into but we’ve got to get the investment climate right first.
There’s always a silver lining if you look for it, and that’s the fact that we’re all seeing more money in our pocket, it’s much cheaper to fill up the car now. And that will help the local economy with people having a little more disposable income to spend.
Current polling projections suggest that the Scottish people will get the result that opinion polls state most Scots want in May – a Labour minority government with the SNP in a strong position, holding the balance of power and working hard for the benefit of Scotland.
Business for Scotland – Building National Prosperity – Join us now