The Charter for Deception?
Daniel Johnson, Labour’s candidate in Edinburgh Southern in next year’s Scottish election, says a central plank of the SNP’s attack on Labour has been exposed as baseless, by Nicola Sturgeon herself. He says she must now explain why she and her party knowingly misled the public during the general election.
The SNP’s most wounding attack line against Labour during the general election was that we were signed up to £30bn pounds worth of cuts. Yesterday, in a single sentence, Nicola Sturgeon exposed this claim as utterly baseless. The honesty and integrity of her general election campaign is now seriously undermined.
We heard it time and time again. Labour had signed up to Tory Austerity, £30bn of cuts. It underpineed the charges of “Red Tory” that every Scottish Labour candidate had lobbed at them on the doorstep and at hustings. They said it so often it became almost impossible to dismiss. Except it has been exposed as untrue by Nicola Sturgeon’s own words.
The original accusation arose when Labour voted with the government for the Charter for Budget Responsibility on 13th January 2015. The SNP claimed that in doing so, Labour was required to support Tory spending cuts. This one vote, supporting this one document, was the sole basis for the charge that Labour supported these Tory cuts. It is this document that Nicola Sturgeon now claims has the “flexibility” to allow the government to increase spending and, with one sentence, she has revealed the SNP claims to be false.
The SNP were wrong at the time they made the claim. The Charter does not, and never did, require cuts, and the £30bn figure was very clearly misused. The Charter for Budget Responsibility, which you can read here, is a simple framework document; it sets out no specific spending requirements and only makes one very broad aim for government spending. What it requires government to do is adopt “a forward-looking aim to achieve cyclically-adjusted current balance by the end of the third year of the rolling, 5-year forecast period”. Note that this is an “aim” not a target or a limit (the government can break it), it is for current spending (big ticket investments are excluded), and it is cyclically adjusted (you can offset economic dips). In other words, it’s pretty weak.
As for the £30bn figure, the very document it was sourced from contradicts the SNP claim. The £30bn number was plucked from this release from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. While the IFS do state that Tory spending plans would require “around £33bn after 2015-2016”, this specifically relates to their commitment to achieving an absolute surplus, which goes far beyond the aim for current spending to balance over 5 years set out in the Charter. Indeed the very same release states specifically that Labour would only need to find £7bn of current savings, and they subsequently stated Labour’s plans might need as little as £1bn of cuts.
In short, the SNP misled people about the strength of requirements set out in the Charter for Budget Responsibility, and then applied a clearly inappropriate figure to those cuts from a document that explicitly stated a different figure for Labour’s plans. Their claim that Labour was signed up to £30bn of cuts was wrong in January, it was wrong during the election campaign and it was wrong yesterday, when Nicola Sturgeon finally admitted it.
In a speech yesterday, Tuesday 26th May, the SNP First Minister stated “…the Charter for Budget Responsibility allows the UK Government flexibility to increase spending over its current plans, while still reducing the deficit and the debt.” Nothing in the Charter has changed. If it allows “flexibility” now, it did so in January and it did so throughout the election campaign. Most importantly, if it has this “flexibility” the notion that it requires the government or any party who voted for it to implement £30bn of cuts is plainly, and by her concession, false.
The claim that Labour were “signed up” to £30bn of cuts was a central argument, frequently repeated by the SNP in the general election. It relied on their assertion that support of the Charter for Budget Responsibility required those cuts. It is a claim undermined by Nicola Stugeon’s own words. She now needs to explain how she and her colleagues could make such misleading statements to the public during the general election campaign.
Charter for Budget responsibility: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/386973/charter_for_budget_responsibility_AS2014_web.pdf
Original IFS release: http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/7525
Second IFS release: http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/7726
Nicola Sturgeon’s Speech at the Launch for the Scottish Business Pledge 26th May 2015: http://scottishgovernment.presscentre.com/News/Scottish-Business-Pledge-191f.aspx
SNP use of the £30bn false claim
Stewart Hosie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o75JWUZttzI
Nicola Sturgeon during the STV Leaders’ Debate (8m50s): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sot6fr3TREk
Nicola Sturgeon at FMQs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsojr52EiCw
Pete Wishart on Twitter: https://twitter.com/petewishart/status/583208487846576128