Union is in its final days, John Swinney tells SNP conference

Announcement: John Swinney unveiled the scheme.
John Swinney: Hit out at Westminster benefit reforms.© Scottish Government

Scotland is in the last days of the union, the country's Finance Secretary has declared.

John Swinney launched a sustained attack on Westminster's management of the UK economy as he highlighted the choice Scots face in next year's independence referendum.

That ballot will take on September 18 2014, with Mr Swinney stating: "Let's get ready for a day when policies are no longer engineered in London and endured in Scotland."

Mr Swinney, addressing the SNP spring conference in Inverness, said this week's budget from Chancellor George Osborne had highlighted the "choice between two futures that the people of Scotland will face".

He added: "In these last days of the union, we have seen the gulf that exists between our ambition for Scotland and the poverty of Westminster's policies.

"We want to transform the life chances of our people. The No campaign want to keep our people in their place."

The UK economy, he argued, was not growing "not now, not any time soon".

Mr Swinney insisted: "The real risk to Scotland comes from staying part of the United Kingdom. By any measure the Chancellor's plan isn't working."

He said Mr Osborne had "needed to deliver a budget to kickstart the economy" but had instead cut Scotland's spending by £100m.

"Scotland needs spending, not cuts," Mr Swinney argued.

"That is the price of being part of the United Kingdom."

While the UK's credit rating has been downgraded, Mr Swinney said the SNP had delivered "careful management of the public finances" since coming to power in Holyrood in 2007.

He stated: "We have balanced the budget. We have lived within our means. But we have also restored free education, abolished prescription charges, safeguarded the NHS, secured pensioners' bus passes. And for the sixth year in a row, we have frozen the council tax.

"That is a triple A record at a time when the UK has lost its triple A rating."

Welfare reforms, such as controversial cuts to housing benefit and child benefit, would "deliver a hammer blow to some of the most vulnerable in our country".

But he said while the Scottish Government could act to mitigate the impact of some of these "limited powers" mean Holyrood ministers are unable to "fix every Westminster cut".

Mr Swinney stated: "To create a fair and prosperous society, we need the powers of independence."

He insisted Scotland was "better off than the UK", adding that while it had 8.4% of Britain's population, it contributed 9.9% of revenues and received only 9.3% of spending.

He also suggested Scotland could be about to benefit from another oil boom, even though the UK's independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecast this week that revenue from North Sea oil and gas will drop from £34bn to £33bn between 2012-13 and 2017-18.

The Finance Secretary said oil prices were higher than the OBR predicted as he stated: "The industry has the potential to generate between £41b and £57bn in tax revenue between 2012-13 and 2017-18.

"We are on the cusp of another great boom in the oil industry."

And he said: "There can be no doubt that in the event of a Yes vote in 2014, Scotland will be becoming independent from a position of relative economic strength."

Scottish Conservative finance spokesman Gavin Brown MSP claimed Mr Swinney's statements were "assertion and bluster".

He said: "All we heard from John Swinney today was the same old anti-London waffle.

"The reality is the Scottish Government’s own figures show that, even with oil revenues, Scotland would have had a current budget deficit of more than £6bn in 2010-11.

"This is a considerable gap and the SNP must start to explain how they would plan to plug the gap should Scotland separate from the rest of the UK.

"The only way this could be achieved is through raising taxes, cutting spending or plunging us deeper into debt by borrowing more money.

"What the people of Scotland are crying out for are hard facts, not just the usual assertion and bluster."

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