The Scottish Government will continue to pursue a “fairer and more progressive approach to taxation”, one of Nicola Sturgeon’s ministers has said.
Richard Lochhead spoke out as Tories in Scotland urged SNP ministers in Holyrood to follow the UK Government’s example and reduce taxes.
While policies announced in Friday’s mini budget saw Prime Minister Liz Truss branded a “Margaret Thatcher tribute act” by the Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar; Conservatives north of the border hailed the “extraordinarily ambitious measures”.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross called on the Scottish Government to follow the example of UK Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, after he axed the top rate of income tax for those earning £150,000 a year or more and lifted the cap on bankers’ bonuses.
With Scotland the “highest taxed part of the UK”, Ross wrote in the Scottish Daily Mail newspaper that it was “crucial that the SNP now matches the provisions announced by the Chancellor”.
If not, he said, the tax gap between north and south of the border would widen and “Scotland will find itself locked in a cycle of stagnation”.
However, Lochhead, the fair work minister within the Scottish Government, rejected that approach.
He said the Conservatives had brought forward a “budget for the rich and for bankers” that would “provide cold comfort for millions of people in Scotland”.
Lochhead, speaking at a Unite Scotland policy conference in Glasgow, said it was a “budget for the very few and not the many” which “reinforces inequality in one of the Western world’s most unequal societies”.
“So much for levelling up,” he said.
“Thankfully income tax rates and bands are devolved here in Scotland and the Scottish Government will set out its tax policies at the Scottish budget.
“We will continue to pursue our fairer and more progressive approach to taxation which has protected low earners while raising additional revenues for public service.”
His comments came as Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar told the conference that the UK’s new prime minister “would rather try a Margaret Thatcher tribute act across our country” than putting “more money in the pockets of people who need help with their energy bills”.
Sarwar continued: “Liz Truss is even more dangerous than Boris Johnson.
“Boris Johnson didn’t believe in anything apart from himself. Liz Truss in an ideological, hard right Tory and the damage she will do to our country cannot be diminished.”
He later told the PA news agency: “I don’t think now is the right time for us to be talking about wholesale tax cuts when, in actual fact, I think a more targeted approach is a more sensible one.”
But Sarwar stressed he did not want the different tax policies adopted by the Conservatives in London and the SNP at Holyrood to become an “ideological fight about tax”.
He said Labour supported the devolution of income tax, saying this allowed the Scottish Government to “make different choices and different decisions in order to have different priorities and invest differently in our public service”.
The Scottish Labour leader continued: “That is a good thing about devolution, it demonstrates even when you have a failed ideology across the UK from a Tory Government you can make different choices in Scotland to protect people in Scotland.”
But he added: “It needs to be demonstrating people in Scotland are getting value for money. And at the moment they’re not getting value for money because of the failures of the SNP Government, not a failure of the devolution model.”
He also made clear his view that the economic policies now being pursued by the Tories are “deeply dangerous”.
Speaking about the package unveiled on Friday, Sarwar said: “I think it will risk crashing and burning our economy.
“It risks us going into a recession and it will undoubtedly push more families into poverty.”
Unite’s Scottish secretary, Pat Rafferty, was also scathing of both the Tories and their mini budget.
He branded the Conservatives as “a class of people who think they are born to rule”, adding that “this hasn’t changed one jot with the latest incarnation of Margaret Thatcher in Number 10 in Liz Truss”.
Mr Rafferty said: “If anyone was in any doubt about that, they only had to listen to the so-called mini budget announced yesterday by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
“A budget for the rich and the powerful, a budget for the spivs and speculators, the very same people who caused the financial crash in 2008.
“A budget working class people will pay the price for for years and years to come.”