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Osborne is Salmond's trump card as Holyrood revolution row defies logic

THERE was what we in the politics trade refer to as a mixed message during the ritual FMQs spat about expanding childcare and how to pay for it.

The supposed "transformational change" (ghastly term, grossly overused ad nauseam by Alex Salmond) in childcare - a.k.a. the National Baby-sitting Service (NBS) - has become a post-White Paper battleground. So Labour leader Johann Lamont did two things which may not have been entirely consistent in terms of internal logic.

She put out a lot of figures showing that the NBS was unaffordable and could never pay for itself through increased tax revenues. And she then repeated her party's claim that the Scottish Government shouldn't wait for independence but do it NOW! So, it's a hopelessly unaffordable pipedream. But let's press on full steam ahead.

Ms Lamont came up with a host of figures to show that with the best will in the world a childcare revolution is not going to pay for itself through a higher take in income tax, as women moving back into work would need to be earning at least £42,000 and all the nursery assistant jobs would have to be snapped up by blokes.

Alex Salmond pointed out that it wasn't just individual income tax returns that flow from more people being in work. It's the NI contributions, the consumer spending, the VAT returns and all the rest that comes from a boost to the economy.

At this rate they'll be lobbing the same figures back and forward at each other when we are preparing for the next referendum debate in 2029. The FM's argument is that if we did press ahead now with the National Baby-sitting Service and attained Swedish-style female participation in the workforce, all the benefits would flow "not to the Scottish Exchequer but to the back-pocket of George Osborne'."

This is a brilliant political argument in Scotland because it contains two killer words from the lexicon, "George" and "Osborne" which never fail to clinch an argument.

"Will Osborne return those additional revenues to Scotland?" asked the FM. "No," bayed his troops, proving that pantomime season is upon us. "The alternative is no improvement in childcare and the slashing of the Scottish budget in the event of a No vote," he said. "Look behind you," his backbenchers might have responded. No doubt they will next week.

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