A spoonful of sugar tax helps the budget go down; or at any rate it provides a diversion from Chancellor George Osborne’s failure to meet his targets on debt reduction. That is, for the next few years, until 2020 when the magic money tree will suddenly bloom and deliver a surplus of £10.4 billion. With the economy flagging, Mr Osborne’s fingers were tightly crossed at the despatch box yesterday.

The levy on sugary drinks, dubbed the Irn Bru tax on Twitter, isn’t just a diversionary tactic. It was greeted with howls of anguish from the soft drinks industry like AG Barr itself whose shares took a hit. Drinks lobbyists insist they have been doing much better in reducing their sugar content than the rest of the food industry. They have a point.

However, perhaps the sugar levy could be the start of something. As revenues decline from beer and whisky (duties on which were frozen again) and from tobacco, it makes sense for the Treasury to start looking for alternative “sin taxes”. And why not sinful sugar? In future years, Budget headlines may be all about tax hikes on fat and sugar content in foods rather than on smoking and drinking.

The SNP has agreed to introduce the sugar levy, which should net around £52 million. Indeed, it was quite a sweet budget for the SNP overall. Its demands where largely met: slashing tax on oil and gas industry – check; freezing fuel duties – check; freezing whisky tax – check. It is even in line to gain £600m from Barnett consequentials, the Scottish share of increased spending on infrastructure projects and other items.

Indeed, the SNP deputy leader, Stewart Hosie, had difficulty condemning this Budget. He was reduced to attacking Mr Osborne for failing to meet his stringent debt and borrowing targets, which is a bit rich since the SNP had been arguing for less austerity, not more. For his part, the Tory Chancellor couldn't resist a dig at the SNP for its faulty oil forecasts and said only the “broad shoulders of the UK” had saved Scotland from economic disaster.

But this typically Tory Budget actually suits Nicola Sturgeon rather well in a number of ways. The Chancellor announced an increase in the threshold for higher rate tax from £43,000 to £45,000 which gives the SNP an opportunity to steal Kezia Dugdale's clothes and declare a tax increase without actually increasing tax.

According to the economist, Professor David Bell, the combined effect of raising the personal allowance to £11,500 and the higher rate threshold could amount to £200m lost to the Scottish Revenue. By not increasing the threshold, which comes into effect in April 2017 along with Holyrood's new tax powers, the Scottish Government could save a lot of this cash and salve its social democratic conscience.

Of course, the other way of interpreting the Chancellor's threshold increase is that it is simply restoring basic rate income tax to what it was before it became eroded by inflation. Many of the people getting this tax “cut” should arguably never have been dragged into the higher rate band in the first place. Looked at this way, the Scottish Government – assuming it doesn't allow this threshold increase – could be accused of increasing the basic rate of tax which the First Minister recently promised to freeze until 2020.

But this is all a bit too complex for the normal cut and thrust of political debate, so it is likely to go right over most voters' heads. Indeed, overall, this was a fiddly budget with lots of small changes, mostly to small business taxation, the impact of which will take months to work out. However, Mr Osborne is clearly keen to keep small business onside and avoid handing them yet more reasons for voting for Brexit.

This was very much a Remain budget, in which the Chancellor even cited the supposedly neutral Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) as saying that economic prospects could be damaged by “disruptive uncertainty” if Britain were to leave Europe Union; shades of the independence referendum. I seem to remember the OBR warning of similar uncertainty over independence in 2014, along with other independent bodies such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

Labour and the Poverty Alliance cited the IFS in support of their claim that the 2016 Budget's tax cuts to the better off will be paid for by cutting £4.4bn over four years from Personal Independence Payments. These payments of up to £3,000 a year help disabled people with activities such as dressing. But the Chancellor claimed that spending on the disabled was rising by £1bn a year. So it was difficult for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, delivering a rather unsettled response to the budget, to make much mileage on welfare yesterday, which was hardly referred to in Mr Osborne’s speech.

But, it's clear that there will have to be big welfare spending cuts in future if the Chancellor's goal of a budget surplus by 2020 is to be realised. And he has rashly placed a legal obligation upon himself to run such a surplus. How is he going to do that, given that debt as a proportion of GDP is continuing to rise? Indeed, the national debt has doubled under his watch to 80 per cent of GDP.

Mr Osborne will have to swing a heavy axe later in this Parliament, especially if – as he admitted – the world economy is “materially weaker” and prospects are uncertain even in the EU. There are some £3.5bn of unspecified spending cuts pencilled in but that hardly seems enough to deliver the promised £10.4bn surplus in the Treasury Red Book. Perhaps the Chancellor knows something we don’t.

He has continued to massage the Tory support in the shires by slashing business rates, which presumably means cuts in local government revenues. He announced a dramatic reduction in corporation tax also, which is to fall to 17 per cent by 2020. Only a few years ago it was 28 per cent. He says he has “abolished” petroleum revenue tax on the North Sea oil and gas industry, and cut capital gains tax from 28 to 20 per cent and from18 per cent to 10 per cent for basic rate tax payers.

A lot of wealthy people will be busy asking their accountants about how to pay more of their earnings in dividends and capital gains rather than from salaries. For many business owners, paying income tax is largely optional anyway. There are many ways in which business owners can extract value from their companies.

In fact, this Budget was beginning to look rather like one of those aggressive tax avoidance schemes beloved of stand-up comedians and other tax-averse plutocrats. You can now shelter £20,000 a year in an ISA if you have the loose change. And if you are under 40, you can put in £4,000 into a savings ISA and receive £1,000 from the Government.

The Chancellor says he has ordered the Inland Revenue to halt the practice of local government employees setting themselves up as companies to take advantage of these quirks. This has rather unfairly been called the “Paxman tax” after the Newsnight presenter, even though many nominal BBC employees are freelance journalists who don't have the option of being paid a full-time salary.

Mr Osborne has also promised to claw back many billions of pounds from big companies that avoid paying VAT on internet sales and have been sheltering profits by racking up nominal losses in their accounts as presented in the UK; at least, that's what I think he means. The trouble with taxation is that it is so complex and so full of loopholes that you really need to be an accountant to understand a budget like this.

But the general message was clear. This is a budget by and for Tory voters and business, mainly small businesses: people, rather like the Chancellor, whose family own the Osborne and Little wallpaper company. Mind you, according to reports last month, that firm hasn't paid any corporation tax since 2008. Maybe it will be paying more in future.