BORIS Johnson’s an energetic promoter of ‘cakeism’. Partial to a bit of cake and enthusiastic about scoffing it. Yet Johnson is a slouch compared to the SNP. To royally mix the culinary metaphors, they really do take the biscuit. This thought sprung to mind whilst reading recent comments by Kevin Pringle, the SNP’s former communications chief.

The SNP complains about extra cash provided directly by the UK Government to Scottish local authorities and communities for their priority projects, unfunded by the Scottish Government. Falkirk’s new roundabout, Dumbarton’s state-of-the art library and museum, Aberdeen’s city centre re-development, North Ayrshire’s improved road connections and more. Practical enhancements to Scotland’s public realm. Hardly threatening to £40 billion of Scottish Government annual spending power. What’s not to like?

Pringle argues the SNP should take credit, instead of complaining. Chalk up additional funding to the party’s relentless independence campaign.

Over 14 years the SNP has perfected the “heads I win, tails you lose” approach to governing. So, of course, they’ll do both. Complain whilst simultaneously claiming credit. Is chiselling cynicism – gaming the system to secure more for yourself – the example of civic solidarity SNP ministers want to set for people? It seems so.

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This is not the picture the SNP Government offers in the Scotland is Now campaign to encourage people from the rest of the UK and beyond to live, work, study and invest in Scotland. “We are kind, creative and inventive”, the latest advert informs us, “a country of heart, with the warmest of people determined to play our part”.

It was, therefore, frankly embarrassing to read Kate Forbes’ churlish response to record real terms increases in funding for Scotland in Rishi Sunak’s Budget. The Scottish Government will have around £126 per person to spend for every £100 per person of UK Government spending in England, reflecting Scotland’s specific needs.

Yet still she tried misleadingly to suggest Scotland was being short-changed and facing budget cuts, by comparing the new spending totals with exceptional levels of support during a national emergency. The moral Ms Forbes is better than such a transparent sleight of hand.

Haven’t we all moved on? Over the last seven years the Scottish Parliament has come of age. Was it so much to expect SNP ministers might have grown up too?

In 2014 Ruth Davidson called for an end to Scotland’s ‘pocket-money’ parliament, with enormous power to spend and little responsibility, or accountability, for raising money to pay for it. Davidson’s ambition was to create a ‘powerhouse’ parliament. A new Scotland Act realised it.

Over half Scotland’s budget will come from revenues raised in Scotland. This level of fiscal devolution is high by international standards. The average proportion of total tax revenues collected by sub-national governments across the OECD group of developed countries is around 15%. Scotland’s proportion is 27%, according to Scottish government figures. And 35% if, as planned, half of all VAT revenues are assigned to the Scottish Government.

So the size of Scotland’s budget should depend on decisions – good and bad – of the Scottish Government and Parliament, not Treasury goodwill.

Scotland’s Fiscal Framework, agreed in 2016 by the UK and Scottish Governments, determines how the tax powers work in practice. Few comprehend its complex workings. As elusive as the Schleswig-Holstein question, of which Palmerston remarked that only three people ever really understood it – one who had died, another gone mad and a third, himself, who had forgotten.

Many doubted a deal was possible, so knotty were the issues. No fiscal framework, no further tax powers. Happily agreement was reached, with Nicola Sturgeon judging the results: “Fair to Scotland and to the UK and that reflect the recommendations of the Smith Commission”.

A settlement materialised because both sides decided to park until 2022 the most contentious issue: how to adjust over time Scotland’s block grant to account for devolved taxes.

The Scottish Government’s goal – a budget protected should Scotland’s total tax revenues grow more slowly than the rest of the UK as a result of slower population growth. The UK Government’s priority – a system fair to taxpayers across Britain, so Scots don’t benefit from English spending increases funded by tax rises they don’t pay, and vice versa. Aspirations hard completely to reconcile.

So far the alternative adjustment mechanisms haven’t produced wildly different results -– a modest Scottish budget benefit of £92m in 2019/20, using the Scottish Government’s preferred method. Though Fraser of Allander Institute’s David Eisner forecasts larger disparities in coming years.

Eisner thinks the UK Government will want next year’s review to focus on 2016’s unresolved issue, while the Scottish Government will use Covid to try, predictably, to re-open the whole tool box.

Professor Graeme Roy was part of the Scottish Government’s negotiating team last time. He recently told a UK Parliament committee that: “It would be hard to argue that [the fiscal framework] did not do its job well through the Covid crisis. What was embedded in the fiscal framework was this idea that the devolved nations and the UK would share the risks of common shocks impacting on the UK”.

He goes to the heart of the matter. The very essence of our UK Union – an important part of its value to all living here – is pooling risk and sharing resources. A guarantee of service standards irrespective of where you live or its taxable capacity to pay. Scotland’s fiscal framework attempts, therefore, a delicate and equitable balancing of powers, risks and responsibilities.

This doesn’t sit well with the SNP’s responsibility-free zone. Blaming others when things go wrong and claiming all credit for successes. Perhaps the SNP Government should heed its own campaign film by being kinder and showing they are determined to play their part. They might have more success in attracting people to make Scotland their home, and enjoy faster population growth.

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