By Bob Duncan
Claims by Tory Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith that an Independent Scotland would be too poor to sustain welfare support, have been dismissed as “scaremongering” by the SNP.
On a trip to Scotland today, the Work and Pensions Secretary said that the annual benefit and pensions bill in Scotland is almost twice as much as the revenues raised each year from North Sea oil and gas.
He said: “Due to the reliance on the old heavy industries in many parts of the country, it makes perfect sense that we need to spend more money per head of population on welfare support in Scotland. I have no problem with that.”
“In fact, I am glad that we are in a position to do it. Thankfully, due to the United Kingdom and the commitment of the Westminster government we are able to ensure that money brought in, whether it be from the City of London or from North Sea oil, can be pooled and directed to wherever it is needed most. That is what being in the United Kingdom is all about.
“If the unthinkable were to happen, a Scottish Government would face a stark choice of raising taxes or cutting services. This is not scaremongering, it's reality.”
But Alex Salmond said Mr Duncan Smith had simply got his figures wrong.
The First Minister explained: “We contribute 9.6 percent of the UK's taxation, with 9.3 per cent of the spending and just over 8 per cent of the population. The welfare bill is not financed out of North Sea oil, it is financed out of general taxation.”
Mr Salmond dismissed Mr Duncan Smith's remarks as those of a "right wing" politician, and rebuked the Tory Minister for trying to lecture Scotland on welfare a day after a Scottish Parliament committee heard from a blind man who said he was being “reduced to penury” and forced to beg on the streets by welfare cuts introduced by Mr Duncan Smith.
“The man responsible for that has got the audacity to come to Scotland and tell us we couldn't afford to have a compassionate and proper welfare protection,” he added.
“We could have less borrowing, more spending and we would certainly be able to sustain a position where we didn't reduce people with blindness to penury, as Iain Duncan Smith is currently doing in Scotland.”
Highlighting figures from GERS (Government Expenditure & Revenue in Scotland) for 2010-11, SNP Work and Pensions spokesperson Dr Eilidh Whiteford pointed out that an independent Scotland is financially better placed to fund pensions and welfare compared to the UK as a whole.
The analysis of the figures from GERS for social protection - which includes state pensions and welfare payments - show that the size of Scotland's expenditure stands at 40% of Scottish revenues, less than the 42% spent by the UK.
Dr Whiteford said:
“Iain Duncan Smith styled himself as the quiet man and, after his ridiculous claims on welfare, I suspect the No campaign he will be hoping he keeps quiet in future.
“The official GERS figures show that spending on social protection as a percentage of total revenues in Scotland is consistently lower than it is in the UK - which means that welfare spending will be more affordable in an independent Scotland. And with Scotland contributing 9.6% of UK revenue in return for 9.3% of spending, the fact is that Scotland more than pays our way in the UK.
“Just like Mr Duncan Smith refuses to accept the facts about his damaging tax credit changes, the facts show that he is completely wrong on Scotland's welfare spend in comparison to the UK.
“Looking at both sides of the balance sheet, over the five-year period from 2006/7 to 2010/11, Scotland was in a stronger financial position relative to the UK as a whole by a total of £8.6 billion- over £1,600 for every man, woman and child in Scotland, or over £3,600 per household. This underlines the opportunities of independence and financial responsibility.
“With unpopular NHS reforms south of the border and the Tory Chancellor eyeing a further £10bn of cuts from the welfare budget according to this morning’s papers, the Westminster government are determined to dismantle the welfare state.
“It is clear Scotland needs independence so that we can deliver a fair and effective welfare system - rather than be on the receiving end of unfair Tory policies - and the figures show that welfare spending in an independent Scotland will be more affordable because it is a smaller share of our tax revenue than is the case for the UK as a whole.”