By Matthew Barrett
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Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, has written for the Mail on Sunday today – apparently not online – attacking the Scottish National Party for trying to "buy support for independence" through benefits like free bus passes, tution fees, prescriptions, and a council tax freeze – and has announced Conservative plans for an income tax.
Davidson says the Scots Tories would cut government spending on those ring-fenced benefits, reforming some services, introducing some fees for others, in order to finance a cut in Scottish income tax to below levels in the rest of Britain, when the Scottish Government is given the ability to change income tax rates in 2016. The tax cut would mean:
- An extra £119 for someone earning £20,000
- An extra £169 for someone earning £25,000
- An extra £269 for someone earning £35,000
- An extra £344 for someone earning £45,000
Conservative plans would include the reintroduction of NHS prescription charges for the better off, a new graduate contribution scheme, and raising the age limit for free bus passes from 60 to 65.
In her article, Davidson first sets out her ideological conviction for cutting taxes:
"A principle that I have always believed in, and one which has been reinforced since I became leader, is the best people to decide how to spend your money is you. At all times we should strive to ensure hard-working people are free to make as many choices as they can with their cash and that means the government spending as little of their money as possible while still protecting the most vulnerable. That is why the Scottish Conservatives are working on a plan to cut your taxes."
She then frames the debate in terms of socialist parties wanting to keep Scottish benefits intact for the middle class – just like Labour in Westminster:
"As the SNP and Labour wrangle over how they think they should be spending your money, we have witnessed the extraordinary spectacle of people who would call themselves Socialists arguing those on high incomes should receive free benefits from the Scottish Government."
In the most significant passage, Davidson also accuses the SNP of bribing Scots with benefits in order to make them more amenable towards independence:
"The SNP government has deliberately skewed its spending because it has decided if it can’t win a principled argument for separation it must buy its way to victory in 2014. But I believe Scottish people see right through this. Free prescriptions, free university tuition, free bus passes and the Council Tax freeze have not been introduced to make the lives of Scots better but to buy support for independence. With your hard-earned money. There is no principle behind these policies except breaking up Britain."
"Conservatives are behaving responsibly by continuing to tackle the UK deficit and in so doing are dismantling obstacles future generations will otherwise face. We are behaving responsibly by looking for better ways to help hard-working people and that means making it easier for those same people to wrest back more responsibility for their own lives. And that means more of your money should stay in your purses and pockets."