09/10/2012 Newsnight Scotland


09/10/2012

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Tonight on Newsnight Scotland: It's a deal - well, almost. David

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Cameron and Alex Salmond are set to dot the Is and cross the Ts on a

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referendum agreement on Monday. We'll be live with the latest from

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Westminster. And it's all to do with spin, nifty

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footwork and quick changes of direction. Not Scottish country

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dancing - the great debate on universal benefits. John Swinney

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Good evening. It's emerged at Westminster tonight that a deal's

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been done between the UK and Scottish governments over the

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independence referendum. David Cameron and Alex Salmond will now

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meet in Edinburgh on Monday to sign off the deal. Our political

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correspondent Tim Reid joins us now from Westminster. What is

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happening? They have been expecting some kind

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of agreement to be reached before David Cameron and Alex Salmond need

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to sign of the referendum deal. There have been retracted their

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decisions between not just minister but also officials. They have been

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putting together a package of measures which we understand is

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being very close to a deal on a referendum. They have been

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difficulties along the way but we understand that a Alex Salmond and

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David Cameron will sign of this off in the coming days. Nicola Sturgeon

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and Michael Moore have met, two weeks ago, where they had a final

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set of negotiations. Today, they had a discussion by telephone and

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have agreed the basis of that referendum deal. It does... There

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are some difficulties. They still have to negotiate the electoral

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commission's role and for funding for the referendum but it seems

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there will be one question and a Scottish government has got its way,

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it seems, for 16 and 17 year-olds to be allowed to fade.

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There seems to be a different tone coming from a the Conservative

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conference, this is a just -- this is just a deal and the formalities

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remain. They are more cautious appear. The tone seems more

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measured. It the official statement we have

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from both governments force that they had been, again, good and

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substantial progress which is what we've had at each of the meetings

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between Michael Moore and Nicola Sturgeon. David Montale today said

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a deal had been reached. The Scottish government has said it

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hasn't been reached but I think they are talking about minor things

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and not the major deal itself which we fully expect to be signed on

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Monday. So, now we know. The referendum

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process has been agreed and ahead of us is two years of debate on

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policy, things like health, welfare, defence and, crucially, public

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spending. Indeed, for the last two weeks, the debate on spending

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priorities and universal benefits has rivalled the constitution as

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the big issue in Scottish politics. We'll be hearing the thoughts of

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the Finance Secretary John Swinney on that in a moment. But first,

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Catriona Renton on a fortnight of Today, we've been told Scottish

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country dancing cannot bring universal benefits. It's free, good

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for your mind and good for your body. It demands nifty footwork and

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at times, quick changes in direction. Well, Labour's Joe 1 --

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Joanne Lamont to go for a fortnight ago and although some thought she

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lost her footing, she started the debate on such things as a free bus

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passes, free prescriptions, free tuition fees and the council tax

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freeze. We have a free prescriptions and so one but in our

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communities, we know schools are under pressure, hospitals are under

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pressure, families are under pressure because they cannot get

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care for elderly people. That is unsustainable. Do so, has the tune

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changed? There has been a fair bit of to-ing and fro-ing about what

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this all means. We will protect the council tax freeze, free education,

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bus passes and elderly care, and health care free at the point of

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need. The we delivered many universal benefits. And different

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stance of the debate are all out of step with each other. -- sides.

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wonder autobus �9,000 tuition fees... And then the debate went

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up-tempo, resembling a bad tempered situation. She was deeply wrong to

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talk about is something for nothing society. That is exactly the

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language of the Tory party of 20 years ago. Who is paying the price

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for the benefits we are all getting currently from his spending

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choices? Unlike these dancers, we are used to politicians preferred

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the be stomping on top of each other but then the former Auditor

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General of Scotland what's to him. The affordability of some of this

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has to be questioned. We do need to Revisited and every pound that goes

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on free services for bus passes, for well-off older people, is it

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and it is not there to do other things. The Scottish Conservative

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leader says steps must be taken. don't particularly believe that

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most people across Scotland want to get free aspirin when they see

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people with rare cancers are not getting the drugs that you can get

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elsewhere and the rest of the country. I think what is

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encouraging is that we are at the start of the debate. In politics,

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timing is everything. Tonight, with it confirmed that a referendum deal

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is all but done, prepare to take your partners. But will the dance

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be a Highland Scottish or a Britannia to step?

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Just before we came on air, I spoke to the Finance Secretary, John

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Swinney about his spending policies and priorities. But first, I got

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his reaction to this evening's news from Wesminster that a referendum

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deal between both government is all but done. What the Secretary of

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State for Scotland agreed with Nicola Sturgeon this afternoon was

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some substantial progress being made between our two governments.

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Some further ground had to be covered before we could reach final

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agreement. I think undoubtedly, as they stick and today said, progress

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has been made but there is still some way to go to get to find a

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position on that. It has to be reached before the Prime Minister

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and First Minister can come to an agreement on this question.

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have you given up on the idea of a second question? The government has

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always made clear that we preferred to have a single question on

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whether Scott and should become an independent country. But we also

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recognised, and we've made this clear throughout our discussions on

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this question, that people in Scotland wanted to consider other

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options to strengthen the powers of the parliament, particularly in

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relation to financial powers within the United Kingdom. That is a

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question we consulted upon, when we discussed with various elements of

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civic life within Scotland. It has been an important of the

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discussions that we have been taking fought with the UK

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government. Throughout all this, our preference has been for to have

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a single question. OK. On this whole issue of public service

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reform, do you think Lamont was wrong to go for a public debate

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about universal benefits? There is always a debate to be had about the

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sustainability of the public finances and am engaged in that

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debate on a regular basis. I formulate proposals on an annual

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basis to put to Parliament, which essentially tests that very

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question about sustainability of the public finances. Where Lamont

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is wrong, is to advance that debate but not put forward some solutions.

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It is terribly easy to say, we should have this debate and have an

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honest debate and all the rest of it, but not to put any choices or

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preferences for it, or any idea about how you might make the

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finances sustainable is a wholly wrong approach to take. It is not

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the approach the Scottish government takes because we've put

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forward since 2007 / 2080 a balanced budget which makes

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financial provision for the scissors of Scotland. You're making

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your own choices in doing that. That's absolutely mad point. I'm

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making my choice is on an annual basis. For there to be an honest

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debate from the Labour Party, the Labour Party should also advance

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their choices and so far, I have been unable to see... Well, they

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have not made any choices. They said we should have a debate. They

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contribute nothing to the process. What was the basis for you decided

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not to challenge any of the universal benefits that are under

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your control and use them to fund, for example, more money for further

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education, where there are 80,000 fewer students than there were two

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years ago? If you take a further education college provision, the

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government committed to maintaining full-time equivalent student

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numbers at about 116,000 places. That is exactly what we have done.

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In our choices in relation to universal services, and a universal

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benefits are -- benefits, there is a strong argument in relation to

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the agenda the Government takes forward on to but to spend. For

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example, personal care for the elderly ensures that War Of Our

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elderly citizens can be supported in their own homes, where they get

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the best situation to have their care delivered. If they want not to

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be able to get that service, but had to have in hospital cot --,, it

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And ensure economists are telling you that in a time like this, the

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best thing the Government can do to promote economic growth, which you

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say is your top priority, is to get as many young people into education

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as possible. Yet each used to maintain a free bus passes for the

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over-sixties, free prescriptions for the Ultra Rich, and that is the

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choice but somehow that is more important than putting money into

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further education colleges so they do not have to cut the number of

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students by 80,000 and could have all the part time about his --

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jeans that they used to have. you are not following the point

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that I just made. The Government has put in place the funding to

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ensure that the commitments that were given have been delivered by

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the Scottish Government. That has been a continuous part of the

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support that you go into further education colleges. You're not

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denying there are 80,000 fewer students. What I am saying is that

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the commitment we put in place to guarantee continuity of full-time

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equivalent students numbers is exactly what the Government...

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is bureaucracy speak. Your own Government -- I doubt your own

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Government and say it is a good thing that there is 80,000 students

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-- fewer students. The point is that become -- maintained our

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commitments to make sure that and that it -- adequate number of

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student places were offered its throughout Scotland. Throughout the

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education system, a strong contribution of entrants into the

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further education system able to contribute to our economy. What the

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Government has got to do the strike a balance between... Just to get

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this clear, you were saying that a cut of 80,000 students is adequate?

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I am seeing that the commitments to put in place to support a

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continuous number of full time equivalent places is what the

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Government thinks is correct and appropriate as a contribution to

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the Scottish economy. So 80,000 fewer is correct? We are contained

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-- we have maintained our commitment to student numbers. We

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have put in place a whole load of other interventions to support

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people getting into the economy, such as more modern apprenticeships.

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The guarantee of an opportunity for all. The employer at recruitment

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initiative. These are all it -- all measures designed to get young

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people into the economy and to give them the opportunities that they

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should at. One of his choice you haven't made is that its flagship

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policy for why you want independence is that you want to

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cut business taxes in Scotland. Why had he not cut business taxes?

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course we have cut business taxes. You could business rates up.

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have a business tax regime that delivers reliefs to the value of

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�500 million per annum. But you promised for independence is not to

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have more relief for business tax, it is to cut it. Why do you not you

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-- use the powers you have got? Revenues from non-domestic rates

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have risen since you froze council tax. The Government's commitment on

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business rates is to make sure that Scotland has the most competitive

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rate of business rates and the most impressive rate its regime in the

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United Kingdom, and that is what we had done. We have cut his as rates.

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We have cut them for 65,000 small businesses in Scotland. So why have

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council tax revenue risen? For a whole variety of reasons. There is

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an inflation adjustment to be made. The Government has put in place

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cuts in business rates which have delivered a �500 million relief

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package in every single year of the five years of this business rates

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in the evaluation period. All these factors contribute to Scotland

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having the most competitive regime on business rates in the United

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Kingdom. Crawford Beveridge in his report that you commissioned, he

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agreed with John Lamont that things like tuition fees and concessionary

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travel and all the rest of it had to be looked at. Why was he wrong

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as well? He gave us a range of different options that we could

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take forward to make the public finances sustainable. They covered

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officiously, were paid constraint,... He suggested banning

:15:22.:15:32.
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at council tax freeze. It suggested more options for reducing public

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expenditure it than we are required to take. So we took the various

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options that we thought should be implemented, such as the reduction

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of number of public bodies. Such as the efficiency agenda. We

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implemented all those provisions to make the public finances

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sustainable. Thank you very much. I am joined now by Professor John

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Kerchers of Strathclyde University. Do you have any polling evidence

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about this? We have some polling evidence about whether or not

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people support universal benefits and certainly it is not the case

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that people in Scotland are necessarily as enthusiastic about

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universal benefits as some commentators have been implying of

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the last two weeks. If ET the issue of three personal care, one of

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those secretary Scottish policies. Around 55 % or so of people are in

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favour of this. Around 40 % however think that actually some people

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should take -- a according to their means. Tuition fees, which even at

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the back of Dougall -- at the beginning of devolution were never

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as unpopular as most people think, there are more people in Scotland -

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- the number of people in Scotland to think that no student should pay

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tuition fees is down to 20 %. 20 %? Only 20 % say that no student

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at all should have to pay tuition fees. The vast majority of people

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say that some students should have to pay according to their means.

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Obviously, it depends and the level. There is other appalling evidence

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that came out before the election which suggests that 9,000 tuition

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fees where indeed an acceptable to the Scottish population, on the

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other hand, the idea of a �4,000 fee might well be acceptable. The

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truth is, we're not as wedded to the idea of universal benefits as

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we might think. The risk that she has taken in raising this issue is

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not quite as big as some people imagine. What but some of the other

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things, like bus passes? Last time this was asked, free bus passes

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were relatively popular, around 77 % in favour. On the other hand, if

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you asked people, should no one have to pay for a prescription that

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it can afford to pay for it? Again, or respect -- split around 50-50 on

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this issue. We're pretty much divided. What one needs to realise

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here is that the truth is that politicians balls on the left and

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the right are divided on this issue. There are some politicians on the

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left who feel that you should charge those who are better off for

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some kind of services, otherwise it is a subsidy to them, there are

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some on the left who say it is essential to a common citizenship.

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This exactly reflect public opinion. It is not the case that people that

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you might regard as being on the left have any clear consistent view

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on this, they are divided as much as anyone else. Do people actually

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vote on this? That again is also by no means clear. I have heard many

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people say that one of the reasons why the SNP won their first

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election is because of their commitment to not have tuition fees

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any more. The truth is, if you look at people's attitudes at the time

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on tuition fees, and look at how they voted, actually have the

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people who were in favour of tuition fees have voted for a party

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that did not want them and the other half voted for a party that

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was consistent with their views. The truth is that on these issues,

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it is not clear what people's attitudes -- that people's

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attitudes have been reflected in the votes. There for, there needs

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to be a measure of caution about assuming that this debate, but

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people's attitudes to whether there should have a should not be charges

:19:53.:19:58.

for some services, is necessarily going to be all that crucial in

:19:58.:20:02.

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