09/10/2012 Newsnight Scotland


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


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


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


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


footwork and quick changes of direction. Not Scottish country


dancing - the great debate on universal benefits. John Swinney


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


been done between the UK and Scottish governments over the


independence referendum. David Cameron and Alex Salmond will now


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


correspondent Tim Reid joins us now from Westminster. What is


happening? They have been expecting some kind


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


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 There have been retracted their


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


putting together a package of measures which we understand is


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


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


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


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


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


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


are some difficulties. They still have to negotiate the electoral


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


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


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


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


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


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


measured. It the official statement we have


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


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


between Michael Moore and Nicola Sturgeon. David Montale today said


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


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


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


Monday. So, now we know. The referendum


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


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


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


priorities and universal benefits has rivalled the constitution as


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


pressure, families are under pressure because they cannot get


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


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


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


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


need. The we delivered many universal benefits. And different


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


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


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


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


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


for the benefits we are all getting currently from his spending


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


be a Highland Scottish or a Britannia to step?


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


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


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


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


State for Scotland agreed with Nicola Sturgeon this afternoon was


some substantial progress being made between our two governments.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


this question, that people in Scotland wanted to consider other


options to strengthen the powers of the parliament, particularly in


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


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


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


discussions that we have been taking fought with the UK


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


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


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


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


sustainability of the public finances and am engaged in that


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


basis to put to Parliament, which essentially tests that very


question about sustainability of the public finances. Where Lamont


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


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


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


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


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


the approach the Scottish government takes because we've put


forward since 2007 / 2080 a balanced budget which makes


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


not to challenge any of the universal benefits that are under


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


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


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


government committed to maintaining full-time equivalent student


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


choice but somehow that is more important than putting money into


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


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


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


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


ensure that the commitments that were given have been delivered by


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


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


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


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


equivalent students numbers is exactly what the Government...


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


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


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


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


student places were offered its throughout Scotland. Throughout the


education system, a strong contribution of entrants into the


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


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


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


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


continuous number of full time equivalent places is what the


Government thinks is correct and appropriate as a contribution to


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


policy for why you want independence is that you want to


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


in the evaluation period. All these factors contribute to Scotland


having the most competitive regime on business rates in the United


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


agreed with John Lamont that things like tuition fees and concessionary


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


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


take forward to make the public finances sustainable. They covered


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


at council tax freeze. It suggested more options for reducing public


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


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


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


implemented all those provisions to make the public finances


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


Kerchers of Strathclyde University. Do you have any polling evidence


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


people support universal benefits and certainly it is not the case


that people in Scotland are necessarily as enthusiastic about


universal benefits as some commentators have been implying of


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


election is because of their commitment to not have tuition fees


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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