If it wasn’t already clear, Scottish politics has got messy as the as Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, sparked a furious debate over the contribution Scots make to the economy, with the SNP dubbing her remarks at the Tory conference her “Mitt Romney moment”.
Speaking to the party’s Scottish fringe, Davidson argued a “rotten system of patronage” has created a “sense of entitlement”, as only 12% of households contribute to the country’s wealth.
“So little moves in Scotland without government approval and anyone who dares challenge the status quo is deemed an enemy of the state.
“It is staggering that public sector expenditure makes up a full 50% of Scotland’s GDP and only 12% of households are net contributors, where the taxes they pay outweigh the benefits they receive through public spending.
“We need to encourage our entrepreneurs, reward those hiring more staff, hang out a big sign saying ‘Scotland’s open for business’.”
Seeking to make comparisons between Davidson’s remarks and those of Mitt Romney – who last month was revealed to have said 47% of Americans do not pay income tax and would never vote for him - the SNP’s Kenneth Gibson MSP explained:
“This is Ruth Davidson’s Mitt Romney moment. We are used to the Tories insulting Scotland but Ruth Davidson has now plumbed new depths for her party.
“At least Mitt Romney only insulted around half of Americans though, while Ruth Davidson believes almost 90 per cent of Scots do not ‘contribute’ to society.
“It is an outrageous slur, and Davidson should apologise to the people of Scotland.”
The SNP, however, also aimed their fire at Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, asking how much she agreed (or not) with Davidson’s remarks, following her controversial speech questioning the future of certain universal entitlements.
In announcing he had written to Lamont, SNP MSP John Mason, deputy convener of the Scottish Parliament’s finance committee, said:
“Johann Lamont and her partner in the anti-independence campaign Ruth Davidson have been operating hand in glove since Labour established its cuts commission.
“With the Scottish Tory leader claiming that only 12% of people in Scotland are contributors and that we live in a ‘gang-master’ state, the public deserves to know whether Johann Lamont will continue to follow where Ruth Davidson leads.
“Johann Lamont cannot adopt the Tory mantra of a ‘something for nothing’ culture and expect to avoid questions on whether she also agrees with Ruth Davidson’s outrageous attack on people across Scotland.
“Now that Johann Lamont has taken her lead from the Tories on the future of the social contract we all benefit from, does she share their view that almost 90% of people in Scotland do not ‘contribute’ to society?”
Responding for Labour, however, shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran attacked the Scottish Tory leader for what she described as “the Tory’s shameful politics of division at its worst”.
“It is an extraordinary and shameful piece of revisionism to absolve the Thatcher government of any blame for the deep problems now rooted in our communities and instead somehow blame Labour for daring to use government to support rather than abandon people.
“Her portrayal of Scotland as a gangmaster state dependent on the public sector is a lazy caricature that most ordinary Scots will reject. Scots know that the Tory-led UK government, which she supports, has failed Scotland with economic policies that have led to a double dip recession, 1 in 4 of our young people out of work and long term unemployment at a 16 year high.
“A week after Ed Miliband called for us to bind together as one nation to tackle the big problems we face, this shows the Tory’s shameful politics of division at its worst.”
In its editorial, the Daily Record has observed that Davidson’s figures are likely to be wrong:
Her claim that Scotland is a “gangmaster” state where only 12 per cent pay their way is an outrageous slur laid bare by a cursory examination of the figures the Tories plundered.
According to statistics… more than 1.3million Scots from 34 per cent of the nation’s households are net tax contributors, not the 12 per cent that she claims. In other words, a third of Scots contribute more in taxes than the services they consume - not the paltry one in eight suggested by Davidson.
It is only by ignoring the contributions of public sector workers that she emerges with her cooked statistics. It’s a sinister line of attack straight out of the right-wing US Republican textbook.
Meanwhile, as Davidson sought to attack the SNP, she faced fire from one of her own, with an outspoken critique from the party’s former chairman in Scotland and former shadow Scottish secretary.
In attacking Davidson’s declaration during her leadership campaign that powers being transferred to Holyrood under the Scotland Act should mark a “line in the sand”, Peter Duncan told The Sunday Times:
“The sands have got to shift… And for the Conservatives, they must not be seen as grudging partners in this drive for further devolved powers. When sands are shifting it is futile to draw lines in them.
“The light at the end of the tunnel of the Conservative Party relationship with Scotland could be the establishing of a new approach to devolution. Frankly the only other option is yet another collision with a high speed train.”