Government is all about making choices.

In his budget, the UK Chancellor had the opportunity to do the decent thing for millions of people affected by the combination of rising costs and income that fails to match it. He chose not to.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said that inflation and higher taxes would dwarf any small increases for middle-wage earners and that low-income households will feel “real pain”.

They pointed out that families struggling on Universal Credit must endure a £20 per week and that the Chancellor’s adjustments won’t make up for that cut, even before national insurance rises come in the Spring. Another organisation, initially set up by the UK Government to monitor spending, said that the cost of living could rise at its fastest rate for 30 years. Inflation is set to soar over 4% – that has a massive effect on the ability of households to meet their living costs.

Here in the Highlands, we have the extra challenges of having higher transport costs and higher costs for energy and fuel.  In households across our communities, people no longer have to choose between food and heat – because thanks to this Chancellor and this UK Government,  they cannot afford to buy either.

In the spending review, the Chancellor chose not to invest in children who have the most difficult starts in life. He chose not to invest in sorting the mess created by Brexit – felt in every household in Scotland and across the nations of the UK. Instead, he chose to give a tax cut to his old pals in the city.

It seems there is no money to invest in tackling the fact that the UK has the worst poverty levels in western Europe. Still, there was money for encouraging more short-haul air travel – on the eve of the COP 26 Climate conference. There is also money for cutting tax on ships that will fly the British flag and multinational companies, like Amazon.

And, whilst any money for our region is welcome, let’s not fall for the small pockets of money earmarked for Highland projects. The money offered up is nothing compared to the EU money lost to the region, and it does not even come close to the £83 million still missing from the City Region Deal.

A Tory Chancellor at Westminster made his choices. Like every other Tory budget or spending review that came before – he made them for ideological reasons. To them, if anyone is poor, that’s their hard luck – they just have to try harder.

The fact is, those who are the poorest today have spent most of their lives governed by people who have no concept about what it is like to live without privilege. There is always money for contracts for pals, never for hard-pressed families. History shows us that the choices Westminster makes for us are never going to change. We need different choices to be made, to see fairness, justice, and hope for a better future.

Scotland will thrive without Westminster, but how long can we survive being shackled to it?

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