This year, for the first time and co-funded by the Scottish Policy Foundation, the Institute for Fiscal Studies is publishing a range of Scottish Election Briefing Notes on tax, benefits and public spending, and the parties' plans for the coming parliamentary term.
Fiscal devolution and the resulting growing differences in policies compared to the rest of the UK, and the starkly different visions of Scotland's future set out by the different parties, mean independent and impartial analysis is more important than ever before.
Updates will be published on this page.
Slides from the event are available here.
“There is some consensus between the SNP, Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour in the manifestos they have presented. All aim for an expanded welfare state including doubling the Scottish child payment, universal free school meals for primary-school children, increases in carer’s allowance, and expansions of free childcare. Investment priorities are also similar, including a focus on social housing and energy efficiency, albeit with different scales of ambition – and different price tags.
Overall visions are quite different, though. The SNP and Scottish Labour envisage what they might think of as a Scandinavian-style future – with a smorgasbord of new entitlements for Scottish residents. In contrast, the Scottish Conservatives’ public services and benefits offer, while an increase on what is there today, is less expansive with an aim instead of modestly reducing tax.
Another thing these manifestos have in common is, unfortunately, a disconnect from the fiscal reality the next Scottish Government is likely to face." David Phillips, Associate Director at the IFS
Scottish Labour set out a vision for big expansion of the welfare state - with no sense of how much this would eventually cost or how it would be paid for.
The Scottish Conservatives offer extra spending on the NHS and a range of targeted measures – but an ambition to cut income tax looks unlikely to be realised without cuts to at least some services.
The SNP’s manifesto offers big gains to a number of targeted groups in Scotland - but would involve difficult trade-offs in a tight budgetary environment.
Recent years have seen the Scottish Government gain – and make use of – a range of new tax and benefit powers, to add to the powers it has had over council tax and business rates since the advent of devolution in 1999. Devolved taxes now account for around 30% of all tax revenue raised in Scotland, and devolved benefits almost 20% of all benefit and tax credit expenditure in Scotland.
Most public service spending in Scotland – including the vast majority of what is spent on health, education, social care, transport, public order and safety, environmental and rural affairs and housing – is devolved to the Scottish Government and Scottish local authorities. Spending on services that are largely devolved amounted to £41.6 billion in 2019−20, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the data underlying both the Scottish and UK governments’ public spending statistics. This equates to £7,612 per person in Scotland, which is around 27% higher than the £5,971 per person spent on those areas in England, and 13% higher than the £6,748 spent in Wales (where the population is older, poorer and sicker than in Scotland).
The last ten or so years have seen big changes to the level and composition of the Scottish Government’s budget. Broadly speaking, the period between 2010–11 and 2017–18 was one of austerity, with real-terms funding for day-to-day (or resource) spending falling by 6% over the seven years. Since then though, funding has been increasing. It had almost returned to 2010–11 levels by 2019–20 and, excluding the additional temporary funding being provided by the UK government to address the COVID-19 pandemic, plans suggest ‘core’ funding will be around 3% higher in 2021–22. However, after accounting for population growth, it will still be around 2% lower per person. These trends largely reflect changes in funding from the UK government, although the use of devolved tax, borrowing and reserve powers has also had a growing impact on the Scottish Government’s overall funding.