SNP saddled Scots with the highest taxes in the UK.

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IN the midst of the cost of living crisis, Kate Forbes should be working flat out to ease the pain for thousands of families.

Instead the finance secretary spent yesterday waffling at length about the ‘wellbeing economy’ — founded on ‘equality’ and ‘human rights’.

Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise given that the SNP is in cahoots with the Marxist Greens, who are opposed to economic growth.

The wellbeing economy, whatever it is, sounds fine, but most of us would settle for one that creates new jobs and bolsters support for important public services such as the NHS, large swathes of which are now in a state of terminal decline.

As Miss Forbes pontificates about equality and human rights as cornerstones of this planned renaissance, most of us are trying to figure out how on earth we can afford to pay the electricity and gas bills without taking out a second mortgage.

The UK Government’s National Insurance hike was sheer lunacy, and an act of political stupidity that at least partially explains the party’s poor performance in last week’s local government elections.

While the SNP rails against Tory tax raids, it’s clearly hoping we’ve all forgotten about its own sustained assault on household finances, which has seen our bank balances relentlessly eroded — supposedly in the name of what Derek Mackay once called ‘progressivity’.

Infamously, Miss Forbes’s disgraced predecessor also said higher rate taxpayers — a category which includes nurses, teachers and police officers — were ‘rich’, and therefore legitimate targets for a tax-grab.

Workers earning more than £27,850 a year currently pay more income tax than they would elsewhere in the UK, and it’s not as if the extra cash is being spent wisely.

Badly misfiring quangos stuffed full of placemen on eye-watering salaries, who won’t have to worry about how to pay their fuel bills, preside over an entrenched culture of secrecy and incompetence.

The ferries fiasco demonstrates the cack-handedness of an administration which at every turn has shown brazen contempt for taxpayers’ money, to the extent that police are now considering whether to launch an investigation.

It’s also hard to argue that the gain has been worth the pain — it emerged in August last year that Scots have paid £900million more income tax than people elsewhere in the UK — but that burden has generated only an extra £170million for the SNP’s budget.

The taxation gap opened up because the SNP changed the tax bands then froze the threshold for paying the higher rate as it rose in other parts of the UK.

The SNP’s punitive tax regime is a lead weight that will drag down any attempt to rebuild the Covid-battered economy — but it doesn’t have to be like this.

Kate Forbes: waffle can’t be a substitute for a concrete plan to cut taxes

Tax-varying powers at Holyrood work both ways, and there is no law that says taxes must always go up, though anyone who works for a living might ruefully reflect that they never seem to go down.

The Nationalists’ partnership with the Greens is necessary for its plan to stage a second referendum, as doomed as it is, but it is also blinding the party to other possibilities.

Chief among them is tax reduction — and they could start by undoing those disparities that mean living in Scotland, as opposed to south of the Border, is bad for your financial health.

Leaving people with more of their hard-earned cash would help them to avoid falling into debt amid rising interest rates, stratospheric energy bill increases, and other constraints on disposable income — which for a lot of people is about to become nothing more than a fond memory.

Going beyond a basic reversal of the cross-Border differential would pave the way for a transformation of our flagging economic fortunes, turning the country into a magnet for investors and entrepreneurs.

This kind of talk is heretical among the Left-wing tax-and-spend ideologues of the current government, and its anti-capitalist Green lackeys, wedded to investment only in quangoland, and knee-jerk nationalisation.

The Chancellor’s plan to cut the basic rate of income tax from 20p to 19p won’t kick in until 2024, assuming that it goes ahead at all.

By then many of us could be mired in debt, or jobless — so now is the time for a radical reassessment of the personal tax burden in Scotland, based not on dogma but on harsh economic reality.

It would require scaling down the sprawling apparatus of the state in its many different manifestations, and rooting out the fat cats.

But that would be no bad thing, and while we’re at it the four-day week should have stayed where it belongs — in the blue-sky Zoom meetings of home-working civil servants.

Rowing back on the pernicious workplace parking levy, which might well have been dreamt up in the back of a government limousine, should be among the first items on any list of big ideas to get the economy back on the road.

It is a self-inflicted wound when the last message ministers should be sending out is that workers will face a huge penalty just for having the temerity to drive to work.

Business rates should be overhauled to give the high street a fighting chance of survival after the tumult of the lockdown years.

And what happened to Nicola Sturgeon’s vision of a state-owned energy company, which might have been useful in the present crisis?

When the plan was announced at the 2017 SNP conference in Glasgow, the First Minister said energy would be bought wholesale or generated in Scotland — and sold to customers ‘as close to cost price as possible’.

In its 2021 manifesto, the SNP said that work on the new company had been ‘halted’ during the pandemic, and efforts were being ‘refocused’ on a public energy agency.

The government-owned Scottish National Investment Bank was another grand idea, designed to enrich the economy — but instead it’s only succeeded in enriching its outgoing boss, who was handed six months of her salary, worth £117,500.

While millions of us agonise over bills and diminishing salaries, the First Minister is off to the United States next week, to chat at a ‘range of engagements’ about climate change and gender equality -and doubtless she’ll find time to fit in some tub-thumping about Scottish independence.

It’s tin-eared, with not much discernible relevance to her day job of providing political oversight of public services — but maybe she’s already written them off as a lost cause.

She and her ministers should forget the globe-trotting and virtue-signalling for once — and focus on allowing hard-pressed taxpayers to keep more of the cash we’ve worked so hard to earn.

  • This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on May 10, 2022.
  • *Follow me on Twitter: @GrahamGGrant