Sunak makes attack the best form of defence

Sunak gave a speech at the Scottish Conservatives Conference where he talked about cutting tax for every worker in Britain

They're bad, we're good. That, in a nutshell, is the simplicity of election tactics from political parties.

Brand your opponents as the ones who will plunge the country into darkness and despair, and present your party as the saviours, leading the nation to the sunlit uplands.

Attack, attack, attack. It may be crude, but it has been proven to work in election after election. Present your positive vision, yes, but then 'go negative' as political operatives say.

Which is pretty much what we heard from the Prime Minister today at the Scottish Tory conference in Aberdeen.

Here's a flavour of that from Rishi Sunak's speech today: "It is the Scottish Conservatives who are opposing the SNP making Scotland the most taxed part of the United Kingdom. While the Conservative government is cutting tax for every worker in Britain, the Nationalists are raising tax on everyone who earns more than £28,000 a year."

He added: "And it is only the Scottish Conservatives who are defending our energy security, and the thousands of jobs here in the North East that depend on the oil and gas sector. A vote for anyone else is a vote to shut down this industry."

Now the SNP would argue that they have put up income tax in Scotland for the better off to pay for better public services.And they would say they are the true champions of the oil and gas industry with their plans for what they call a 'just transition' - away from hydrocarbons to green energy.

We've already heard attacks - that word again - on the Tories from Humza Yousaf and his colleagues, and we can expect more to come.

Likewise Labour will attack (yes, you get the idea) the Conservatives at Westminster and the SNP in Holyrood, claiming Scotland has been let down by her two governments.

The Prime Minister's aim today was to attack and to open up differences between his party and Labour and the SNP.

So on tax, he claimed the Tories cut taxes. They have recently, but as Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown taxation is at an all-time high

And it is true that the SNP has put up income taxes for higher earners, beyond the levels south of the Border, creating a differential across the Scotland-England border in the heart of our region.

That does create a substantial difference between the SNP and the Conservatives, which might be widened after the UK budget on Tuesday.

Today there was a clear hint from the Prime Minister - and from Scottish Secretary and Dumfries and Galloway MP Alister Jack - that if there are tax cuts it will be through National Insurance, not income tax.


Because National Insurance cuts apply north and south of the Border.

Rishi Sunak even called the cuts that came in in the new year "a Union tax cut" to emphasise the point.

During a question and answer session with journalists the PM also said that Mr Jack had been a strong advocate of this in the cabinet.

Mr Jack added he had "made that point to the Chancellor". And I understand that Mr Jack has also urged Jeremy Hunt to do the same next Tuesday.

So if there are to be tax cuts - and there is a pre-election political imperative for the Tories to do that even if it puts pressure on public finances and will be paid for by cuts elsewhere - they will be in National Insurance.

It will be presented not only as a 'Union tax cut' but a cut in what the Prime Minister described National Insurance as - a tax on jobs.

A by-product, which the Tories rather enjoy as it increased pressure on the SNP, is that an NI cut results in no extra money for the Scottish government, whereas an income tax cut would mean extra cash, under the complicated funding system for devolution.So far, so much the SNP v Labour fight.

What of Labour?

Labour in Scotland is now against any income tax rises. And in the UK it has, generally, accepted what the Tory government has done -fearing that the Tories would attack (yes) Keir Starmer as a tax-raising Prime Minister in waiting.

We'll have to wait to see what Labour says on budget day, though there will without a doubt be fierce criticism (let's use a different word) of the Tories.

When the dust settles on the budget, and we have a clearer idea of when the election will be, we might possibly learn if attack is the best form of defence.

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