LAST week, Deputy First Minister John Swinney presented the 2023/24 Scottish Budget to Parliament.

There can be no doubt that this Budget takes place at a time of enormous economic challenges. As a result of the war in Ukraine, energy prices and inflation have soared, damaging global economies. This has been compounded by Westminster’s economic mismanagement and Brexit, which have led to a severe cost-of-living crisis. The United Kingdom economy is expected to be the second worst economy in the G20 over the next two years (after Russia). This is now putting huge strain on Scottish families, businesses and our public finances.

The Budget has been decisive in providing what support it can to protect vulnerable families and individuals, despite its limited devolved resources. The Scottish Government has already taken strong action to continue its drive to eradicate child poverty with the introduction of the unique Scottish Child Payment. It was announced that devolved benefits will be raised at the inflation level; further investment will be made to expand the free school meals; there will be record investment in our transition to a carbon-neutral economy; and spending on health and social care in Scotland will increase by £1bn.

There were difficult decisions. To protect families, invest in a net-zero economy and invest further in the NHS and social care, the Budget announced that those who earn over £43,663 will pay a penny more in income tax. While the majority of people in Scotland will pay less tax than elsewhere in the UK, Scotland will have a more progressive tax system.

In Scotland, we continue to enjoy many benefits that are not available throughout the UK, including free access to higher education, free prescriptions, free eye tests, personal care for the elderly and the Scottish Child Payment.

Scotland is on a different path, where people are asked to pay their fair share, in the knowledge that in so doing they help to create the fairer society in which we all want to live.