Scottish Conservative Leader Ruth Davidson has today achieved what I would have thought was impossible for any Scottish political leader. She has out Mitted, Mitt Romney. Not satisfied with rubbishing nearly half the electorate, she has rubbished 88% of Scots with her speech line, "It is staggering that public-sector expenditure makes up a full 50 per cent of Scotland’s GDP and only 12 per cent of people are net contributors".
In the first instance she has the facts wrong. As John McLaren, of the Centre for Public Policy for Regions, said: “If you look at the official figures in Gers, then the percentage of Scotland’s public-sector spending to GDP is slightly less than the rest of the UK if you include North Sea oil and slightly more if you do not, but not enough to make much difference.”
She is wrong again on net contributors, because elsewhere in the Gers report the figure is given as 34%. Of course all of these figures are highly speculative because we don't know how much individuals pay in indirect taxes. As her ConDem government has been increasing taxes on the poor through VAT, this is particularly insensitive.
The political strategy behind this is also unclear, assuming there is one. Even Tories are bewildered if my Twitter feed is anything to go by. And if you are going to do this sort of thing, get your key facts lined up. Her subsequent media performances have highlighted huge gaps in her brief. In particular, if you are going to rubbish Scots make sure you know what the equivalent numbers are in England. If she had bothered to check, they are roughly the same.
Putting to one side the ineptness, the more serious point is what this says about her view of many Scots. Apparently nurses, doctors, teachers, police staff and others don't contribute to the economy. This is simply nonsense. Public services support the economy in so many ways and of course the spending benefits firms directly through contracts, some £8bn, and through spending on the high street. To give just one example, research by APSE shows for every £1 spent by a local council there is an economic return, of £1.64 to the local economy.
It is precisely because of the job losses and pay freeze that we are in the deepest and longest recession since the 1930’s - when the same crazy economics were last tried. If this is Ruth Davidson’s strategy for digging the Tories out of their electoral hole in Scotland, it’s already time for another U-turn.