He gave what was to me the speech of the day, if not the session during the debate on the SNP's failure to maintain the Parliament's power to vary the rate of income tax. Delivered with real passion, anger and forensic clarity, he completely demolished John Swinney's argument and the SNP's position that it wasn't really their fault and it didn't really matter that much anyway. Several times he asked whether the situation had arisen because of SNP deceit or incompetence and questioned the SNP's very credibility and trustworthiness on constitutional matters. Audacious, definitely - but entirely justified.
It's clear that Swinney's biggest mistake was not to tell Parliament what was going on in the three and a half years between them taking office and Michael Moore's letter to Party leaders last week - but Tavish asked how that could simply be a benign error when they'd talked about using the power to implement a local income tax when they must have known that was impossible.
The speech was so good that I've decided to publish the whole thing below. The words themselves are good, but nothing can really compare to actually seeing them come to life.
When this Nationalist Government is in a hole two things happen. We’ve seen it before.
The SNP dissemble, shout, scream, throw mud, make it up and blame anyone else they can.
Then they wheel out Alex Neil.
I thought Ministers had to behave. Not after last night.
There’s only one further step they can take – Mike Russell.
The facts of this disgraceful episode are simple - and what they show is either SNP deceit or incompetence.
The first fact is this.
That this Parliament was given the power to vary income tax by the people of Scotland in a vote. Not a party, not minority government, not a First Minister, not a Finance Secretary but the Parliament.
Fact – There is a cost to retain the mechanism to allow that power to be exercised.
Fact – how much that was is now a political slanging match.
But the point that matters on this constitutional power is that the SNP have stopped that power being used not only now, but for the new Government elected next year.
Fact – Mr Swinney, nor any of his Ministerial colleagues, and most certainly not Mr Salmond, at any stage since 2007 informed, debated or discussed with parliament this decision. Was that deceit or incompetence?
Fact - Yesterday Mr Swinney said MSPs were “too busy” to be told about this 2007 decision.
Since 2007, the Finance Secretary has had the opportunity to present his position on 110 separate opportunities:
· Presented 4 budgets
· Published 8 budget revisions
· Participated in 15 budget debates
· Made 24 appearances in front of Finance committee
· Delivered 29 ministerial statements to Parliament
There has also been:
· A debate on ‘strategic budget scrutiny’
· 2 debates on the strategic spending review and
· 6 debates on the Scottish Government’s programme
Presiding Officer, there’s also been one debate on ‘Improving Accountability’,
John Swinney chose not to speak in that one.
Too busy to find ways to explain the Government’s decision to Parliament.
Deceit or incompetence?
Fact - when proposing the Local Income Tax, the SNP Government said they would use the tax varying powers to make that happen.
The Government statements on how LIT would be implemented, misled Parliament, and misled any voter who supported LIT on the basis of that change. At no time in explaining why the SNP had dropped LIT, did Mr Salmond or Mr Swinney explain that they couldn’t implement LIT because the tax power could not be used.
Mr Salmond, on the day of the ditch, looked me in the eye in the back of this Parliamentary chamber and explained why LIT was being dropped.
As always Mr Salmond didn’t give the truth that day.
So Presiding Officer, was all that deceit or incompetence?
Fact – in the Budget debate exactly a week ago, the Finance Secretary’s Budget document said this, from the Budget 2011-12 document:
“Our opportunities to vary taxes are limited to the Scottish Variable Rate, which no Scottish administration has chosen to use since Devolution, and some discretion over non-domestic rates. We confirm that we will not use the Scottish Variable Rate power.”
In addressing Parliament last Wednesday, the Finance Secretary implied that he had considered using the tax varying power and dismissed it. If that’s not misleading Parliament I don’t know what is.
Was that deceit or incompetence?
· So, are using the tax powers of this Parliament available? No.
· Was Parliament told in 2007, 2008, 2009 or 2010? No.
· Can LIT be implemented? No.
· Has Parliament been misled? Yes
· Has the Finance Secretary had 110 separate Parliamentary occasions to say what’s going on? Yes
· Has a minority nationalist Government misled Parliament? Yes
· Has the SNP treated the people of Scotland who gave this power to this Parliament with contempt? Yes.
While Mr Swinney is put up today, the blame for this is not his alone. It sits next to him.
We’ve had one sanctimonious lecture after another from Alex Salmond on the respect agenda.
Today defines Mr Salmond’s respect for the Scottish people and for this Parliament.
Mr Salmond, respect is something you earn. And no one will respect you again on the constitution, on Scotland’s future and on the Government of our country.
Mr Salmond expects to pass a Budget. To negotiate with other parties. After this. After the way he handled Local Income Tax. After his Finance Secretary’s speech a week ago. There’s no one else to blame. This is the Salmond government. And today its shown its real colours.
What Mr Salmond and his Government have utterly failed to do today is explain whether all this mess is deceit or incompetence. Deceit and incompetence are the two words his government will be known for.
Respect? – Not a chance.
And amid all this just imagine for a moment what would have happened if the Nationalists were in Opposition.
What would they have said about a Government giving up powers the people had given Parliament?
· Many would have howled – full moon or not.
· Some would have shed real tears.
· A few ambitious backbenchers might have gone on hunger strike until the powers were returned.
These are people who make a constitutional crisis out of which museum has the Lewis chessmen.
Yet they, the SNP sign off and sign away the choices and powers of Scotland’s own Parliament – the wish of one and a half million Scots discarded without a murmur.
I care about this place. I am deeply proud of it. I am honoured to be a Member – to represent Shetland. Most of us here share that.
So I do utterly condemn the cavalier and arrogance with which Salmond’s SNP Government treat Scotland’s Parliament.
The Scottish Parliament was designed to be a clean break with some of the worst practices of Westminster. Today is the worst of Westminster forced on Holyrood by nationalists.
Today is absolutely not a day to be proud of:
Today this Nationalist Government is betraying the word inscribed on Parliament’s mace – ‘integrity’.
Respect? – Not a chance.
The Liberal Democrats support the amendment tabled in the names of Mr Gray, Ms Goldie, Mr Harvie and mine. Any Government worth its salt would get it when all the Opposition parties get it together – do you get it Mr Salmond?