It’s budget time in the Scottish Parliament again.
That annual drama of watching the SNP’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance count out the cost of his policies while counting out the votes required in the Parliament to get them through.
This year’s episode looks set to be the most interesting yet, with all except the Tories agreeing that there should be some sort of tax increase to generate extra cash for public services.
The question is who should pay more and just how much?
The to-ing and fro-ing has always amused me because I’ve never believed for a second that the Greens would let the SNP budget fall, something which would cause the government to collapse and an election to be called.
Why? Well, first and foremost, the Greens support independence and if the SNP are in power, they remain that one bit closer to achieving it.
Without the SNP in power, it would diminish the chances of that second referendum altogether so there’s just no way the Greens will want to be responsible for letting that happen.
The Yes movement just wouldn’t stand for it.
The Greens’ tax proposal is even bolder and more radical than Labour’s. They want a 60p top rate of tax for people earning over £150,000 a year.
Given the SNP have consistently voted down Labour’s proposals for a 50p top rate of tax, I can’t see Derek Mackay going for that.
So I was really intrigued to see Patrick Harvie on the TV this weekend from his party conference outline his red lines, or green lines as it were, for the budget process.
It wasn’t a tax increase he was demanding ahead of the budget, it was a pay rise for public sector workers.
And not just an end to the pay freeze, he wants an above inflation rise and, by God, they need it.
This gives Mackay some desperately needed wriggle room.
He can now do a little bit of tax-raising, something symbolic on the really wealthy which means Nicola Sturgeon can keep her manifesto promise not to increase the basic rate.
It won’t be nearly enough to stop the cuts to public services.
No, you’d need to raise more than £0.5billion extra each year to do that, so we’ll have another year of devastating cuts to school budgets and social care because the SNP will slash council budgets again.
If public sector workers do get a welcome pay increase for the first time in seven years, it’ll be down to the Greens’ manoeuvring.
It will give Harvie something new to boast about and he’ll hope the boasting drowns out the pain of the cuts in the poorest communities.
If I’m right, the Greens will get the credit for the pay rise and the SNP will get the blame for further cuts to school budgets.
The Parliament will have dodged using its income tax powers seriously for another year and the budget will pass.
The Greens will deserve some credit for some pretty smart politics but let’s not call it principled. What a shame that the real longer-term answer to ending austerity lies in their manifesto, they’re just not prepared to make it a green line.
This article first appeared in the Daily Record newspaper on the 24th of October 2017.