The new group of Scottish Tory MPs has claimed credit for a series of major 'wins' in Philip Hammond’s Budget after he admitted they had “bent” his ear in the run-up to his speech.
The Chancellor said he had bowed to the demands of the 13 MPs, 12 of whom were elected in June, that Scotland’s national police and fire services have their annual £40 million VAT bill refunded in future.
They also successfully lobbied him over help for the North Sea oil industry, City Deal funding for the Borders, Stirling and Tayside and a freeze on duty for Scotch whisky.
Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, hailed their impact and argued they had achieved more for Scotland in only a few months than the much larger group of SNP MPs had managed in years.
Police Scotland welcomed the VAT change but Nicola Sturgeon said the move was “long overdue” and demanded that the £140 million handed over in previous years be refunded.
Senior insiders said the Budget was a major test for the new Scottish Tory bloc in the Commons as they had to demonstrate to voters that they were capable of “delivering for Scotland” following the party’s spectacular comeback in the snap general election.
Lots of good news in #Budget17 for Scotland. 1. Whisky tax freeze. 2. Support for oil and gas. 3. Cash injection for our emergency services. 4. Growth deals for jobs. @ScotTories MPs delivering for Scotland and moving on from politics of grievance of the @theSNP— John Lamont MP (@John2Win) November 22, 2017
John Lamont, the new Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP, said: “This is a Budget that delivers for Scotland. It also demonstrates how Scottish Conservative MPs and MSPs, working at the heart of government, can stand up for Scotland.
“By freezing whisky duty, we will give a boost to our most vital national export. By ending VAT on the police and the fire service, we have fixed a mess of the SNP’s making. Politics isn’t about who shouts loudest – it’s about getting results.”
Ms Davidson added: “It makes clear that engaging positively with the UK Government will always see greater benefits for Scotland than continual grievance could ever hope to achieve.”
But Ms Sturgeon said: "Police Scotland and the fire service in Scotland should never have been paying VAT and they are the only emergency services in the UK that do so."
The SNP administration merged Scotland’s regional police and fire services in April 2013 but the Treasury warned them that creating national bodies would make them liable for VAT.
Mr Hammond told the Commons that he was “getting used to the new experience of having my ear bent by my 13 Scottish Conservative colleagues, most recently on the issue of Scottish police and fire VAT.”
He added: “The SNP knew the rules, they knew the consequences of introducing these bodies and they ploughed ahead anyway.
"My Scottish Conservative colleagues have persuaded me that the Scottish people should not lose out because of the obstinacy of the SNP government."
SNP furious that 13 Tory MPs get what their 35 MPs failed - scrapping of £35 million per year fire and police VAT bill after Hammond says he’s had his ear bent. It’s called politics.— Alan Cochrane (@Alan_Cochrane) November 22, 2017
It is understood the Scottish Tory MPs lobbied hard for a duty freeze on spirits, which Mr Hammond said would mean a bottle of whisky will be £1.15 less next year than if the planned increases since 2014 had gone ahead.
He also announced that oil companies will be allowed to pass on their tax history to new buyers when they sell their UK oil and gas fields. This means that tax relief can be transferred to the new owner, encouraging investment and new entrants into the industry.
Karen Betts, Scotch Whisky Association chief executive, welcomed the freeze in duty for spirits, saying that a second hike in 2017 would have hurt the industry and consumers.
But she added: "Tax on Scotch is still very high - £4 in every £5 spent on Scotch goes to the Treasury, and we believe this is a missed opportunity.”
Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone of Police Scotland said: "The VAT issue has been a significant financial burden since the creation of Police Scotland so I welcome the Chancellor's announcement."
David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, said: “From support for city deals and some of our finest charities to landmark tax measures on oil and gas and whisky, this Budget backs Scotland's great industries.”