HUMZA Yousaf has called out the Scottish Conservative leader for suggesting that raising the tax rate on higher earners would damage Scotland’s NHS.

Earlier this week, as part of the Scottish Budget, the Finance Secretary proposed a new income tax band for those on higher salaries.

The proposed advance tax rate of 45p will be applied to those earning from £75,000 to £125,140.

The Scottish Conservatives have reacted furiously to the decision, claiming that the new rate will be a “burden” on hard-working Scots and arguing it would now be harder to recruit and retain skilled workers.

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Speaking at FMQs, Douglas Ross attacked the Government for the policy – and claimed the majority of Scots would now be paying more tax than those in the rest of the UK, something the SNP chief said was wrong.

“Does Humza Yousaf think it’s fair that the majority of Scots will pay more tax than people south of the Border who earn the same wage?” Ross asked the FM.

Yousaf responded defiantly: “First and foremost let’s make it absolutely abundantly clear that the majority of those in Scotland will pay less tax compared to those in the rest of the United Kingdom. No ifs, no buts, no maybes about it.”

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Yousaf pointed out that the UK Government, in the Autumn Statement, gave a tax cut to the highest earners.

“In contrast, we’re asking the 5% of highest earners like Douglas Ross to pay a little more in tax. And by doing so, we’re able to give our NHS over £500 million of an uplift, a real-terms increase to our NHS – where of course the Conservative Party have cut funding for the NHS in England.

“They’re not the values that I believe in, they’re not the values that Scotland believes in either.”

Ross then referenced the chair of BMA Scotland Iain Kennedy, who had suggested that an unintended consequence of the new tax rate would be doctors could leave Scotland or cut overtime.

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“We could lose those nurses, doctors and specialist NHS staff for good,” Ross added, asking if the First Minister accepts that the tax rise would “force key workers out” of the health service.

Yousaf argued it was “awfully brave” for Ross to bring up the NHS – while junior doctor strikes are in process south of the Border, but not in Scotland.

“We’ve made sure through the choices we’ve made in this Budget there’s a real-terms increase to NHS spending in Scotland … there’s a real-terms cut to the NHS in England because of the choices the Conservatives have made.”

Yousaf hit back against Ross’s consistent suggestions that progressive taxation would lead to a “mass exodus” from Scotland.

“The statistics simply don’t bear that out,” said the FM.

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He cited National Records of Scotland statistics from 2021 show that 56,000 people came to Scotland from the rest of the UK, working out as a net in-migration of nearly 10,000 people.

“Why are they coming here, Presiding Officer?” Yousaf asked. “They’re coming here because when they are here in Scotland they get free university education, they’re coming here because they get free childcare, free school meals, because they get free nursing and personal care. Those are the choices we are making.”

He concluded: “You know what else they get – we have the best-paid nurses here in Scotland compared to anywhere else in the UK. No wonder we haven’t lost a single day to strike action in the NHS here in Scotland.”

Elsewhere, Scottish Labour chief Anas Sarwar took aim at the Scottish Budget for other reasons.

He described it as “out of touch” after the affordable housing fund was cut by around £200 million and mental health services were handed a “real-terms cut”.

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Sarwar told Yousaf: “This is the most devastating Budget in the history of devolution.

“The progressive tax rise he talks about is going to raise £82 million. That would buy you a fifth of an SNP ferry that hasn’t even sailed yet.

“He is not a serious politician. The First Minister is so out of touch he thinks if you earn £29,000 you should pay more tax in Scotland than in the rest of the UK.

“These are not the people with the broadest shoulders, but they are being forced to pay the price for his failures in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.

“2023 will be remembered as the year when the SNP was found out.

“They have broken the public’s trust and they seem to have broken their party in the process.”

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Responding, Yousaf acknowledged the “challenges” of the Budget, but said Sarwar will be remembered for saying “one thing one day, and then another thing another day because we know that Anas Sarwar is not a serious politician”.

He added: “He doesn’t think for himself, he waits until he gets the memo from head office – and I don’t know if Anas Sarwar has sent his letter to Santa but if not, he should ask for a backbone.”

The First Minister referenced Sarwar’s 2017 Scottish Labour leadership race where he backed a 50p rate for earners on more than £100,000.