WHEN we thought the Tories could sink no lower, they’ve got even worse. He began by promising “compassion” but after 12 years of pain, cuts and austerity, the multi-millionaire Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has delivered an Autumn Statement that will plunge even more households and families into poverty.

It was far too little and far too late. It was bad for people and for the planet, with a climate-wrecking commitment to double down on nuclear energy, a refusal to tax non-dom tax avoidance and public sector cuts that will fall on ordinary people.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Hunt had learnt nothing from the failures of the Cameron and Osborne years and the misery that they inflicted.

But the reality is worse than that.

Jeremy Hunt remembers those years very well. In fact, he was right at the heart of the government that waged an economic attack against ordinary people and the public services that we all rely on.

He supported the hated bedroom tax and the rape clause and all of the other vicious assaults on benefits. He backed the disgraceful Universal Credit cut and led the charge when it came to privatising parts of the English NHS.

He knows the results all too well. Research led by Glasgow University found that more than 300,000 excess deaths could be attributed to the coalition government’s disastrous austerity policies.

Yet, Hunt was in the Cabinet and in the room cheering on every single one of George Osborne’s brutal budgets. Now that he has even more power than he’s ever had before, he’s taking that same horrific economic vision even further.

With energy bills and mortgages rising and the cost of food and other essentials soaring, the months and years ahead are going to be harder than ever for millions of people. There is no way to cut £30 billion of public spending without a severe human cost.

When inflation is at a 40-year high of 11.1%, that’s not just an abstract number on a spreadsheet. For far too many people, it will be the difference between whether they can afford to eat or not – or if they can heat their home or not.

This is a time when all governments should be investing in our services and infrastructure and doing everything they can to protect their communities, not starving them of funding and leaving many of the most vulnerable people destitute.

Behind every one of the cuts we have seen, there are millions of individual stories and experiences. There are millions of real people with lives that have been made much harder and will be again by Hunt.

But, because they are not millionaire supporters or wealthy donors to the Conservative Party, their stories and their voices will never be heard in Downing Street.

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The poverty and inequality they are brewing and intensifying will have consequences for years to come. Far too many young people already lost out on so many opportunities due to the financial crash of 2008, and even more lost out due to the Covid pandemic.

With the Office for Budget Responsibility warning that the UK is now in recession and the Bank of England suggesting that the current cost crisis will last for at least two years, it is clear that Westminster isn’t going to turn things around any time soon.

There is no doubt that Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s six weeks of mayhem exacerbated the scale of the crisis, and they do, of course, deserve a chunk of the blame, but the underlying causes were there long before they entered Downing Street.

At the heart of the disaster has been an utterly reckless and irresponsible Brexit deal. The Tories and their friends promised to create a “global Britain” that would free itself from the shackles of Europe and open itself up to the world.

In reality, what it has done is allow a cruel, reactionary and incompetent Tory government to live out its extreme libertarian fantasies and conduct a grand and totally irresponsible economic experiment in real-time.

The UK Government had already cut this year’s Scottish budget by a staggering 5.2% compared to last year, with inflation already wiping a further £1.7bn off its value since the start of the year.

We can’t go on like this.

It is too early to know exactly how this awful Budget will impact the Scottish Parliament and devolved services, but we know that the impacts won’t be good.

The £1.5bn that has been promised is £200 million less than the amount that has been lost to inflation.

Next Wednesday, we will see the Supreme Court’s ruling on Scotland’s right to hold a referendum on independence. Whatever the ruling, it will be a pivotal moment for our movement and for testing and understanding the powers of devolution.

What is clear is that every day of Tory rule is making independence even more urgent. With the poorest economic performance of any G7 country, the Tories can’t be trusted with our economy.

Fundamentally, it is a question of democracy. Scotland did not vote for Jeremy Hunt or Rishi Sunak or their Budget. And yet, our communities will be made to pay a terrible price and endure even more years of a Tory government that we cannot remove.

Perhaps, more than anything else, this Chancellor, and this dreadful Budget illustrate in the starkest terms exactly why we need the powers of a normal independent nation.