WEDNESDAY’S Budget is the Tories’ last chance to pull some financial rabbits out of the UK Treasury hat and bolt for the ballot box in a spring election. Something big. Something that will incentivise a disgruntled and disillusioned electorate. Something that will appeal to the Tory base.

Possible, but not likely. Their first problem is deciding which Tory base to aim at. The rabid right being galvanised by Lee Anderson and Suella Braverman? Or the traditional centre-right voters in the Tory heartlands – over 45, ABC1, and a little vexed at the apparent vulgarity of current policy?

Economically, these two constituencies are poles apart in what they want, and what they need. The small-town populist right like their public services – just as long as Johnny Foreigner doesn’t get to use them. The -shire Tories want their wealth protected, dividends and shares taxed less. Cuts to public spending are their shield. Buying votes from one of these groups may well cost the votes of the other.

The dilemma is probably only a virtual one. In the real world, there just isn’t the scope to cut much more, not without serious political fallout.

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Let’s remember, the current plans – set out only four months ago – already have built-in assumptions about government spending falling in real terms over the rest of the decade.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that not doing that and instead just keeping spending steady will cost about £20 billion a year. That’s more than twice last month’s national insurance cut.

No-one quite knows exactly how these cuts might fall but given that some areas like health and defence are protected, the brunt will fall on those that are not. If English councils think they’ve got problems at the moment, just wait a few years. In the words of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Without saying what they will cut, Jeremy Hunt has pretty much reached the limit of plausibility on squeezing further. If he were to just whack off another unspecified £20bn for more tax cuts, the moneylenders simply wouldn’t believe it. And as Kwasi Kwarteng will testify, these people don’t muck about.

So, I’d predict a boring Budget.

Maybe a couple of gimmicks chucking some money at stuff focus groups have thrown up. The narrative though will be all about an aspiration to cut taxes. The Chancellor will claim the plan is working, this Budget will consolidate it, and soon, very soon, you’ll get a bung in your pay to prove it.

This debate, about how much of a country’s wealth should be socialised and how much retained for private consumption, is the age-old political dividing line. Let’s try to give it some perspective.

The go-to source on tax is the Government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). They collect and publish a wealth of information on what they call the tax burden. Exactly why socialised expenditure on which civilisation depends should be described as a burden is unclear, but let’s leave that to one side.

The OBR confirm that taxes have increased under this government, last year to 33.5% of GDP and that they will hit a high of 37% by 2027. But what they also confirm is that the proportion of GDP taken in tax in the UK is about 6% less than the average across the 14 comparable countries in Western Europe.

In Denmark, the tax burden is 47%. That’s 40% more than in the UK. Imagine 40% more spent on hospitals, education, social security, transport infrastructure, culture. In hard cash, it’s actually even more than that as people in Denmark are 25% wealthier than here. No wonder the Danes are so much happier.

There’s a historical comparison to be made too. Back in 1965, UK taxation was almost 30% of GDP, a lot higher than the Western European average. Admittedly, a major factor here was servicing a much larger war debt. But what happened to shift the UK’s position in comparison to other advanced economies so dramatically?

The National: Margaret Thatcher with Geoffrey Howe

Margaret Thatcher happened. In the 1980s, when other countries were expanding their welfare state, the UK saw taxes plummet and some people get very rich in an orgy of irresponsible capitalism. That legacy is one of the main reasons for the chronically underfunded and decrepit social and physical infrastructure these isles still suffer today.

The biggest concern about tax is who pays it. The UK, with a top income tax rate lower than in many comparable countries, is somewhat squeamish about making the rich pay.

Astonishingly, the state forgoes taxes on pension lump sums for even billionaires, taxes on dividends and shares are light, inheritance tax sees most wealth kept within families.

Most of all the idea of taxing wealth and asking the incredibly wealthy to share some of their fortune is seen as a Bolshevik impertinence.

The Tory mantra about low taxes being the route to prosperity is of course predictable – the rich don’t get rich by giving it away.

What is depressing though is the stated aim of Labour to not change Tory tax and spending plans if they win the election. They have ruled out any increases to the top rate of income tax, corporation tax, and any consideration of new wealth taxes.

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Sometimes you do have to ask – what is the point of the Labour Party? Which brings me funnily enough to this year’s election.

My old friend Kenny Farquharson in his Times column last week predicts the coming election in Scotland to be competition between class and national identity.

He couldn’t be more wrong. The contest will be about who will stand up for those in Scotland without capital, those who work for a living, the majority. How the envied natural resources of this rich country will be deployed for the benefit of those people. In short, who will move us on the economic journey that Denmark and others have already taken?

Who will deliver what we used to call “social democracy”?

Some still place their faith in a Labour-led UK to deliver that objective. Not in this lifetime. Not when the leadership of that party have already abandoned that ambition.

Kenny is right about one thing: “Holyrood’s new tax powers mean [the SNP] have to place themselves somewhere on a right-left axis.”

He ought to acknowledge they already have. Given the chance, the SNP have consistently sought to increase the public realm and place their funding on a more progressive and fairer basis.

Of course, in the devolved government of Scotland, such changes can only be made at the margins. The administration has precisely zero control over the movement of capital and labour.

But that doesn’t stop us from working up a prospectus on what could be done had we the powers to act. The Scottish Government’s recent economy paper sets out some important parameters on that. In the coming election campaign, we can put flesh on those bones.

Voting SNP will mean pressure on a new UK Government – whether minority or majority Labour. We will press them to make the real living wage statutory, to extend it to all young workers, to scrap standing charges and cap energy bills, to outlaw privatisation of the NHS, to drive on towards a renewable revolution, to scrap anti-trade union laws, to reset foreign policy, to change the voting system, and much more besides. And maybe, just maybe, some of this will happen.

But we will also press one demand above all others – to give the people who live here the right to choose whether to become an independent country. Because independence is not about identity. It is the political agency to allow us to change.

This is a country which has the motive to be a better, fairer one. It has the means. What we need now is the opportunity.