THE Finance Secretary has defended the Scottish Government’s right not to raise tax thresholds in line with UK Tory policy, vowing to protect “vital public services” and prioritise health and education in his forthcoming Scottish Budget.

It comes as Jackson Carlaw, Scottish Conservative interim leader, pressed Nicola Sturgeon to rule out tax rises ahead of this Wednesday’s Budget.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay first pledged to take a “more progressive approach” to income tax than UK Chancellor Philip Hammond back in October.

Yesterday he said the Budget “will set out how we help protect Scotland as far as we can from the damaging uncertainty of the UK Government’s Brexit policy”.

The higher rate tax threshold in Scotland is currently set at £43,430, while the UK wide threshold of £46,351 – at which the 40p higher income tax rate applies – is due to rise to £50,000 from April 2019.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) Scotland has argued mirroring Tory Government income tax plans would cost Scotland more than an “unaffordable” £1 billion over four years.

Mackay said: “Our policies have already ensured that Scotland benefits from quality public services and our progressive reforms to income tax have protected those on the lowest incomes.”

Meanwhile, SNP MP Angela Constance claimed that the Tories were trying to “con” the public by claiming that their “ever growing list” of public spending demands could be met without raising taxes.

She added: “The Tories are trying to con voters by promising extra spending while handing high earners a tax cut – it just doesn’t add up. People know that public services need investment, and think it’s fair that higher earners pay their fair share to fund schools and hospitals.” However the Scottish Greens, who are looking for local tax reform, revealed that they have not yet entered formal negotiations with SNP ministers.

Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie said he would be “ready to talk” ahead of the Budget statement at Holyrood but stressed the need for “wider reform” that both protects services and cuts inequality.

With the SNP no longer having a majority in the Scottish Parliament, Mackay needs the support of at least one other party if his financial package is to be approved.

Liberal Democrats have already ended Budget talks with ministers – citing the SNP’s “damaging and costly plan for an independence referendum” as the reason.

Harvie said: “Three years ago this week the SNP agreed with the Greens, Labour and the LibDems that “the present system of council tax must end”.

“If they are unwilling to recommit to that policy ... then they will be choosing to close off any chance of reaching a Budget agreement with the Greens.”