THE Tory Levelling Up programme has provided Scotland with few rewards.

Earlier this month, I took on the role of SNP Levelling Up Spokesperson – a year on from the Conservative Government publishing its white paper on the programme, detailing how it will “spread opportunity more equally across the UK”.

A lot has changed since then, to put it mildly, but Tory commitments to the programme and the wealth disparity across the four nations remain unchanged. With nearly all of Scotland’s 59 Westminster constituencies falling further behind, according to Bloomberg UK’s Levelling Up Scorecard, Scotland has been forgotten by Westminster yet again.

The second round of Levelling Up funding in January 2023 saw £177 million distributed to Scotland. This figure is a let-down – considering it’s simply 8.4% out of the possible £2.1 billion. This Westminster system cannot meet our needs and continually leaves behind many local authorities including my constituency of Airdrie and Shotts.

Across my local area, many are facing hardship. Cruel cuts from the Labour-run North Lanarkshire Council to vital local services such as swimming pools and leisure centres will result in people’s physical and mental health being impacted.

And Tory economic incompetence means that food banks continue to grow in number to keep up with demand – with many people, and particularly those in low-paid jobs, struggling to get by.

These are the sorts of issues we need to be tackling immediately.

We, in Scotland, know this.

While Levelling Up funds will be spent on devolved issues, there will be no input from the Scottish Parliament. Yet prior to Scotland being forcibly dragged out of the European Union, EU regional development policy allocated Scotland up to €944m (£827.6m) in structural and investment funding for the period 2014 to 2020 and the Scottish Government played a key role in directing this funding.

Brexit blocked Scotland’s access to these funds and, as a replacement, the Brexiteers – led by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – offered fabricated promises of £1.5bn a year for Scottish devolved services. With only £177m delivered from the Levelling Up fund in 2023, this means that for every £1 the UK Government promised, they have given Scotland around 11.8p and Scotland has been short-changed by an incredible 88%.

Instead, much of the “Levelling Up” funding is going to strengthen Tory seats in England – 52 out of the 111 communities chosen to receive Levelling Up money in January 2023 are Tory constituencies. Even in England, out of the 80 successful bids for funding, only half are among the 100 most deprived areas of the country.

Meanwhile, wealthier areas including Richmondshire borough in North Yorkshire, which covers more than half the Richmond seat of the wealthiest MP in the Commons (who also happens to be Prime Minister Rishi Sunak), received funding.

As communities are pushed to compete against each other for funding, it appears that those financial advantages are seemingly given to areas where the Tories seek to bolster their vote.

Could it be that Levelling Up is nothing but blatant cronyism, masquerading behind the thin veil of regional development for the masses?

My constituency of Airdrie and Shotts could make great use of this funding, like protecting our vital wellbeing facilities from the damage of a Labour-run North Lanarkshire Council’s budgetary mismanagement.

The UK Government must justify why it is leaving so many disadvantaged communities high and dry while the cost of living continues to rise.

A third tranche of Levelling Up funding is yet to be distributed. Rather than the botched and broken system of funding distribution from Westminster, it is time to transfer the funding powers to Holyrood. That will serve as the first step in ensuring fair and efficient use of funds.

However, the reality for Scotland is that only the full powers of independence will truly unlock our ability to decide what is best for our diverse communities. Until such point, Westminster will always attempt to dictate our local affairs with relentless power grabs that undermine both our parliament and our people.

Payment for this article was donated to Diamonds in the Community.