I’ve been asked my thoughts on the Scottish election a few times this week, so I’ve decided to pen a few of them. It may make your blood boil. Some of it is a little tongue in cheek, but there’s some hard truth in it too.
The SNP tell us putting a penny on income tax will hurt the poorest in society more than anyone. This is a lie.
The poorest in Scotland don’t pay income tax. If you earn less than £11,000 this tax year, you’ll pay no income tax, whatever the rate. For those who do pay, income tax is progressive. It’s 1% of everything above the £11,000 figure. If you earn £12,000, you’ll pay an extra £10 in tax. If you earn £22,000, you’ll pay an extra £110 in tax. The poorest don’t pay more, than those who earn more will pay more than those who earn less.
The real reason the SNP are against raising tax is because people don’t like it. The Scottish Conservatives are honest about that, but the SNP aren’t. That’s the real reason they oppose a raise.
By all means, oppose a raise in income tax because you believe in low taxation, but don’t dress it up as a way of protecting the poorest.
Oh, and a quick note on the 50p tax rate. On page eight of the SNP’s 2015 manifesto, they support a 50p tax rate. This year, given the opportunity to implement it, they chose not to promise it, and attacked Labour for supporting it. Again, by all means oppose it for other reasons, but they’ve changed their tune for sheer political expedience and covered it up in hogwash.
One of the problems with the last session was that half of it was taken up by the independence referendum. This meant issues like missed A&E targets, falling literacy and numeracy rates, and chaos at the heart of the new, centralised Police Scotland got very little legislative attention.
Repeating that referendum will exacerbate the situation. We need to focus on legislating if we want to find a solution to those problems. You can’t just blame everything on “Wastemonster”.
I made my views on independence clear at the time. The referendum was run on a one-vote, matter-settled basis. The “Yes” side had two and a half years to convince people of their case. They didn’t. Time to move on.
Aha! But what if “the people”, or “public opinion”, suggest we want independence after all? Well, I have four points to make:
- They might change their mind again! Imagine that!
- Referendums are not like elections. They are designed to settle matters not forever, but for a generation. Check out the 1975 referendum on membership of the EEC. Did it mean everyone embraced Europe? Far from it. But the UK waited 41 years for another referendum nevertheless.
- You don’t run a referendum over and over again until you get the “right” answer. Remember Ireland and the Lisbon Treaty? That’s not the way to do it.
- It’s not just about Scotland. Independence would affect the rest of the UK and Europe too. It creates uncertainty. Uncertainty affects investment, and that affects growth. You have to draw a line. The line was drawn before the referendum. You can’t redraw it now.
So, despite my support for independence in 2014, I completely agree with Ruth Davidson. If the Prime Minister is asked to sanction another referendum, he should invite the proposer to take a hike and use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to make a real difference to Scotland.
Trident shouldn’t really be an issue in the Scottish election, as it’s a reserved issue. However, it doesn’t stop people making it an issue.
The usual argument is that replacing Trident would stop us investing in public services, and we’d all be jolly well better off (financially) without it. Let’s look at the maths, shall we?
Replacing Trident would, over 30 years, cost £167 billion under current estimates. Scotland’s share of that would be about 8%. Spread over 30 years, that’s just under £450 million a year.
Scotland’s current budget deficit is £15 billion per year, so it would account for, at current rates, about 4% of the current budget deficit.
Scrapping Trident wouldn’t make Scotland substantially richer. By all means, scrap Trident because you think it’s repugnant, but don’t do it because it will turn Scotland into a rich paradise. It won’t.
Education is not free. Someone has to pay for it. There are three ways of doing it:
- General taxation – everyone pays.
- Student fees – the student pays everything.
- Hybrid approach – university is funded partially through general taxation and partially through fees paid by the student (either upfront or after graduation).
In reality, the second approach is too expensive to be an option. So, it’s either general taxation or a hybrid approach. The SNP, Labour and the Liberal Democrats support funding higher education purely through general taxation. The Scottish Conservatives, meanwhile, support the hybrid option.
So, why do the other parties not support that option? That’s because they support “free” education.
Newsflash! It’s not free. You’re just asking all taxpayers to pay for it. Even if they didn’t go to university.
There is another objection. It’s the poor card again. Fees will put off poor students from going to university. Don’t believe it.
Upfront fees (where you need to pay before you go) will put off poor students from going to university, because they will struggle to find the money. However, that’s not what’s proposed, and that’s not how the system works in England either. Instead, the proposal (and the English system too) works by asking graduates to pay back their fees once they have their degree and are earning over a certain threshold.
If you get a degree and can’t get a job, or don’t earn much, you don’t pay anything back until you do. Once you do, you pay back a certain percentage above the threshold. It’s progressive. (Have you noticed how the SNP don’t like progressive taxation yet? Don’t worry, there’s one more coming.)
There is one area of concern, however, and that’s the cost of the loan to the student. I was fortunate to study between 2005-2008, and the interest rate on my loan is very fair – it’s broadly in line with inflation. Under current English student terms, the interest rate is RPI + 3%. That’s a raw deal for students (but loans are cancelled after 30 years). So, the terms are important, but the principal is not a bad one. And free education is a myth from that far away oil-rich egalitarian independent utopia (often called “Norway”).
OK, one final subject: council tax. This is a putrid tax – everyone is agreed on that. The SNP promised to abolish it in 2007. A committee has spent years reviewing it, with a view to abolishing or reforming it. And, come the end of it, what have the SNP promised to do with the putrid, hated tax they promised to abolish?
They’ll ask people in high-band houses to pay a bit more. Great, thanks for wasting our time. They won’t even conduct a revaluation of house prices and bands – data that’s 25 years old.
But living in a high-band house doesn’t mean you earn more. That’s one of the reasons it’s so hated. If you live in a small flat in a nice area, you might be in Band E, whereas in a house more than twice the size in a struggling area, you’ll be in Band B. Regardless of ability to pay. That’s regressive, not progressive. Shambolic. They had the opportunity to reform Council Tax, but haven’t got the political will to do it. Sad.
The SNP are being very conservative in this election, aren’t they? None more so than in their election billboards:
Don’t just hope for a better Scotland, vote for one.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Trouble is, it sounds very similar to Margaret Thatcher in 1979:
Don’t just hope for a better life. Vote for one.
Ah, Maggie. Still inspiring the SNP, 37 years on. OK, I know. Maggie doesn’t have a monopoly on inspiring (and hollow) slogans. But there is one important difference.
In 1979, Margaret Thatcher was the challenger. She was the Leader of the Opposition (an actual position, unlike the fake one Ruth Davidson is trying to “win”) at a time when the Labour Government was on its knees after the Winter of Discontent. The Conservative Party ran arguably the most famous election slogan of all time in that election: “Labour isn’t working”. And it wasn’t – for anyone.
Contrast that to now, Nicola Sturgeon is already the First Minister. She has been for about eighteen months. She has served as Deputy First Minister from 2007 to 2014. She is the incumbent.
It’s great to tell people they can vote for a better future, but when you’ve been in power so long, they shouldn’t have to. They should see you’re already doing it.
It’s amazing how parties can feign disagreement when their policies are near identical. Take healthcare, for example. The SNP have taken Labour to take because Labour will only increase health spending “in real terms” (i.e. above inflation – a good thing for the NHS budget, as it will increase).
When you look at the SNP manifesto, they promise to increase the NHS budget by £500 million. That’s a real terms increase, by another name. Labour don’t put a figure on their budget increase for health, but the policies are basically the same.
In the first STV debate, Willie Rennie had the opportunity to ask Kezia Dugdale anything he wanted. So, what did he decide to attack her on? Putting a penny on income tax to fund education. Fair game, right?
Well it would be, except that’s the Lib Dems’ policy too. And that, for me, sums up the Lib Dem campaign. Generally anonymous, and when given a chance, utterly hopeless.
So, there are my thoughts. The SNP will win a comfortable majority on Thursday. I’m not sure who will finish second, but it’s looking more like the Conservatives than Labour right now. The Greens will easily beat the Lib Dems to fourth.
And if you want to know which Regional list I’m watching out for… Highlands and Islands. Plenty of decent things to watch out for there. How strong are the SNP in Orkney and Shetland? How strong are the Lib Dems? What about UKIP? Will Jean Urquhart help RISE’s fortunes, and what about UKIP? A juicy region indeed.