Tartan tax

Alex Salmond and the late Donald Dewar in 1997

By Andy Mackie

John Swinney and the SNP government are set to come under attack today for letting Holyroods’ tax raising powers lapse.

The furore surrounding this has been intense and the SNP’s political adversaries have siezed upon the subject. However, getting past political bluster the decision in principle of refusing to pay £7m to maintain the ability to us e the tax raising powers is a sound one. Not least because none of the 4 major parties in Scotland have shown any inclination to use the powers.

Indeed 2 weeks ago when I wrote an article about the Scottish Green Partys’ proposal to use parliaments tax varying powers the responses I received from the major parties ranged from un enthusiastic to downright hostile. indeed the Lib Dems finance spokesman said: “The Green Party has no credibility at all. They have called for more and more expenditure but have not done as we did and identified the waste and bureaucracy that needs to be tackled. This should be the priority; not putting up taxes for low or medium earners to a grotesque amount as the Green Party are advocating.” Yet today the same Lib Dems who are part of the coalition government in Westminster are implementing swingeing cuts to jobs, public services and benefits are railing against a decision to not spend £7m to safeguard a power they have no intention of implementing.

This is not, however to let Swinney and the SNP off the hook. In his defence Swinney yesterday said that MSP’ could not be informed of every piece of information with parliament then MSP’s would need bigger briefcases. This is undoubtedly true but this was a rather large and fundamental piece of information. Furthermore it was on an issue that the SNP campaigned vigorously on back in 1997 and one which the public may well have been interested in.

It should also be noted that on November 10th, only two weeks ago, an SNP spokesperson had this to say on the tartan tax: “The SNP has no plans to implement the 3p tartan tax at present. We believe that it would have a negative effect on household budgets.” Surely the SNP press office knew that the tartan tax was not an option until at least 2013 at this point? Or was the reason they had no plans to implement it the fact that they, but not the Scottish public, knew it was not possible?


Political mavericks

I recently reported from the Scottish Green party conference where Robin Harper made his last speech before standing down as a MSP. It got me thinking about where all the characters and political mavericks have gone.

One of the most refreshing aspects of the first two Holyrood elections in 1999 and 2003 was that proportional representation allowed for the election of independents and minority parties. Robin Harper became the first Green parliamentarian in 1999 and was joined by 5 other Green MSPs in 2003. Similarly Tommy Sheridan and his former party, the SSP, made strong showings. Independent voices such as Dennis Canavan and Margo Macdonald were also elected.

This gave us a parliament with some colourful characters who were free of traditional party political constraints. People genuinely liked someone like Robin Harper and whether they agreed with all the Greens policies or not they recognised his passion for the environment and social justice. Likewise whatever has subsequently happened in his private life Tommy Sheridan was as charismatic a politician as Scotland has produced in recent times. The man in the street believed Sheridan was talking for him.

So as the 2011 elections beckon what is the outlook for our  minority and independent politicians. The answer is a mixed bag. There may be an opportunity for parties or politicians offering a fresh alternative to gain votes from all the major parties. Labour and SNP both have scars of being in power, whether in Holyrood or Westminster,  and may be on the defensive. The Conservatives still have the toxic Tory handle up here and are unlikely to make any inroads. The Lib Dems meanwhile could pay a particularly high price in Scotland, where the Conservatives are hated, for their actions in coalition.

But is there anyone well placed to take advantage. There is always a possibility of a strong socialist party garnering votes in the old industrial heartlands. However the SSP may be fatally wounded by the Tommy Sheridan affair and Sheridan himself, the most electable socialist previously, will struggle to make a Lazarus like comeback. George Galloway is threatening to run and would probably stand a sporting chance of being elected. I would welcome this for even though I don’t agree with all his views Galloway is a great orator and will at least put the cat amongst the pigeons.

The party who seem best placed to benefit are the Greens. Their vote while falling in 2007 did not collapse as spectacularly as the SSPs and they maintained 2 seats. On the plus side they have wisely positioned themselves as a left social justice party opposing cuts and have some momentum from Caroline Lucas’ Westminster victory. They have however lost, in Harper, their best known politician and are still seen as many as a one trick pony.

It will be interesting to see what happens and I for one hope we get as wide a spectrum of views elected as possible.

Greens back tartan tax

By Andy Mackie

The Scottish Green party is the first in Scotland to propose using  Holyrood’s tax raising powers.

A motion was passed at the party’s annual conference, held in Edinburgh at the weekend, to oppose cuts to services and to look at taxation as a tool to achieve this. Explaining this stance in the run up to next years Holyrood elections Patrick Harvie MSP said:  “We don’t want the electorate to be faced with five political parties proposing five different flavours of cuts. In doing this we have to acknowledge that, unfortunately, other ways of raising revenue have to be explored.”

Harvie acknowledged that the tax varying powers available are limited. He said: “You can only change the basic rate, I would love it if we could raise the higher rate making it a more progressive system.” Harvie added that the party would also be looking into ways of implementing local taxation. He said: “We will be looking at a broader range of local taxes that can be more progressive and ensure that those with the broadest shoulders do pay more.”

The other parties in Scotland, however, do not share the Greens enthusiasm for tax increases. Liberal Democrat Finance spokesperson Jeremy Purvis MSP said: “The Green Party has no credibility at all. They have called for more and more expenditure but have not done as we did and identified the waste and bureaucracy that needs to be tackled. This should be the priority; not putting up taxes for low or medium earners to a grotesque amount as the Green Party are advocating.”

The SNP pointed out that any tax increase would impact on all families their spokesperson said: “The SNP has no plans to implement the 3p tartan tax at present. We believe that it would have a negative effect on household budgets.”

The Scottish Labour party stopped short of ruling out the policy, a spokesperson said: “Labour will look carefully at all the evidence but there are practical difficulties with the Green’s proposals which would be hard to overcome.”

The Scottish Conservatives were unavailable for comment.

Greens claim to be only alternative.

By Andy Mackie

The Green party are the only party in the UK offering a radical and progressive alternative.

That was the message given to the Scottish Green Party conference by Caroline Lucas MP on the day that the party had passed a motion to consider using the Scottish Parliaments tax raising powers.

Lucas, the Greens  first ever Westminster representative, used the platform to slam all four major Sottish parties. Criticising the coalition government for its cuts she said: “Cuts that are knowingly aimed at the most vulnerable? Cuts that, as even the Institute for Fiscal Studies recently confirmed, clearly hit the poorest hardest, and women most of all?” She went on to comment on the Lib Dems position: ” I don’t criticise Nick Clegg and those around him for agreeing to work with other parties. But I do criticise him for the terms of that deal.”

Turning her attention to the Conservatives she attacked David Cameron for misleading the public over green affairs stating: “Many people were taken in by Cameron’s silky words on the environment. Vote Blue, get Green. It sounds so much better than Vote Blue, Screw You. Now we see the reality.”

Of the Labour party she said that the party was stuck in the past and unable to offer a progressive opposition. Lucas said: “even with the passing of Blair
and Brown, they are still stuck in the New Labour nightmare. ”

Lucas also attacked the SNPs record in government stating: “The tired SNP government has run out of steam.”

Earlier in the day the conference had voted on an emergency motion regarding the proposed cuts to public services. The motion stating the Greens opposition to these cuts and opening the possibility of using the parliaments tax varying powers to achieve this was passed overwhelmingly.

Greens can be kingmakers says Harper

By Andy Mackie

The Scottish Green party can emulate its Australian counterpart and be kingmakers in next Mays Scottish elections according to Robin Harper MSP.

Harper, speaking at the party conference for the last time before standing down after twelve years as a MSP said: “We should be prepared to enter an agreement with another party who would be willing to offer us one or two seats in cabinet”, continuing, “It will only take a swing of two to three percent to return up to nine Green MSPs. Let us aim as high as possible and achieve this.”

Harper had looked back over his 25 year involvement with green politics thanking all those involved in the Greens  over that period and reflected on the parties political achievements. These included concessions in areas such as GM crops, national parks, fishing stocks and climate change. He also spoke of his satisfaction at the recent hate crime law which was the first piece of Green party legislation to be passed.  On these achievements he stated: “The Green party has laid down roots in Scottish politics it is now time for it to flower.”

Earlier party co-convenor Patrick Harvie MSP had paid tribute to Harper by saying: “Robin can look back with satisfaction on the last decade or so of electoral success. His commitment and dedication in the tough years before electoral success helped make the subsequent success possible”. Harvie went on to cite the electoral gains of the Green parties in Australia, Germany and Brazil as inspiration for the Scottish party.

The conference at Edinburgh Napier’s Craiglockhart campus concludes tomorrow when Caroline Lucas MP will deliver a keynote speech.