LibLink: Willie Rennie: SNP obduracy on using tax powers shows party is no champion of progressive politics

Willie Rennie’s ambition for better education and health services in Scotland has been clear and so has his ambition to use the tax raising powers given to the Scottish Parliament. His plan for a penny on income tax for an almost half billion investment in education to introduce the Pupil Premium, extend nursery education and reverse cuts to college and schools funding.

The SNP, having squealed blue murder for years about not having enough powers to do anything, fails to use them when they are given them.

Willie often says these days that the SNP “talk left and walk right” and he has written a damning critique of the SNP’s approach in the Herald.

As it was a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State who delivered these new tax powers, it is perhaps not surprising that we were the first to propose using them to transform education in Scotland. By putting a penny for education onto income tax bands, we would raise £475 million a year.

Willie’s proposals have brought outrage from SNP and Tories alike. Finance Minister John Swinney said he would rather sacrifice public sector jobs (which in turn affects the most vulnerable) than raise tax rates. The Resolution Foundation says a tax rise is progressive. Willie challenges the SNP:

The reaction from the SNP and the Tories to the LibDem plans has verged on the hysterical. I have been branded a “tax grabber” and been lectured by Nicola Sturgeon in terms that Margaret Thatcher would have endorsed.

This reaction gives the lie to any claims from the SNP that they are the champions of progressive politics in Scotland. It has been clear for some time that the First Minister and her colleagues have made a habit of talking Left but walking Right. Their failure to protect education is the clearest example yet of their doublespeak in action.

US Vice-President Joe Biden once said: “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” By these standards, it is impossible for the First Minister to argue credibly that she values education.

He challenges the SNP’s claim to be an anti austerity party:

For the last five years we have been told repeatedly by the SNP that Scotland needs new tax powers because of Tory austerity. Well, now Scotland has tax powers yet Ms Sturgeon is refusing to use them. It is time that she started delivering on her anti-austerity rhetoric. A penny for education would be a good start.

You can read his whole article here.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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17 Comments

  • Kenneth Carr 11th Feb '16 - 6:11pm

    And yet, only last year..

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/new-campaign-poster-highlights-tax-cut-45312.html

    Or perhaps tax cuts and tax rises are both progressive?

  • Barry Snelson 11th Feb '16 - 7:05pm

    I do love LibDemVoice and take off my hat to those who make it such an enjoyable read but it does seem fond of tax and ever more tax. It’s not a one way bet, though. The people who worked hard to earn that money seem to think it was theirs and resent an ever greater proportion of it being taken from them.
    They accept it, up to a point, but their interest in creating more wealth decreases as tax rates increase and society’s most energetic and enterprising individuals abstain from the very activity we need for us all to prosper, As Stalin discovered when he collectivised the farms – the best farmers just stand with their hands in their pockets and watch it fail.

  • tax and spend never works. people don’t like paying tax. a few deluded individuals might think they do but in the polling booth they don’t vote for tax increases. Labour tried tax rises in 1992 election campaign and pulled defeat from the jaws of victory. SNP tried penny for Scotland and it didn’t work. If Lib Dems want to suggest tax rises then they can do it from the wilderness of opposition.

  • Mick Taylor 11th Feb '16 - 8:05pm

    Most people on this site are far too young to remember that before Thatcher income tax rates were far higher than they are now with a basic rate of over 30% and a top rate of 98% – and that was true even for Tory Governments. Only a few rich pop stars complained about it and most people accepted that – as JK Galbraith so eloquently put it – tax is the price we pay for a civilised society.
    Since then that Thatcher mantra that tax was an evil imposition has been adopted not only by the Conservative Party but by Labour and, alas, the Liberal Democrats.
    Of course the truth is that all that has happened is that income tax, which bore a direct relation to how much you earned, has been cut and a raft of indirect taxes have taken its place. It is of course wholly dishonest to try and hide the effect of taxes in this way.
    Our policy of raising the tax allowance merely cut the direct taxes people pay and freed them up to buy things which are taxed, more highly than they would be if income taxes were higher.
    If politicians stopped trying to bamboozle the public about tax and instead were honest, then by showing the use to which income taxes could be put if they were a little higher, a solid case could be made for the sort of proposal Willie is putting forward.

  • nigel hunter 11th Feb '16 - 8:21pm

    Tax is a necessary evil. Raise it by 1penny stating exactly where the increase will go in perpetuity written in law. Yes we now pay a considerable sum through indirect taxation, which is not well publicised, that puts the price of goods up. The latest is, possibly, a tax on sugar. With the drop in oil prices where will the prosperity of Scotland both socially and economically come from? A small tax rise could go some way to help.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Feb '16 - 8:26pm

    Willie Rennie can get away with this because he’s not seen as a big tax and spend guy, but people don’t yet know Tim Farron. It is unclear what kind of appetite there is for Tim’s slightly Christian focused liberalism.

    Tim’s got my support, but it would be useful to have a more data-based politics. People say evidence based policies are good, but this should include evidence on popularity too.

    I often through away my own mantra of “what’s right is what’s popular”, but I think data is a good way to settle some of the more ideological disputes.

  • Paul Holmes 11th Feb '16 - 8:54pm

    Agree absolutely with Mick Taylor. Our 3 most successful elections in the best part of a hundred years were those of 1997, 2001 and 2005 in each of which we promised a Penny on Income Tax and a 50p Higher Tax band. Yet I well remember some ‘Lib Dems in Public Relations’ presentation on Poll findings to the Parliamentary Party after 2005 (62 MP’s elected). This showed how popular the 50p Tax policy was with voters but he contemptuously dismissed it and asked “How long can you keep that policy?”

    Until we became a Party of Tax Cutters after Dec 2007 was the answer.

    If people believe a Tax is fair and will be spent properly they will support it.

  • Barry Snelson 11th Feb '16 - 9:12pm

    Mick,
    Some of us can remember only too well the days of ‘Sunny Jim Callaghan’ but I am struggling to recall a Golden Age where we all embraced the teachings of Father Galbraith and were overjoyed to pay our taxes.
    I recall a dark and miserable era. I revised for my finals by candlelight because the power workers were on strike, but then again nearly everyone was on strike.
    In fact, no period could more powerfully demonstrate what some of us are saying.
    It was a high tax age and one of the particularly grim absence of any sense of energy, enterprise or drive for the future.

  • These comments just show exactly why the lib dems are in the position they are in. They don’t stand for anything. This tax affects all rates of income tax payers, it hits hard working families to pay for very important services that hardworking families use.

    So, taxing most working people more to pay for important services, good idea or bad idea?

    About half the party seem to think it’s good and the other half seem to think it’s bad.

    What do lib dems in power do? Well now they’re proposing it but as the first poster said, a year ago the message was almost exactly the opposite.

    Labour also want to raise income tax, but that is consistent with who labour are.

    In 2010 millions of people voted lib dem only to discover that the party that went into government with the conservatives and increased tuition fees wasn’t the party that they thought they were so they got angry and stopped voting for them.

    People don’t know who the lib dems are and can’t trust them, and the party can’t fix this because even the party don’t seem to know who they are either.

  • @Barry Snelson
    It may surprise you to hear that during the “high tax age” you talk about, taxes were significantly lower than they were during the Thatcher years. Mick Taylor is right – politicians from Thatcher onwards have been systematically pretending to be tax cutters (mainly by chipping away at income tax) while increasing & inventing a myriad other taxes to bring the overall tax burden up. It really has all been a terrific con.

    On the other hand, the con ought not to have been necessary, since fretting about high taxes – within reason – is in my view borderline irrational, seeing as most of the countries with the highest standards of living in the world also have high tax rates. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Most countries with very low tax rates are not the kinds of places you would want to live. We should be focusing on having a strong GDP and high living standards first, and the chances are that if we achieve those things, we’ll almost certainly find that we have a high tax rate as well – but that’s OK.

  • Barry Snelson 11th Feb '16 - 10:47pm

    Stuart,
    So which indirect taxes is Rennie (and yourself perhaps) proposing to reduce to keep the total tax take exactly the same?

  • @nigelhunter
    “With the drop in oil prices where will the prosperity of Scotland both socially and economically come from? ”

    From the rest of the economy. Without oil Scotland has the highest GVA per capita after London and SE England and of course the oil revenues go straight to the Treasury in London.

  • What a joy to be able to agree with Mick Taylor.

  • Victor Grayson 12th Feb '16 - 2:57pm

    @mick Taylor, yes this country was a much happier and soul full place before the corrupting days of mrs thatcher.

  • John Mitchell 12th Feb '16 - 8:08pm

    I fully support the Liberal Democrat proposal to increase income tax by 1p in Scotland. The Lib Dems have also clearly stated where they wish to spend the money raised and in education. If anything, I would have been slightly more radical with the proposals but I understand the reluctance to do so.

    It’s a great myth as it always has been that the SNP are ‘progressive.’ That’s also a word that Hillary Clinton now bands about a lot, but like the SNP she does not seem to provide any context as to what it actually means to her.

    The SNP’s policies in government have been more middle class welfarism and a slant towards business (like the Conservatives) than anything really radical. As Labour have said to the SNP, ‘name one redistributive policy’, this is met with silence. Now, with the chance to take a stand, the Scottish National Party instead allow their own timidity and continuing grievance to maintain its grip.

  • I have spoken to a lot of people about this and it’s a vote loser. I voted against this at the conference in Dunfermline as I felt it was a huge mistake. Voters are very aware of the trap that is the tax responsibilities , we would be better arguing for proper tax powers and then introduce new bands and lower bands for the lowest paid. This policy is misguided and a sound bite, no one I have spoken to agrees with it

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 14th Feb '16 - 12:41pm

    Actually, Bruce, that’s not the experience of everyone I’ve spoken to who’s been regularly canvassing since the policy was announced. It’s going down well. People appreciate that you don’t get good public services without decent investment and everyone has an interest in the next generation being well-educated.

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