What the Scottish Liberal Democrats should be saying in 2016

The Liberal Democrat manifesto for the Scottish elections this spring needs to be a cracker or we will not be noticed, even by the 5 per cent of voters who are thinking of supporting us.  So let me suggest a list of radical ideas.

First, we should be arguing for a 3p rise in income tax to raise around £1bn for public services.  Just about every day there is an example of our schools, colleges, health and care services, social work departments, police and fire brigades, libraries, sports fields etc. being short of money.  And George Osborne is only half way through his austerity programme.  This constant cutting has to end and we should be honest with people and say we all need to pay more in tax to halt this drastic decline in our public services. And while on the subject of income tax, we should say that from next year onwards (when Scotland gets its new powers) those earning over £60,000 a year should pay income tax at 50 per cent, so raising another £100m for public services.

Of course, extra funding should not be pumped into these public services without constant reform. The funding should be targeted….on struggling schools, poor communities, on preventive medicine not expensive treatments for the very old.     

Second, we should call for an end to the Council Tax freeze.  Councils should be able to fix their own tax rates, for both householders and businesses.  Let’s have a bit of local democracy and an end to the one-size-fits-all mentality.  As to the debate over the local taxation system, we should be leaving that to each local council….some will want to up-date the present banding system, some will want to explore a land value tax, others may try a form of local income tax.  It is not an issue that should be decided nationally.

Third, we need to get serious about pollution charging….not just to save the planet but to provide funds for investment in new businesses, new jobs and new technology.  So we are talking about road-pricing, starting with the new Forth Crossing and going on to motorway charging and congestion charging in towns. Air passenger duty should be increased. Manufacturers and distributors of plastic bottles and other elaborate packaging should be charged for the pollution they are causing.  We need to engage in the debate over using up  what the conservationists are calling “natural capital.” We should be exploring ways of accounting for it and charging for it.

Fourth, we should be courageous about Europe.  Of course, the EU needs reform but we should be the leading advocates for Britain staying in the Union. We should be asking: How else are we to prevent a rush to the bottom over tax, labour laws, environmental standards, financial controls ?  Or how else can we control the multinational corporations or reach trade deals with the giants of America and China ?  Or, more fundamentally, how else are we to keep the peace in Europe ?

And lastly, we should come out unequivocally against Trident.  Scottish Labour has already done so – despite the official party line in London.  We should do the same and not be the only party in Scotland which sides with the Tories over this expensive, useless and immoral weapon.

You may think these are dare-devil policies which would frighten the voters. But they are what I believe are correct. Surely this is what politics should be about, parties putting forward their ideas clearly and honestly and asking the voters to support them.  If we Liberal Democrats don’t do this now, when we have nothing to lose, when will we do it ?

* John Knox is a member of Edinburgh South Liberal Democrats, a retired journalist and a recent council candidate.

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  • John Mitchell 4th Jan '16 - 4:36pm

    As a new member of the Liberal Democrats, I agree with a lot of the post and especially on scrapping the Council Tax freeze. Not only does it have less of a benefit to those on lower incomes but it’s also constraining local government further at a time when the current government is cutting the budget by a further 3.5% and has consistently squeezed local government during their time in government. It has cost around £2.5 bn to implement these measures during the SNP’s time in office. It’s not sustainable or fair and cannot reasonably continue.

    I would disagree with a couple of things and firstly on the Liberal Democrats radically altering their position on Trident for populism’s sake. For one, there would need to be a debate. I think Labour have only helped the SNP in coming out against it in Scotland and still being largely supportive at a UK level. If the Liberal Democrats follow suit it would only make the party look disunited if things were to go the same way.

    On Europe, I think there is a serious debate to be had. Some of the reasons for staying in are neatly outlined with cooperation in many areas being a big positive. However, the EU as an institution is also furthering its own ambitions at a quicker pace. I don’t think there has been enough discussion about the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or (TTIP) and what this could mean if and when it is ratified. Then there is the real possibility that Euro membership is an inevitability. Political union cannot function without a fiscal union and the European Union as it stands does not have both elements fully.

    I believe the Liberal Democrats should champion localism and seriously examine the new policing arrangements as the party has often done before and throughout this current parliament. The SNP have centralised in government and as Cosla said in their report, Scotland, has the most centralised government in Europe. It’s only the Liberal Democrats or Greens that will radically move power to our communities.

  • I agree with the income tax although even 1 penny on the basic rate would get attention and offer something different. I’d also suggest pledging to effectively decriminalise all drug use (as far as holyrood can) as that will get attention too.

    The election is fought under PR – with just 6% of the vote the party should be able to return 5 MSPs. With 4% of the vote only 1 MSP is likely to be returned and the party will slide into irrelevance north of the border.

    Unfortunately I believe the second scenario looks far more likely than the first as the party are very much a moderate status quo party.

  • I agree with most of this but the simple fact is any great policy or shift in direction is spoiled by the absolute hatred that Scottish voters had for the Coalition. Tim and Willie deserve a hearing but they wont get one unless one major step is taken. The next 5 months the Scottish party needs to keep apologising for the Coalition no more Sorry- buts no more talk of grown up politics just keep apologising till people are sick of it. The party has to survive these elections and this will work- hurt and embarrass im sure but it will work.

  • @simonshaw

    Why stop there? If it’s not devolved why should any political party in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland be allowed to have a view? It seems entirely sensible and liberal to prevent people from having views on such matters in the Celtic fringes.

  • the problem with tax and spend is the electorate tend to disagree in the polling booth. 3p should get a good reduction in votes. the 50p rate can’t be introduced on its own, the Scottish tax raising powers have to be equal on all bands.

    The council tax freeze is popular and probably the only way out is replacement.

    Road pricing, air passenger duty etc should get the 4% support even lower.

    The reality is that no matter what is said in May it is not going to be a good result, coming out with vote losers is going to just make sure of a wipeout.

    The Greens are looking at taking seats on the list. There is little room for Lib Dems.

  • Being a Scottish LibDem, I will definitely vote for another party, if our own comes up with a tax hike manifesto.

    I work, while my wife is desperately trying to find a new job for over 6 months now. We count as a family when it comes to her getting the Job Seeker Allowance (she can’t get any of it any more, because I work). For some strange reason it works differently when we pay taxes: there is zero tax allowance I have for a non-working wife.

    Thank you, I am paying enough. Not a penny more, certainly, not for “sports fields”.

  • Bruce Hosie 4th Jan '16 - 7:36pm

    John raising income tax or council tax is a non starter I suspect in the eyes of many voters. We are about to see huge amounts of local authority workers being made redundant so the time to raise tax for local services is past, it is too little tool late. What we can do is oppose Trident renewal, which we won’t, bring in a local income tax and a wider debate on public services, which we won’t either. We can take a stand on EU membership, while I am undecided on the vote but lean more towards staying in, we need to have a campaign on the positives but not in partnership with any other party. We can stand on an actual policy of real federalism for the UK. All powers to Holyrood except maybe foreign affairs and defense, again we won’t. Sadly the lessons from last year have not been learned, the Alistair Carmichael affair has damaged the party in Scotland, support for the bombing of Syria hurts us also. We have a long way back and right now we need to find a Scottish message around real devolution of power to Holyrood and local authorities, we need to be seen to stand up for Scotland. We need to stop the SNP bad mantra and start to worry more about ourselves and offering real costed alternatives to voters. Sadly I have little faith in the leadership doing any of that. I thank you for thinking out the box as we need more of that but sadly not enough in the party will be doing the same.

  • @simonshaw

    Ah right, so the rest of the UK must do what England decides. Seems entirely reasonable.

  • @ Adrian “people won’t vote for a tax rise – people don’t want council tax to rise (but they do want better councils)”

    And that’s called grown up politics ?

  • There’s nothing liberal or progressive about massive tax hikes for low earners. I’m not against raising more money for better public services but this combination of tax changes would push thousands over the edge. Quite ridiculous.

  • David Raw 4th Jan ’16 – 9:00pm………………@ Adrian “people won’t vote for a tax rise – people don’t want council tax to rise (but they do want better councils)”…………..And that’s called grown up politics ?……….

    No, but I think it’s a reflection of Britain today….When asked, ‘people’ support workers’ rights except, of course, when the ‘workers’ exercise these rights……

  • Rather than stabbing around in the dark, has the author of this article asked locals in his area about what they want our of their government?

    1. Find out what the people care about.
    2. Campaign on that.

    This is basic campaign logic.

  • David Faggiani 5th Jan '16 - 4:46pm

    Drug decriminalisation in Scotland, yes. That would be good.

    Why not a pledge to allow Councils to vary Council Tax, as long as it’s explained in advance, broken down proportionally (in a pie chart statement explaining projected/capped annual spending), and then put to an online (and postal on request) borough referendum?

  • Peter Watson 5th Jan '16 - 11:24pm

    @Hireton “@simonshaw Ah right, so the rest of the UK must do what England decides.”
    In some ways, yes!
    Simon raises an important issue. As a party, the Lib Dems are strongly opposed to Scottish independence but support devolution. This means the party has to balance the line between devolving policy decisions to Scottish Lib Dems where possible but maintaining a consistent UK policy where necessary. Devolving policy making too far risks making it hard(er) to understand what the party as a whole stands for.
    Defence certainly seems like something that requires a UK-wide position. In the particular case of Trident this is complicated by the fact that the party’s position is something of a policy vacuum.

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