Choices for Scotland in May 2016
In May, Scotland chooses its Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) for probably the next five years. What do the parties offer in terms of taxation and spending?
Clearly there are many reasons to vote for an MSP. In Scotland the biggest issue is whether independence should be pursued or not, and the SNP being the main protagonists have marshalled much of the vote their way. Other policy issues include the presence of nuclear weapons on Scottish soil, land ownership reform and environmental issues. Further down the list in terms of the amount of noise generated are the various taxation and spending proposals.
In no particular order, here’s what the parties offer.
Scottish Green Party
The opening gambit from the Scottish Greens on their Economy page is “We will make a clean break from austerity to create a more equal society and job-rich economy.”
This breaks down into the following policy propositions:
- Increase minimum wage to £10 per hour by 2020
- Roll back anti-trade union laws, restrict the use of zero-hour contracts and return employment tribunals to being free
- Invest millions of pounds into sustainable jobs
- Restore universal benefits, roll back welfare cuts, “Bedroom tax” and Universal Credit
- Replace benefits with a “Citizens’ Income”
On the taxation side, where money clearly needs to be found to pay for the above, information is harder to come by. But here’s what I’ve uncovered:
- Replace council tax with a local taxation based on wealth
- Presumably an increase in income taxation, given the criticism of the SNP’s proposal to maintain the current income tax levels
Scottish Conservative Party
Much of the noise on the Scottish Conservatives site is criticisms of the other parties. But there is a theme running through the criticisms, and that is that there should be no tax increases and possibly even tax cuts.
After three pages of articles, I found one that celebrates the delivery of devolution. The part of interest to the Scottish Conservatives is that Scotland now moves closer to financial sustainability, being responsible not just for spending but also for raising at least some taxes.
We will need to wait for a more granular policy manifesto, but we can likely expect to see a convergence with government policies south of the border, such as prescription charges and student fees.
Scottish Liberal Democrats
The Scottish LibDems major as always on education and investment. Their spending plans includes:
- £475 million for education
- £108 million for Scottish colleges (from the same budget?)
- Further NHS investment, including GPs
- Emphasis on mental health and addiction
As with other parties, the funding principles are unclear. Usefully, however, the LibDems have a “premanifesto” which makes things simpler for social economic bloggers. The only mention of taxation appears to be a greater emphasis on local taxation, with an broadening of the zero-rate income tax band. The missing link might be an increase to higher tax bands, but we will need to wait and see.
Unfortunately finding out UKIP’s proposals for Scotland means looking further than UKIP Scotland’s website. UKIP’s main raison d’etre is to leave the EU, however, and to limit immigration. At a national level, UKIP proposes lower taxation and, one would assume, lower spending.
Scottish Labour Party
Unlike other parties, the Scottish Labour Party have stated that they intend to raise the amount of income tax paid with a new 11p band. That’s in addition to the 10p already imposed by George Osborne, so 21p rather than 20p as it is currently. They also state that 810,000 workers in Scotland will not lose a single penny with the greater force of their complete proposals falling progressive more with income. I wasn’t sure how the numbers added up, given that they claim half a billion pounds will be raised with their tax proposals. Or about £200 per year per taxpayer (2.6 million of them). Or, once the lucky 810,000 are removed, more like £300 per remaining taxpayer.
Scottish Labour also proposes changing the council tax to a property value-based tax, claiming this leaves 80% of people better off.
On the spending side, Scottish Labour targets:
- Education, notably the £130m of cuts made by the SNP
- Local government, again hit by cuts
- Health, emphasising mental health and GPs
Scottish National Party
The SNP has governed Scotland as a majority since 2011 and as a minority before that. Although the SNP mostly focuses on its belief that Scotland should be an independent country, it also opposes many of the cuts that the UK government has made. So it will:
- Roll back the welfare cuts “as far as we can”
- Abolish the “Bedroom Tax”
- Address weaknesses in Universal Credit
This last one is interesting, as it sounds like the SNP isn’t entirely against this Conservative idea. Nevertheless, the SNP voted against all cuts proposed by Westminster.
Regarding taxation, we can expect an end to the freeze on council tax, with a raise in the amount those with more expensive properties will have to pay. As they state “…the average household in the highest band will pay around £10 a week more”. That’s £520 per year if you are unlucky enough to live in a top-banded property. The SNP’s position on income tax is interesting, as they claim nobody will pay more. However that means nobody will pay more than they do before Osborne’s tax cuts come into force. Relative to the rest of the UK, Scots will pay more income tax. A small increase in the Personal Allowance is a gesture especially to the lower paid. It’s worth £250 at 20%, or £50 per year.
Perhaps it’s too early to make decisive comment, but the tension between tax and spend will be one that the Scottish Parliament will have to face for the first time. Most parties want to spend more, and they are divided on how to raise the appropriate taxes. The SNP prefers to have policies which look more like those of the 2010 coalition government of the UK. Labour goes for an honest penny in the pound for all taxpayers while the LibDems and the Greens don’t yet spell out how they will fund their spending. The Conservatives won’t want to increase spending, being the party of low taxation. UKIP will likely plan to outdo them on this.
There are other parties too, and any standing across the country will be included in a later post. As we get closer to election day, 5 May 2015, I will flesh out the proposals as I see them for all parties.