Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Tax Test

Dear Nicola

It's November, and here in Edinburgh it is cold, wet and windy. Last night I walked past three people sleeping rough just up the road from Harvey Nics. A wee reminder - in the form of a kick in the ethical ribs - that there is lots more to do on poverty.

And what a great time to do it, Nicola. You are going to win a landslide victory next May. Frankly, you have so much political capital that you could propose we all paint our teapots pink and you'd still get in; we'd be out there next day with the candy-coloured paint and the brushes.

Yes, you are starting to move, or be moved; the land reform policies will open up Scotland's acres to more productive, better shared use; but that will take time - 20 years? 50 years? And your focus on education is the right one - better schools and schooling focused on the poorest people will help - but again, that's for the next generation of schoolkids, maybe 15 years away.

We need impact, now. Impact on as many of the causes of poverty as you and all your advisers can lay their hands on. And if that means defying Westminster and working outside the to-be-signed Scotland Act, then #naefear - go ahead and defy them. Yes to better benefits, yes to extra nutrition for kids in school, yes to employment projects, yes to more cooperatives, yes to forcing power companies to cut charges for the poorest people, yes to social housing and yes to a nationwide programme of insulating homes.

Yes to it all, to a full scale war on poverty in Scotland.

And yes to paying for it from taxes.

This is the tax test, Nicola. Are you willing to give up a wee bit of your party's political capital -  to drop from 'Galactic Scottish Superstar' to 'Comet Commander' - for the sake of the war on poverty? 

You would lose some voters (although you would win others) were you to announce that you will raise the taxes of the better-off in order to fund a war on poverty. But that is the proper way to fight the fight; to signal to everyone in Scotland that poverty, and exaggerated wealth, are unacceptable. To put into action your own words about the damage that the wealth gap inflicts on Scotland.

It means adding a penny or two to higher rates of tax, and tackling wealth held in real estate. These will not be enough, and no doubt your economics team can come up with more and better. Those clear signals to wealth - yes, you can be wealthy but you must pay your share -  are as important in building a fairer society as your education programmes for poor kids. Link that new tax income to immediate, visible, demonstrable success in the war on poverty and you will bring us all with you.

Take the tax test, Nicola. Show us what you can do, now.

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