Sunday, 20 December 2015

Swedish Dreams

Politics disappoints. Just when you thought that the politicians had understood a good idea - for example, the idea that we would head toward a Scandinavian social model, with a tax system that captured a wee bit more from people with more, to redistribute it to those with less - you find that they have not. This week's Scottish Budget is a case in point.

Kevin Hague, in his chokka blog demonstrates the point. Mr Hague, who is not in favour of independence but is good at maths (an unusual combination), shows the effect of a one penny increase in income tax. He calculates that a person on a £14,000 salary would take home just 65 pence less per week as the result of the tax rise. Meanwhile someone on £60,000 would take home £9.50 less. That looks like redistribution, doesn't it? People with more, paying more?

Yes, the Scottish Government is hobbled by the idiotic rules that mean that they have to put a penny on everyone's tax bands. They can't do what they say they would like to do which is to increase tax for the better off and leave it as it is for people on lower incomes.

But all through the independence debate we heard the dreams of Sweden. Of building a nation based on a more Scandinavian model, where we all contribute more, and where those with more contribute a lot more.

The SNP is riding on a wave of immense political capital. It would win next May's Holyrood elections even if it were to introduce a policy of boiling poodles. And it could signal to the electorate - including its  middle class, middle income supporters (amongst whom, me) - that yes, everyone has to pay a wee bit more if we want to build the Scotland that we dream of; a fairer, finer, land where people in need, children in poor families, and older people in fuel poverty, can get the help they so desperately need. The Government could have stood up to the cynicism and selfishness of Osbameron me-me-me politics by signaling that Scotland can be independent in thought (and taxation) even if we cannot be independent in law.

But they didn't. Thus we wake, disappointed, from our Swedish dream.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Tax Stupid

Westminster's system of taxation is byzantine. Its complexity allows Facebook, Starbucks, Google (yes, the host of this blog...) and others to dance around the system, paying next to nothing whilst taking profits from all of us.

The system appears even stranger when it comes to Scotland.

This week, John Swinney will publish his budget for next year. This should be an opportunity to tackle poverty in Scotland - to find new and better ways to help people in need. The, excuse me, bleedingly obvious thing to do is to vary tax rates such that people on higher incomes or with greater accumulated wealth put a wee bit more into the communal pot to help out those with less. Simple redistributive taxation.

But Mr Swinney can't do that. Thanks to the recommendations of the Calman Commission (2009), converted into law by the Scotland Act 2012, our Scottish Government has to change all the rates of tax if it wants to change one. These devilish details are in the small print, the stuff that most folk find too boring to read, but in essence they mean that if Mr Swinney wants to add a penny to the tax paid by someone on a high income...he also has to add a penny on the tax paid by everyone on a low income. You can find out why this does not work here and here.

So under the current rules, Scotland can do almost nothing to tackle the blight of poverty. Westminster has, yes, given us powers to change income tax, but it has bound us up like a turkey for Christmas in rules which make those powers meaningless. Rules hidden in the detail that voters will not read - so that Osbameron can continue to crow that "Scotland has the power to alter taxation" even if what he means is "We've stuffed the Scottish turkeys again. Hurrah."

When will Westminster stop treating us like children?

Friday, 4 December 2015

Dear No

Dear No Voter

Do you see, now? After this week’s vote in the House of Commons?

No, I don’t mean one vote on Syria. I mean the pattern.

I know that you voted for the best, for Scotland, for you and for your family. You will have thought about it a lot. Mebbe you thought of it as an ego trip for Mr Salmond. Mebbe you wondered about the pound or your pension. Mebbe you listened to Better Together, saying it would never work.

But what you really did was you voted No, positively. You positively chose to stay with Westminster. You positively chose to stay, therefore, with the two threads that have run through Westminster throughout your lifetime – neoliberalism, and Empire. All of the three main parties espouse these two lines. Neoliberalism means cutting back on Government, on taxation, on support for the poor. And Empire, the idea of Great Britain’s place among the world superpowers; GB with the A-bomb, with the power to strike wherever it wishes.

By voting No you positively chose neoliberalism and Empire. 

The vote to bomb Syria is not your specific choice. Mebbe. But you chose that pattern of voting, that style of politics that Westminster has stuck to, and will stick to, throughout all of your life.

Mebbe it’s time to think again. 

To allow Scotland to walk away from the dreadful dance of Westminster. Mebbe, in hindsight, that would have been better. Bairns, not bombs.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

I want to vote Yes. Now.

I don't want the Scotland I know and love to be part of a Westminster War. This is not our, Scotland's, war. It is Osbameron's war. It is the Bullingdon Bombing Club bullying the public and the Opposition into a war that will kill us all, morally if not mortally.

I don't want the Scotland I know and love to be part of Westminster. Not when we are facing a generation of Tory terror. (It will take at least that long for a reasonable Opposition - the scrag end of Labour, and, with luck, a new socially-concerned opposition party - to form itself in England.) We are belted in to 20 more years of Osbameron.

But we are not belted in. We could be free. We could walk quietly away from Westminster and its wars, and build a Scotland that is at peace with the world. 

We could vote Yes. 

I want to do that. Now.