Bernard Harkins, Scottish Labour’s MSP candidate for Midlothian North and Musselburgh, reflects on the response to Labour’s 1p tax policy and welcomes the debate it has generated.

 

“You don’t usually win elections by promising to put up tax.”

This comment was made to me recently during a discussion about the Labour Party and the Scottish Parliament elections. 

It’s been an interesting few weeks since Kezia Dugdale announced our 1p tax policy. Our political opponents have accused us of passing on austerity to those who can least afford it, we’ve been told that it’s not progressive and, perhaps a more informed discussion that I’ve been involved in on twitter, the policy has been questioned on the basis that an increase in council tax would be a better mechanism for delivering what we are trying to achieve.

These attacks have reminded me of the 1992 general election when the Tories attacked the ‘alternative budget’ put forward by John Smith. I fully expected to see, and I guess we still might, an updated version of the Tory billboard poster depicting ‘Labour’s Tax Bombshell’.

But I think there have been 3 significant, positive developments as a result of the announcement of our tax policy:

Debate on taxation

The policy has kick-started a debate about political choices and how we pay for the kind of society we want. This debate has been broadly welcomed.

Joyce McMillan writing in the Scotsman said

“Labour’s plan for a 1p rise in income tax has done the level of political debate a service.”

And Owen Jones, writing in the Guardian said

“Labour’s plan for a 1p income tax hike in Scotland would provide an alternative to austerity and help reclaim the torch of social justice from the SNP.”

And just to reinforce this, the two hustings that I have been involved in so far, both with S4-6 pupils,  have also included questions on tax. So the debate is certainly not just happening in the press or social media bubble. People are interested in what we’ve announced and are engaged with the discussion.

Progressive

The initial attacks from our political opponents were predicated on a view that our policy was not progressive; that rich and poor would pay the same. Under the weight of evidence from a number of different think tanks and commentators this claim has been exposed as being pretty threadbare.

Even Common Weal, not normally noted for their support of Labour Party policies, have supported the argument that this policy is progressive. As Ben Wray says:

“The policy is progressive on the basic metric that the poorest are having their tax burden reduced and the richest having it increased.” 

However, it is perhaps the briefing from SPICe (Scottish Parliament Information Centre) on the Scottish Rate of Income Tax  (SRIT) which has done most to answer and counter the arguments that use of SRIT is not progressive.

“The proposal to raise SRIT by 1p and offer a £100 rebate for those earning £20,000 or less leads to an increase in income for the poorest 30% of households, “with the richest paying significantly more than now (up to an additional £1,040 per year in the wealthiest 10 per cent of households).”

Public Attitude

On top of all of this, and despite what our opponents say, the response that I’ve received when we’ve been out campaigning has on the whole been receptive to what we are trying to do. People generally seem to be prepared to pay a bit more tax when they can see that it is being targeted towards a particular outcome.

Interestingly enough, on this point when I was looking for information for this blog I found an article in the Independent about the 1992 general election.

One of the points made is that people were not averse to high taxation per se, but are concerned with how effectively money can be spent to improve things. This tends to support what I am finding during this election on the doorstep and out in the streets.

45 days to go….

No one fighting this election for Labour in Scotland underestimates the scale of the task ahead.

But under the leadership of Kezia Dugdale and Alex Rowley we are setting out clear and different policies from the SNP on tax, fracking and a willingness to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

The choice, and how we use those powers, is for the people of Scotland to make in 45 days time.