Archive for the 'Scotland' Category


Turning on taxes. The tectonic plates of Scotland’s politics are moving

Thursday, December 10th, 2015


The changes in the way Scotland is taxed

We have heard a lot in the last few years about the desire for Scottish independence.  This has often been couched in general terms as a desire for a fairer and more prosperous Scotland based around a social democratic consensus.  Specific large scale points of difference from current UK policy, however, have been largely elusive.  While the Scottish Parliament has substantial powers, so far the Scottish government has been quite tentative about how it has used them.  Positive policies first introduced in Scotland include the indoor smoking ban (borrowed from Ireland), a charge on plastic bags (also borrowed from Ireland), free personal care for the elderly and a reorganisation of the police into a single national force.  Scotland’s points of departure from the rest of the UK have often been more negative than positive – declining to introduce student fees and not updating NHS structures being good examples.  Taken as a whole, successive Scottish governments have been small c conservative administrations.

Scottish nationalists may argue that the scope of powers devolved has to date been quite limited.  However, some tax-raising powers have been devolved for many years, but have been left largely idle.  So far as the last few years are concerned, this could be interpreted either as timidity on the part of the SNP or as an unwillingness to make devolution work for fear that a successful devolution might weaken the demand for independence.  The one foray that the Scottish government has taken into tax affairs, remodelling the stamp duty regime, has apparently proved a flop so far, with revenues falling far short of those anticipated when it was launched.

As from the next tax year, the UK basic, higher and additional rates of tax will each drop by 10 pence in the pound for Scottish taxpayers as budgetary responsibilities are being transferred from Westminster to Holyrood.  The Scottish Parliament can decide to levy a Scottish income tax rate.  It must impose the same Scottish income tax rate for all Scottish taxpayers (whether basic, higher or additional rate). On 16 December the Scottish government announces what the proposed Scottish income tax rate will be.

The structure of a Scottish income tax has been much-criticised: it is a flat rate tax, which means that the Scottish government can’t yet increase the amount that top rate taxpayers pay without also increasing the amount that basic rate taxpayers pay.  So it is likely that John Swinney will announce that the Scottish rate of income tax is 10% when he delivers the Scottish draft budget.  So the only practical difference will be that the administration systems of every organisation that has to deal with those subject to Scottish income tax are being revamped.

Change is coming.  Following the Vow made immediately before the referendum and the Smith Commission recommendations that followed it, substantially more powers are being devolved to the Scottish Parliament, including much greater tax-raising powers.  As from 2017/18, the Scottish government will get considerably greater powers.  It will be able to set its own bands and rates of income tax (it will also get control over some of the VAT raised in Scotland, air passenger duty and new powers in relation to benefits and welfare payments).

    The SNP disputes whether the Smith Commission recommendations have been met in full but on any reading the Scottish government is going to be able to do a lot more if it decides that it wants to.  Does it want to?

The SNP is not going to be able to duck this question indefinitely.  Holyrood elections are due in May and the SNP manifesto is going to need to set out how it intends to use these new powers.  Meanwhile, the unionist parties will each be seeking to use these powers for their own positioning.  Labour is already proposing to raise the top rate of tax to a UK/Scottish combined 50%.  Will the Conservatives advocate reducing basic rate tax in return for spending cuts?  Will the Lib Dems push for an increase in the Scottish zero rated band?  And how much discussion will each such position generate?

All the discussion about the SNP to date has focussed on whether they will call for another referendum in the next Scottish Parliament.  But come the referendum campaign, the parties’ policies on taxation and spending are likely to be at least as important.  So far there has been little discussion about this, which is pretty amazing really.  Five months before a UK general election, the parties would be knocking seven bells out of each other with scares about tax bombshells and countdowns for saving the NHS.  In Scotland so far, almost nothing.

That’s partly a reflection of the SNP’s dominance, partly a reflection of the unionist parties’ irrelevance and/or ineptness and partly a reflection of the immaturity of Scottish political debate.  This will not last.  The unionist parties have little to lose and the opportunity to seize the headlines through an insurgent campaign built around tax and spend will surely be irresistible to at least one and probably all of them.

If the SNP are not going to be caught flat-footed, they are going to need to take a position of their own.  Promising to stick with the status quo will beg the question what independence is going to offer and would sit uneasily with the SNP’s proclaimed anti-austerity stance.  Equally, promising to raise taxes substantially would hit some SNP supporters in the wallet.  For now the SNP will probably steal Labour’s policy of a 50% top rate of tax from 2017 but not commit to much else.  It will all look a bit small scale.

In practice I anticipate that the SNP are sufficiently dominant this time round that they will get through the elections without being derailed by a tax and spend controversy, but I would rather be backing “No Overall Majority” at 7/1 in the Holyrood elections (available with Ladbrokes) than laying it.  I’ve placed a small bet accordingly.

In the longer term, with Holyrood assuming a steadily increasing importance in decision-making in Scotland, the Scottish public are going to become increasingly concerned with pocket book decisions when voting in Holyrood elections.  The next Scottish government is going to have bigger decisions to take and bigger decisions lead to more disaffected voters.  The SNP has successfully for many years positioned itself as a party for all Scotland.  That time may well be drawing to a close in the next couple of years.

Alastair Meeks


At 10.30 am we’ll find out if the 2nd by-election of the 2015 parliament will be in Orkney and Shetland

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

UPDATE Carmichael cleared

The election court will announce its decision in the Carmichael case

If the case goes against the former Scottish Secretary then the LDs could lose the one seat in Scotland they hold and have to fight a by-election.

Based on what happened in the Phil Woolas case in 2010 the Speaker might delay calling a vacancy in the constituency pending the possibility of an appeal.

The action against Alistair Carmichael was crowd funded.

Mike Smithson


The EU Referendum demographic battlegrounds and boost for SNP in latest Holyrood TNS poll

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

The pollster was James Morris whose firm polled for LAB at GE2015 and has featured in PB/Polling Matters podcasts. His article linked to above is well worth reading. REMAIN had 3% lead but so much, Morris argues, could depend on Cameron.

In Scotland the latest TNS face to face survey on next year’s Holyrood elections provides more good news for the SNP and it’s leader.

Mike Smithson


The Sunday Trading vote: Dave/Osbo’s problem is not the SNP but the rebellion on the issue by 20 CON MPs

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015


Aside from the EU a developing story at Westminster is the decision by the SNP to vote against the planned changes on Sunday trading that Osborne announced in the budget for England and Wales. In Scotland this is a devolved matter with decisions being made at Holyrood.

Inevitably this will raise the whole English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) debate because of the devolved nature of such a measure.

    But before we get too deep into this let’s remember that the reason that the 55 SNP MPs have any influence is that Cameron/Osborne do not command the support of the full contingent of Tory MPs on the matter.

If there was no threatened Tory rebellion then the measure would have got through the Commons. This wasn’t in the Conservative manifesto and soundings should have been taken in the party before Osborne made his announcement in the budget.

Sunday trading is a hugely controversial issue as we saw in the early 90s when big supermarkets were allowed for the first time to open for a limited number of hours on Sunday.

Governments should be able to get their measures through the Commons with, if necessary, their own MPs alone.

Mike Smithson


The future of Scottish LAB and Holyrood 2016: This week’s PB/Polling Matters podcast

Friday, November 6th, 2015


And what about a 2nd IndyRef?

On this week’s PB / Polling Matters podcast Keiran discusses all things Scotland with Kate Devlin of The Herald. How bad are things for Labour? Are the SNP unstoppable in 2016 and when might we see a second independence referendum? Meanwhile, what implications might the upcoming EU referendum have on politics in Scotland and UKIP’s long term prospects in the rest of the UK?

You can follow Keiran on twitter at @keiranpedley and Kate at @_katedevlin


One year on from the Indyref: Why Scottish Independence might be in Labour’s best interests

Friday, September 18th, 2015

Sturgeon Pocket

Exactly one year after Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom it might now be better for Labour if Scotland left.

One of the key elements in my opinion that helped the Tories win a majority in May rather than just being the largest party in a hung parliament was their ruthless approach when it came to Ed Miliband and the likelihood of the SNP propping up a Labour led coalition. As the above poster shows, the Tories managed to make it appear Salmond & Sturgeon were effectively the Mephistopheles to Ed’s Faust.

Speaking as a Unionist the Tory campaign that sought to portray a government featuring the SNP as illegitimate was wrong as the SNP have as much right to be a part of government as any other party, that’s democracy. But Labour should realise this was an inevitable consequence of Labour’s failure to answer the West Lothian question when they came up with the devolution settlement for Scotland & Wales whilst ignoring England. Nature abhors a vacuum and the Tories filled that vacuum to the detriment of Labour.

Given the current electoral geography and the swings required it seems unlikely even that Labour will win a majority in 2020 even if Corbynmania is as successful as his most fervent supporters hope. Any hopes Corbyn has of taking power in 2020 will very likely have to rely on a coalition containing the SNP

If Ed Miliband being propped up by the SNP was unappealing to English voters then I’m fairly certain Jeremy Corbyn being propped up by the SNP won’t be any more appealing to English voters.

Right now Scotland is a millstone* around Labour’s neck for as long as the SNP maintain their stranglehold over Scottish politics which currently shows no signs of abating. For Labour it might be Scottish independence can’t come quick enough if they want to take power at Westminster as they will have no longer have to deal with the Scottish question that so alarms English voters.


*Though what is currently seen as a millstone might not be a millstone in a few years time, as Alex Salmond will attest to.


A second poll in a week has the Scots voting for Independence

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015

This will be great news for supporters of Scottish Nationalism, though on the Holyrood voting intention questions the SNP see their lead slip but they still retain formidable leads in both categories.

In a poll of 1023 adults over 16 in Scotland, 58% of those who expressed a preference would back the SNP in the constituency section of the vote for the May 2016 Scottish Parliament elections, down from 62% a month ago. Labour rose three percentage points to 23%, Conservative support stood at 12% (unchanged) with the Liberal Democrats on 5% (up 2 points). This represents a seven point cut in the SNP lead to a still formidable 35 points.

In the regional vote, 51% of those expressing an opinion supported the SNP (down 3 points) with 24% for Labour (+4), 11% for the Conservatives (-1), 6% for the Liberal Democrats (+2) and 6% for the Greens (-2).

So if the polling is correct, in the next fourteen months or so we could see Labour electing Jeremy Corbyn as leader, Donald Trump becoming President of the United States of America, the UK voting to leave the European Union and Scotland voting to leave the United Kingdom, what interesting times.

The full data tables are available here.



One year ago today we were given a reminder that opinion polls are a snapshot not a prediction

Sunday, September 6th, 2015

A year ago today The Sunday Times published a YouGov poll that had Yes ahead in the Scottish Independence referendum campaign. In the history of no other opinion poll has generated quite so much comment and reaction.

It wasn’t only PBers who reacted to this poll, it led to the three Westminster Unionist parties offering The Vow to Scotland. After the indyref some asked “Did this poll cost Britain £45 billion?”

My own belief is that this poll actually ended up harming the Scottish independence movement as it helped galvanise and focus the minds of the Unionist movement as they could see the Union slipping away.

So what to make of today’s poll by Survation for the Mail on Sunday which has leaving the EU ahead? With the upcoming EU referendum some consistent polling showing Leave ahead might help focus minds on the continent and strengthen Cameron’s negotiating position. I suspect the EU will not want any member to leave as it will send a bad signal to the world about the EU, nor will they want their second largest net contributor to leave. Though I’m not expecting the likes of Bild to run a front page entitled “Der Gelübde.”

Right now I’m exercising caution with any polling until the British Polling Council inquiry into the polling failure at general election has reported, but anyone who thought Remain was going to win comfortabtly will have to re-evaluate that position. Whoever wins the economic argument about leaving or remaining in the EU will win the referendum in my opinion.

The full Survation data tables are available here.