Prepare to learn this week that you are callous and unfeeling.
It will be implied, hinted, and even openly charged that you are selfish and mean-spirited; that you care more about your Tuscan villa and the winter home in Gstaad than those scraping by on the breadline.
Finance Secretary Derek Mackay delivers his draft budget on Thursday and it is widely expected that he will use Holyrood’s new fiscal powers to put up taxes on middle and high earners. If he does so, Mr Mackay will insist his decision is one of economic necessity and has nothing to do with politics. Barely will the opposition have begun to question this assertion than they and those they represent will be branded greedy and heartless.
It’s easier to demonise those we disagree with than it is to engage their arguments. The closest most Scottish taxpayers get to Tuscany is a pizza and a bottle of supermarket chianti at the weekend. Yes, some additional rate payers are very wealthy indeed and would scarcely notice the extra digit on their tax bill but such people are few in Scotland.
And while we can look forward to some 1970s-style grunting about soaking the rich, any tax hike will clobber middle income families too. Three of the four possible plans the Scottish Government has outlined in advance would see increases kick in at £24,000, or a quarter of what Mr Mackay earns as a Cabinet Secretary.
On Thursday, Mr Mackay will say his hands are tied, those rotten Tories at Westminster have stolen his pocket money, and Brexit is forcing him to raid our piggy banks. None of this is true. Scotland faces fiscal and growth challenges, as do most developed economies, but they do not require and will not be repaired by the kind of tax grab the SNP has planned.
In his Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond handed the Scottish Government an additional £2billion in Barnett consequentials, translating to £180million extra next year alone. Nicola Sturgeon claims Scotland’s block grant still faces a real terms cut of £239million. Let’s be generous and take her at her word. There are any number of alternative approaches Mr Mackay could take that would close this gap without burdening taxpayers.
Last year, the Scottish Government budgeted £301.6million for tuition fees and student support, a vote-buying arrangement that has proved useful to the SNP but ruinous to higher education and damaging to the chances of the worst off to get to university. Reintroduce fees or a graduate endowment and much of Miss Sturgeon’s touted shortfall would disappear.
Another big-ticket spending item is the concessionary rail and bus pass, which the SNP budgeted at £254.4million for this year. It’s an appealing perk but even the SNP recognises that it is becoming too expensive and has launched a cost-cutting consultation. Removing it may not be popular but would obviate much of the supposed need for tax increases.
The dispensing of ‘free’ prescriptions on the NHS is treated as a holy sacrament by Nationalist ministers. But this policy, often held up by critics of universalism as an egregious example of Scotland’s ‘culture of free’, cost the taxpayer £1.1billion in 2016/17. This is before we even consider £52.1million for arts quango Creative Scotland or the £15.7million spent on ‘international and European relations’ by a government that has no foreign powers. And not to mention the £921million overspend since the SNP came to power, as uncovered by the Scottish Tories.
The SNP wastes taxpayers money buying votes and chasing fashionable causes then comes back pleading the case of the poor when the money runs out.
Yet to listen to the Nationalists you would think Scots were champing at the bit to be taxed more. Hail, Derek Mackay, those who are about to be robbed blind salute you. The truth is more complex. A poll over the weekend showed a staggering 61% of Scots want the SNP to carry out a review of public spending before they even consider raising taxes. Other research suggests voters are split down the middle when it comes to tax changes.
We are a nation in thrall neither to doctrinaire Marxism nor the state-slashing libertarianism of Milton Friedman. We are cautious, canny, but open to being convinced. That is what the SNP has singularly failed to do. It has cajoled, yes, but it has not persuaded us. There are reasonable, respectable arguments for raising taxes and many of us are willing to listen. We understand that public services have to be funded, poverty and social injustice alleviated, and the vulnerable supported and protected. A government that credibly argued these merits would have a strong case and Mr Mackay’s opponents would be on the back foot.
Instead, we are being presented with a list of demands by an outfit that has shown itself incompetent in its handling of public services, incapable of delivering the social outcomes it preaches, and largely indifferent to the misery caused by its failings. Research released yesterday by Survation showed six in ten voters think the NHS has got worse under the SNP while 46 percent believe schools have gone downhill and 42 percent say law and order has suffered. Why, then, should Scottish families be taxed more to fund another year of SNP mismanagement?
Last year another 40,000 children went into poverty. How can a government that has failed so abysmally credibly demand more cash so it can fail on a grander scale? And where was the SNP’s concern for the poor and the marginalised over the past five years, when it elected to pursue its independence obsession instead of using the powers and resources of the Scottish Parliament to make a difference?
If governments were paid on results, this one would have to take a part-time job to make ends meet. Far from winning the debate on tax, the SNP has proved itself incapable of spending the money it already has, let alone any further cash it hopes to liberate from our wallets.
When Thursday comes, and you are being told you are fantastically wealthy and utterly beastly for not sharing with those in need, remember that none of this is economically necessary. It is a political gambit at your expense and one the SNP might just come to regret.
Donald Trump is not a man who goes out of his way to earn sympathy but I came close to feeling bad for him last week.
His decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was greeted by hysteria and outrage. He was accused of jeopardising the peace process. What peace process? The Israelis offer concession after concession and the Palestinians still refuse to reach a peace agreement.
In fact, all President Trump did was tell the truth. Jerusalem is the capital of modern Israel, just as it was the seat of power for the Israelites thousands of years ago, and acknowledging that fact does not preclude support for a two-state solution. Despite shameful slanders about ‘apartheid’, Israel is a democracy that guarantees equality for all its citizens, regardless of race or religious belief.
I haven’t shied away from lambasting Mr Trump when he has deserved it, and he’s deserved it a lot. On this, however, he made the right call and I’m big enough to admit that. Others should be too.
Roseanna Cunningham has been reproached for a tweet comparing Ruth Davidson to Toom Tabard, the nickname of a 13th century Scottish king loathed as a vassal of the English. I’m just impressed someone in the SNP has heard of a Scottish historical figure other than that Australian bloke who duffed up all those Hollywood extras at Stirling Bridge.
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Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.