Raising income tax ‘would not be radical, it would be reckless. It would not be daring, it would be daft.’
Evidence showed ‘it could actually reduce the amount of money we have to invest in our National Health Service and our public services’.
Given the need for ‘stable and predictable revenues’, tax hikes were ‘a risk that in my judgment it would be irresponsible to take’.
Well, Ruth Davidson would say all that. She is a Tory, after all.
One slight problem. The Conservative leader didn’t say these things. Nicola Sturgeon did.
Back in early 2016, when she was campaigning in the Scottish Parliament elections, the First Minister flat-out rejected calls to put up taxes. It’s hard to believe the woman who promised a ‘once in a generation’ referendum then began campaigning for Indyref2 almost immediately would betray her word.
But now that she doesn’t need anyone’s vote for a few years, the First Minister has allowed her Finance Secretary to go on a tax raid.
Miss Sturgeon is as keen to be reminded of this as she is to hear alternative points of view around the cabinet table. When this newspaper and others failed to greet her fiscal U-turn with due deference, the SNP leader went on one of her Trumpian Twitter jeremiads (or are his tantrums Sturgeonian?).
Since Bute House is undergoing repairs, the First Minister’s social media pronunciamentos are issued from her taxpayer-funded hotel suite, where she and husband Peter Murrell are shacked up like a latter-day John and Yoko, imagining a world without scrutiny, accountability and 55% of the Scottish electorate.
Miss Sturgeon believes now is the right time to increase taxes because she reigns in such a bubble. Some around her know she is mistaken but none dare to contradict or question her; they are not advisers but courtiers.
Yet, the Sturgeon bubble, and the refusal of her sizeable staff to impress upon her the political and economic facts of life, only hurts the First Minister. Eventually, they may even bring about her downfall.
For the budget was more than a dry allocation of sums here and there. It signalled a redrawing of the dividing lines of Scottish politics from a simple argument over the constitution to a broader battle about progress, growth and who knows best between the governed and those who govern them.
And it introduced a new drug into the Nationalist bloodstream, one potentially more addictive than independence. Raising taxes is exhilarating and soon enough they will be back for another hit. They will never recapture that initial high but they will try again and again and tax-and-spend will become routine, habitual, a dependency they cannot kick.
The Scottish Conservatives sense an opportunity on the horizon, one that positions them as taxpayers’ champions against an SNP that raises taxes, a Labour Party that would raise them further, and the Greens who are currently Googling ‘tax rates Soviet Union’.
A Tory Party source says: ‘If Derek Mackay’s budget had a slogan, it would be ‘pay more, get less’. Taxes are going up and people will expect public services to improve but it’s hard to see how they will make that happen.
‘It’s about a fundamental unfairness. The SNP has been banging on about fairness for the past week. Now voters in Scotland will have to pay more than anyone in the rest of the UK but they won’t get anything more in return.’
If Ruth Davidson’s party hopes to seize the opening Nicola Sturgeon has handed them, they are well aware it will not be easy. Their top priority is not to be seen as protectors of privilege and believe they can avoid that by targeting their message to basic ratepayers.
The Tory insider continues: ‘Had they simply put up the higher rate and left the basic rate alone, it would’ve been hard for us to go to people on 25 grand and try to win their votes. Now we can talk to people earning £26,000 and say, “They’re putting up your taxes. Give us a go”.
‘We still have to convince people we can improve public services without putting up taxes but that’s what the public expects. We can do it with growth, which is made a little more difficult with Brexit, but growth is still the answer.’
Although it is early days, we can glimpse the possibilities this presents. Ruth Davidson would be able to lead the Tories into the next election on a ‘no second referendum, no tax hikes’ platform, two propositions that find favour with the majority of voters.
If the SNP remains committed to higher levies on income, and especially if it raises the spectre of separation yet again, it is no longer fanciful to imagine the Tories ending up with the most seats in an awkwardly divided parliament.
Another factor that gives the Conservatives hope is the SNP’s long incumbency. My source argues: ‘The SNP is suffering the wear and tear all political parties do. People are frankly p***ed off with them and are no longer willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.’
It’s not just Tories who say this. A Nationalist insider who supports the tax increase nonetheless admits: ‘It undoubtedly gives Ruth a new line of attack and just when she was flagging. She will be ruthless in using the tax issue against us and it will probably cost us some support.
‘Ruth’s job is to move beyond single issue politics — Yes or No — and, to borrow from Star Wars, “fulfil her destiny”. She needs to do that quickly and give voters something to overcome their anti-Tory prejudices. Tax opens a whole new front for her.’
The next Holyrood elections aren’t until May 2021. Between then and now, anything could happen and, the way things are these days, probably will. But one thing is certain, taxation is now on the agenda in Scottish politics, just waiting for someone to claim it as their issue.
If Ruth Davidson does so, a renovated Bute House might — might — just be welcoming a new tenant in four years’ time.
Two Labour MSPs have found themselves in trouble recently. Alex Rowley was alleged to have sent abusive text messages to a former partner, an accusation which he denied. Kezia Dugdale went on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here.
Now, one of those MSPs has been hauled in for a scolding, handed a written warning and slapped with a media gagging order. The other has been allowed to resign from a party post, citing ‘family distress’, but will be welcomed back into the fold, saying an internal review has ‘discharged’ their case.
Which one do you suppose is which?
People within Scottish Labour complain to me that the party seems to have taken Miss Dugdale’s jungle antics more seriously than the claims against Mr Rowley. Party bosses’ handling of the two cases does appear lop-sided. Something stinks, and not just the fish guts Miss Dugdale crawled through on national TV.
The US government ran a secret investigation into UFOs between 2008 and 2012, a news report reveals. Despite spending $20million, the real-life X-Files failed to gather conclusive evidence of little green men. If you think that’s a shocking waste of taxpayers’ money, imagine how much the aliens have spent trying to find intelligent life on Earth.
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Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feature image © Scottish Government by Creative Commons 2.0.