Scottish Labour’s planned tax rise is a bad idea because the last thing the Scottish economy or taxpayers needs is higher taxes. What the place could do with instead is proper public sector reform, less government interference and the introduction of measures to encourage more entrepreneurialism and capitalism. Short of a miracle, Scotland isn’t going to get any of that because that is simply not how contemporary Scottish politics works. The mindset is – Ruth Davidson for the Tories apart – almost universally statist, with a splash of assumed moral superiority.
And it is in that regard that the proposal this week by Scottish Labour to increase taxes in devolved Scotland by 1p is tactically smart even if it is economically wrong-headed. It puts the SNP in an awkward position. The Nationalist party machine has already condemned the Labour proposal aimed at May’s Holyrood election, in which the SNP is expected to win every first past the post seat apart from one or two because the Unionist vote is split and the SNP is still riding the referendum wave of 2014. The SNP is now attacking Labour for being a high tax party, claiming the tax rise is not progressive. It is progressive.
What will the SNP’s left-wing make of this? They love high taxes. Indeed, for several years we have been treated in all parts of the UK to pious speeches from Nationalist left-wingers about how wicked austerity is, and how the government must be prepared to “invest” (which means spend) other people’s money on public services. The wider Scottish Left has latched onto the SNP on that basis, and Alex Salmond and his successor Nicola Sturgeon have cleverly built a broad coalition that spans Scottish society from Tartan former Tories in the glens to the champagne socialists of Byres Road in Glasgow, to former Labour-supporting working class voters and beyond.
But the leftie part of that grand coalition is defined by its insistence, or has been until now, that what is needed is more state spending. What will the left-wingers in the SNP MP group at Westminster, who have made their reputations with the London media parroting such easy lines, say now that it is Scottish Labour policy? If the SNP was a party in which dissent was permitted this would not be a problem. But the SNP is a party in which voting or speaking out against the leadership is banned (seriously, banned). So, come on you fearless left-wing firebrands, and Mhairi Black MP from Paisley springs to mind, what are you afraid of? If you’re still in favour of higher taxes to pay for public services say so and urge your party leadership to put other people’s money where your mouth is. Don’t be such a bunch of fearties.