For months, years, what feels like decades, the Nationalist part of the Scottish Left has claimed that if only Scotland had the powers (always the demand for more powers, never the harder work of reforming public services) then the wealthy would pay much higher taxes. In particular, during the UK general election, the case was made loudly that the SNP had opposed the Conservative reduction of the 50p tax rate to 45p.
The clear implication was that the SNP would reverse that change when it had the powers. It now has the powers, but the leadership has lost its nerve and says it won’t introduce a 50p band unless England does too. Logically, it makes no sense. If Scotland was independent would it match English taxes on the wealthy, when people would be equally capable of moving south then? Or does the SNP plan to close the border post-independence? Or is it simply that the leadership has cleverly conned a lot of Scottish socialists into voting for it with talk of taxing the rich.
While it is pleasing, and amusing, to see the SNP high command introduced to the risks to revenue of punitive taxation, it is not all good news. In Sturgeon’s other announcement today on tax policy for the SNP manifesto, it is clear they are beginning the business of clobbering those Scots who dare (the temerity!) to earn a little more than £40,000, by not passing on the full raising of the threshold that will be enjoyed south of the border.
What does the left-wing of the SNP have to say about the let-off for those on more than £150,000 ? Nothing yet. But as recently as a few weeks ago, the de facto leader of that part of the Nationalist movement, Mhairi Black MP, was explaining in an interview with Owen Jones of the Guardian the alleged wonders of high-taxing socialism. Mhairi Black is hailed by Nationalists for her plain-speaking willingness to supposedly speak truth to power, although I must confess that all I hear are a bunch of economically illiterate clichés advocating bigger government, high taxation and endless spending.
The truth is that the real power in Scotland is Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister. So, I’m sure we can now expect strongly worded statements from Mhairi Black and other Scottish socialists demanding the Scottish parliament and Sturgeon introduce a 50p tax after the imminent Scottish elections. Or will the SNP’s ban on opposing the leadership – yes, opposition really is banned – hold?