Unravelling the layers in search of the nugget of Labour’s income tax policy is like the Russian doll. It seems to be impenetrable and then the result is disappointingly insignificant.
Starting on the first layer, I suggest Labour has the biggest and most enduring obstacle of all. It’s called credibility. The question for Kezia isn’t: What are you saying? It’s: Who’s listening?
Labour has fallen so far in public esteem that they could offer free doughnuts at Greggs and nobody would listen (This may have been a Murphy idea. Can’t remember)
Before they start asking teachers, policemen, social workers and binmen to pay more in taxes from wages that have been stagnant for years and have fallen behind inflation, they must first find a method of communication. The truth? They have no one who convinces the voters they either know what they’re talking about or can be trusted.
Labour of old has left the stage. When Blair was strutting from Commons to studio, he left a vapour trail of invincibility. His lieutenants were often well-known, die-cast Scots. Sure, there were doubts but the party was so far ahead and had sewn up Scotland from top to bottom so much that they filled the landscape. You couldn’t see past them. And one thing you knew – they weren’t Tories. Nationalists tried to say so and so did Tommy but Labour voters had no doubt. A vote for Labour was a vote against the Tories. Voting Labour was like grabbing hold on a lifebelt with both hands.
Only about 20 per cent still do so. The referendum showed over a sustained period that there is on key policy areas little between them but more than that, it demonstrated how emotionally close they were, how easily the same rhetoric came from their mouths, how casually they grinned for photos together. Ed Balls joining Osborne to threaten removal of access to our currency was for many the nadir. This could have changed with Corbyn’s elevation but his hesitancy and the froideur in Westminster has left doubt when there should have been revival. Scots still look to London for a sense of what Scottish Labour really is – perfectly natural for a British party with an HQ in England. A strong leader there might have helped assuage doubts over Kezia, but…
Kez remains a likeable and enterprising activist but Labour voters will ask themselves if she is capable of managing power. If she came into their house selling insurance, would they see beyond the chat and happy smile and imagine a hard-nosed operator safeguarding their money? Someone who will stand up to pressure and deliver for them? Doubt it…
Layer two is the basic premise of a policy to raise more money when the agenda is firmly set – one that says Scotland is having its budget cut by a London government that Scots overwhelmingly didn’t vote for. In fact, Scotland voted against this kind of government on an historic scale. Whatever doubts Scots have over the SNP, they are persuaded they mean what they say and will stand up for Scotland against a Tory Prime Minister. As the Unionists would say – Scots blame Westminster. We do. And we’re right to do so. The systematic cuts in our national budget are not the SNP’s work but the British government’s (the one Labour said they preferred under Better Together).
From there it’s short hop to understanding that Kezia’s promise is to get us to pay more to help make up for London cutting our budget. If they also realise that any additional money raised is likely to be removed via the block grant, the nail is driven home. The SNP, like all governments apart from the neo cons in London, doesn’t want to cut local government budgets. But it is already draining away Scottish resources on ameliorating the deleterious effect of austerity policies. A generalised sense that the SNP is putting a finger in the dyke mitigates against doing more of London’s dirty work by raising taxes. (The SNP may itself put some income tax up – in fact will – when the powers are fully devolved but will be cautious about undoing all its good work via council tax freezes by hitting moderate earners.)
Another layer is the contradiction of adopting a left-leaning posture on income tax while offering a giveaway to house buyers – surely an appeal to broadly different constituencies. It doesn’t mean they couldn’t work together as policies but it leaves voters with yet another doubt about what Labour really is. Surely pumping air into the housing bubble is a luxury for better economic weather when we might want to get first-timers into ownership. The social priority is affordable housing. If the national accounts are so in need of an injection that taxes must go up, why use it as a bribe to homeowners and give added profit to builders?
Layer four I think is already identified by the Tories and not unreasonably so. (Sorry, being even-handed for a minute). If Labour end the council tax freeze, it means bills go up. If they don’t implement the Air Passenger Duty reduction, it means that tax stays 50 per higher than otherwise. If they’re now telling us that income tax will go up…well, they’re party of tax rises. Not a happy story to tell on the doorstep.
I saw Neil Findlay’s maladroit tweet informing me that one out of four people wouldn’t pay more under Labour’s plan. As my nine-year-old would say: Dad. You’re hopeless. That means three out of four would pay more. This tactic of saying A Penny for Scotland backfired even for the Nats when they tried it. Labour can’t (any more) make that sort of emotional appeal to Scots and in any case, if the message is: Vote for us to tax you more to pay for local government….well, good luck. Most councils have failed, like the unions in the blog above, to connect with their voters and build up their support. I fear few voters have much love for the council, even if often it isn’t their fault.
Finally, we uncover the little beauty inside. It presumes Scots are ready to pay more tax. Well it’s true opinion polls register folk saying just that but will they vote that way? It’s a different question when it comes to an election and the bank account is blinking. I suspect voters are happy for high earners to pay more but starting at £20,000 is a hard sell. That covers a hell of a lot of Scots trying to make ends meet. Scots who think too much goes to benefit claimants already; Scots who see company profits floating off in their billions to tax havens and sneer as corporations negotiate chicken-feed tax bills. ‘I’ve been clobbered enough’, will be the reaction of most.
Interesting to see though how they would react if Nicola made the same offer…
The devil of course is hiding in here too – how do you claim your £100 rebate if you’re earning less than the £20,000? What earnings count towards your £20,000? Will the self-employed make sure they dip below the cut-off? One suspects they’ll need to use the extra money raised to hire more staff just to administer it.
Still I suppose we can say this is an idea which puts Better Together to bed though as the plan to make Scotland pay more in tax than the rest of the UK was surely what the No side warned against during the indyref? And yet here is Labour doing just that. Proshchay, moy drug!
* For Labour chums – Hiya, Simon Pia – I should remind you that in January 2015 Labour MPs voted with the Tories to make whopping spending cuts, lobbing £30 billion from public budgets, taking the UK back to 1930 spending levels. It was 515 to 18. Five – yes five – of your brave Labour members voted against the Tory cuts that are now decimating Scottish budgets.