When is a poll tax not a poll tax?

10 Sep

I was stunned yesterday when the talk in the office turned to the subject of a new Poll tax being brought in, up here in Scotland. “Not again?” I thought. “Surely after last time, with the riots, with the wide-spread unpopularity, with it’s inherent unfairness, SURELY the UK Coalition Government wouldn’t be so naive as to reintroduce one? SURELY the SNP administration at Holyrood would have something to say about that?”

But then I remembered that the paper with the story that you can see to the right of this text was the Daily Record.
Nothing against the Daily Record, I might add, they’re a fine newspaper, they’ve got a decent, witty telly critic on a Thursday in Paul English, and Hugh Keevin’s Hotline on a Tuesday is a hilarious compilation of paranoid Old Firm fans moaning about something or other, with a caustic running commentary from the aforementioned Shugster.
Self-admittedly a cheerleader for the Labour party, the Record rightly have no fear when it comes to reporting stories that could be damaging to the Coalition Conservative and Liberal Democrat government. Nor, it seems, do they have any shame.
You see, despite the fairly obvious headline “THE NEW POLL TAX”, along with a photo of the “old” Poll Tax riots, if you read the accompanying opinion piece by Campbell Christie (former general secretary of the Scottish TUC), you’ll see that it’s both not “new” nor a “poll” tax.
What Campbell Christie is objecting to here, in fact, is a Scottish Income Tax, as proposed by the Calman Commission into devolving more powers, rights and responsibilities to Holyrood.
The proposal in itself is a very, very simple one. The basic rate tax a Scottish taxpayer pays to Westminster goes down by ten pence. Westminster, in return, cuts Scotland’s block grant. Holyrood will then tax you at a separate rate of income tax in order to make up the difference.
Whether this is the best, most effective way of giving Scotland greater fiscal autonomy is certainly open to question. Some may even question whether Calman is really necessary. However, one thing this ain’t is a poll tax.
The poll tax, for those of you young enough not to remember it, was a flat charge on everyone over the age of 18 in Great Britain, though there were discounts for certain groups such as the unemployed, and the precise amount charged varied from local authority to local authority. The poll tax did not take in to consideration ability to pay, it took in to consideration ability to breathe.
In his article, Mr Christie states:

WE all remember the poll tax and how Scotland was selected for special punishment by the Tory government of Margaret Thatcher.

Well, now the Tories are at it again. The coalition in London are cooking up a new tax just for Scotland – comparable to the hated poll tax in its unfairness.

The reason it was so despised was that everyone paid the same, whether they lived in a tiny council house or a castle.

I led the opposition to it, as general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress. I thought I would never see its like again.

…This autumn, the Government will bring forward legislation based on the Calman Commission report to give Scotland the power to vary the rate of income tax.

It will impose what is called a “flat tax” on the people of Scotland – a tax that is the same for everyone regardless of income and which is commonly associated with extreme right-wing political movements.

Supporters insist it will allow a Scottish government to make their own public spending decisions and finance any increase by raising income tax.

But under the proposals, the low paid cleaner will pay the same as the rich banker.”

What to make of that, then? Well, firstly, he’s being incredibly disingenuous here. He mentions the phrase “pay/paid the same” twice here, firstly with reference to the abolished poll tax, and secondly in reference to Calman. The two are not the same. In the first situation, the castle dweller and the council house dweller both paid exactly the same, to the penny. In the latter, the cleaner and the rich banker will NOT pay anywhere near the same. They will pay the same proportion of taxable income, of which the rich banker, we assume, will have tons more of. However, a swift look at the headline, the photo, and the rhetoric there would give your average Daily Record reader some taxing nightmares.
Of course, one reason why the Poll Tax is particularly resented north of the Border is because it was the first part of Great Britain to have it imposed, and it didn’t help matters that the people perceived to be doing the imposing were down in the south of England, a good 400 odd miles away from Edinburgh.
If this new Scottish Income Tax was to be anything like the Poll Tax, if it was going to cause the kind of outrage that the photo above implies, this one would need to be imposed as well, right?
Well, the bad news is that nothing here is going to be imposed, apart from the Bill bringing it into law (assuming it gets through Parliament). In fact, this will only give Holyrood the power to adjust the tax. It’s possible, though I grant you unlikely, that Holyrood may use its new powers to LESSEN the tax burden on Scots.
Just a thought – what’s the opposite of tax? Rebate, I would guess. I wonder if anyone down in Atlantic Quay would be willing to use the headline “THE NEW POLL REBATE” if cleaners and bankers alike MADE money from this?
However, the biggest cheek of this piece in my mind is the part where Mr Christie says “The coalition in London are cooking up a new tax just for Scotland” – again, giving the impression that this is all down to the wicked Tories, and their new pals, the Liberal Collaborators. I mean, it’s not 100% incorrect, the Tories and Lib Dems in Scotland do both support Calman, to varying degrees. Other parties in Scotland also support the Calman Commission, like, umm, the Labour Party.
To give Daily Record readers their due, however, they will have seen through that line. Record readers have fantastic memories, I’m told, and will no doubt remember this article from November last year, when the then Labour Secretary of State for Scotland, Jim Murphy MP, proposed giving Scotland greater fiscal autonomy from Westminster.
It also rather throws out the idea that this is a newly cooked up idea, doesn’t it?
What really pisses me off is the imagery, to be honest. “Us Scots never forget” is a line I’ve heard from a whole load of folk up here, most commonly in reference to the Thatcher days. Fair enough. To link something completely unrelated to Thatcher’s era using the most tenuous logic in order to give it a bad name is just really, bloody lazy.

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