Thursday, 12 February 2009

The politics of the possible

Swinney & Salmond enjoying better times

There's been quite a lot of absolute tosh written about
John Swinney's decision not to bring forward a bill replacing the Council Tax in Scotland with a Local Income Tax during this Parliamentary session.

I'll write that bit again, just in case you didn't catch it the first time.

There's been quite a lot of absolute tosh written about John Swinney's decision not to bring forward a bill replacing the Council Tax in Scotland with a Local Income Tax

To quote John Swinney:
"The parliamentary arithmetic means that, while we might get the support of the Liberal Democrats for our proposals to introduce a local income tax, the Labour and Conservative parties are united in their opposition.

"In short, we cannot put together a stable majority to enable us successfully to steer detailed local income tax legislation through this parliament."

"The cabinet has therefore decided not to introduce legislation to abolish unfair council tax and replace it with local income tax until after the election in 2011."

Now that, to me, doesn't suggest a huge U-turn. It doesn't suggest that the party have suddenly decided that the policy is rubbish or that they think the current system of Council Tax is great. What it suggests is that the party have recognised their position, in light of the budget fiasco, as a minority government. They've looked around the chamber, seen they don't have the votes to pass such controversial and significant taxation-changing legislation and have decided not to waste parliament's time by bringing forward a bill that is not going to pass. Yet.

They still like the policy. They'll campaign on it going into the 2011 election, telling voters that if they give them enough MSPs they'll be able to pass it. So what is this hysteria from the other parties about?

Iain Gray calls it "the day Alex Salmond's credibility died". What, because he can count to 65?

Jeremy Purvis: "The Lib Dems are now the ONLY party in Scotland that want to scrap the deeply unfair council tax." Well, that's just blatantly wrong. The SNP WANT to scrap it... but the opposition parties don't want to help them. Its the price of minority government.

Lib Dem
and Labour blogs have it that its a huge U-turn, that it is another broken promise, that a key pledge is lying in tatters. Some of them don't seem to grasp the nature of minority government.

At least the Scotsman tells it like it is (and how many times will I get to say that?!!) when they say "LIT dead... for now." And Brian Taylor is his usual analytical self - pointing out, on balance, that opposition parties will attack and the SNP will defend their minority position.

You can say what you want about the policy (and I'm pretty sure I have in the past, though I can't find it on here) but if you haven't got the cards, you haven't got the cards. First the budget, now this. The SNP are learning about minority government. And I guess the other parties are too. As ever, we live in interesting times.

Just read Kez's take on it, which makes a good point about the issue. The SNP know there is not a majority for a referendum on independence, but they are still planning on bringing forward that legislation. That kinda puts the thing in perspective a bit. If only the LOLITSP could think on his feet like that and notice that kind of thing, then he might have a bit more credibility.


Stephen Glenn 12 February 2009 at 12:23  

"The SNP WANT to scrap it... but the opposition parties don't want to help them. Its the price of minority government."

And the cost of minority government is actually working with those most closely alligned to you on certain ideals and seeing what can be acheived. Not shlving something because nobody agrees with your way of doing something.

Malc 12 February 2009 at 12:28  

Well yes... I can agree with that to an extent. But the Lib Dems have gone on record saying they will not negotiate on certain issues - locally setting LIT rates being one. So if you won't negotiate, where does that leave the SNP?

Stephen Glenn 12 February 2009 at 12:42  

Well it leads us back with a devolved locally set taxation system as was rates, as was community charge, as is council tax.

It astonishes me that the SNP are actually one of the most centrally controlled governments in Europe since the fall of the Iron curtain. They want to wrest all control from Westminster and take all control from the councils and yet nobody is picking up on this.

Malc 12 February 2009 at 12:50  

That avoids the issue.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the policy, you are complaining about the SNP not bringing forward a bill for negotiation, yet you refuse to negotiate with them on the issue.

When that is the case, what would be the point in bringing it forward?

laura,  12 February 2009 at 17:19  

Ah but surely there is still hope of the other parties voting for a referendum - don't forget Labour's hilarious position swapping on this issue already. They already voted down LIT.

Plus there is the very valid economic arguments of implementing a tax cut at a time when we are getting a budget cut forced upon us.

Caron 12 February 2009 at 17:44  

All the SNP had to do was to allow local councils to set their own rates and we would have been in with a fighting chance of dumping a really unfair tax.

Why give up before the fight? I think Swinney was so bruised by the budget process that he's just given up and decided not to do anything.

Malc 12 February 2009 at 18:38  

Laura - I agree with you on that one. And I think that is what the party's response will be.

Caron - I also agree (to an extent) with you. I do think Swinney maybe wasn't up for such a huge fight. The other thing is even if - and that's a big if - the Lib Dems could have been persuaded to vote for it, that's still only 63 votes.

The Greens were never going for it, and Labour and the Tories still love the Council Tax. And no one was budging. No majority, ergo no point in bringing forward the bill.

Will 12 February 2009 at 19:01  

Malc, am I the only one slightly hacked off with LibDem cries of cowardice and claims to be the only LIT-supporting party in Holyrood, when they had two opportunities to get this very measure into a programme for government when they negotiated the Coalition with Labour?

I don't recall the LDs busting a gut then, yet all of a sudden, they've discovered an imperative that they didn't have in office.

Malc 12 February 2009 at 19:40  


That's also a good point. I don't think I heard mention of how unfair the council tax was until the SNP started campaigning on it.

Strange that, as you say, the Lib Dems had 8 years to change this unfair system... yet now the SNP have (basically) decided they can't change it for a couple of years, its scandalous.

I wonder if they'll put that on their leaflets...

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