AS I SEE IT: TERRY MURDEN says the SNP’s claims that constitutional change is the solution to everything are stretching credibility
Those terrible people in Westminster have been at it again, this time denying Scotland nearly £3 billion a year because of the Tory government’s failure to close legal loopholes and adequately collect taxes. It’s enough to prompt another bout of foot-stamping by the SNP’s Kenneth Gibson, convener of Holyrood’s Finance and Public Administration Committee, who says none of this would happen in an independent Scotland.
Mr Gibson accuses successive Westminster governments of ignoring Scotland’s demand for strong action on tax avoidance, particularly by the filthy rich.
As he states in his press release: “Independence offers Scotland the opportunity to take action. If this lost revenue was properly collected it would allow the Scottish Government to significantly ease the financial pressures on public services and the NHS.”
But why wait for independence? The SNP clearly needs the missing £2.85bn right now. So, come on, then, tell us how the SNP would solve the tax avoidance problem – and then you can have your money.
What’s that you say? You can’t tell us exactly what your “strong action” would be? Is that because you don’t actually have a solution beyond claiming that constitutional change would sort it out?
Add tax avoidance to the list of other problems from child poverty to economic underperformance that the SNP claims it can solve by merely breaking up the United Kingdom. In early November, as fears grew of redundancies in the music industry because of Brexit, it issued a press release claiming that “only independence can protect Scotland’s artists”.
Given the SNP government’s failures on health, education, ferries, the deposit return scheme and other areas over which it already has control it beggars belief that more than half the voters in Scotland are falling for this stuff.
For the sake of adding a bit of detail on the tax avoidance issue, the “missing sum” of £2.85bn is a crude estimate based on a pro rata of population. Mr Gibson says Andy King of the Office for Budget Responsibility told his committee that £35bn is lost across Britain every year. In fact the number (estimated at £32-35bn) has been around for some time and was quoted only last week in relation to the UK government’s attempts to claw back the lost money by digitising the tax collection system.
Whitehall sources are admitting that its computer systems are not yet prepared for the Making Tax Digital switchover which would require 4.2m taxpaying businesses to file their returns four times a year instead of the current annual submission. Apart from cutting costs and improving efficiency, it aims at eating into that lost tax revenue.
Because the system is not ready it means that introducing system is likely to be pushed back two years to 2026.
This is not a failure to take “strong action”, as Mr Gibson claims, but a failure to implement a workable IT solution.
If only the Treasury wonks had thought to call Mr Gibson who clearly has all the ready-made answers sitting in the party’s independence file.
Terry Murden held senior positions at The Sunday Times, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and The Northern Echo and is now editor of Daily Business