The SNP ditched another of its previous manifesto commitments — big time — when it announced plans to reform the Council Tax system in Scotland last week.
For well over a decade the SNP has promised to scrap Council Tax. In 2003, the current SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said: “There is no doubt that the SNP’s proposal to scrap the Council Tax in favour of a fair local income tax is hugely popular with voters.”
In 2004, the current SNP Finance Secretary John Swinney said: “Every vote for the SNP in the European election will be a vote to axe the Council Tax.”
The SNP manifesto for the 2007 Holyrood elections promised: “We will scrap the unfair Council Tax and introduce a Local Income Tax set at 3p.”
After the SNP’s election victory, Sturgeon attacked the Scottish Labour Party for the timidity of its approach to the Council Tax: “The fact of the matter is that the Council Tax is unfair and cannot be improved by tinkering around the edges.”
At the same time the SNP government overrode local democracy by enforcing a Council Tax freeze pending the implementation of its promised replacement for the Council Tax. In its manifesto for the 2011 Holyrood elections — having done nothing to implement its 2007 manifesto commitment — the SNP promised: “We will consult with others to produce a fairer system based on ability to pay to replace the Council Tax and ... put this to the people at the next election.”
Three years later, in November of 2014, the SNP government set up a Commission for Local Tax Reform, to report back on alternatives to the Council Tax. Thirteen months later (December 2015) it produced its findings. Presented by SNP local government minister and Commission co-chair Marco Biagi (“From the outset we have agreed that the present system is unfair”), the findings concluded that the Council Tax should be replaced by a hybrid tax based on property value and income. Last week SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon finally announced the SNP’s proposals, directly contradicting her previous statements and misrepresenting the Commission’s findings: “The Commission on Local Tax Reform made clear that the present system could be made fairer.”
The SNP has abandoned its promise to scrap the Council Tax and introduce a local income tax. Instead it proposes no more than a modest increase in Council Tax rates for properties in the highest bands in 2017, and an end to the Council Tax freeze in 2017 as well. The SNP’s proposals do not even include a property revaluation. Properties will continue to be allocated a Council Tax band on the basis of a valuation carried out in 1991. Adhering loyally to the Tory doctrine that low taxation is good taxation, Sturgeon emphasised that Council Tax rates would still be lower after 2017 than they would have been without the Council Tax freeze. (The decade-long Council Tax freeze has been a £300 million giveaway to owners of properties in the two most expensive Council Tax bands.)
In the meantime, the SNP is pressing ahead with another Tory policy: austerity. The combined impact of a £500 millions cut in local authority funding by Holyrood and the financial straitjacket imposed on local authorities by the Council Tax freeze could see 15,000 local authority jobs axed and the decimation of council and voluntary sector services.
Scottish left still pushing independence
Meanwhile, the nationalist ex-Left gears up for the Holyrood elections — by promising to be more Catholic than the Pope. While the SNP has been politically sensible enough to backpedal on the demand for Scottish independence — tax revenue from oil being a mere 95% less than that promised by the SNP in the referendum campaign — their bag-carriers are showing no such restraint.
“Solidarity” (no relation), which has long ceased to be anything other than a personality cult around Tommy Sheridan, is calling for a constituency vote for the SNP because of the SNP’s support for independence. For “Solidarity”, the SNP’s support for independence outweighs its lack of any relationship with the trade unions and its record in power of implementing Tory austerity, with an additional dose of SNP austerity. Sheridan’s own sales pitch is that if he is elected as a list MSP, he will introduce an IndyRef2 Bill within three months of taking his seat in Holyrood. Sheridan’s election message might best be summed up as: “It’s all about the referendum, stupid!”
RISE (Respect, Independence, Socialism, Environmentalism — an opportunist lash-up between the Radical Independence Campaign and the Scottish Socialist Party) can only be described as “Solidarity” for the faint-hearted. Whereas “Solidarity” explicitly calls for a constituency vote for the SNP, RISE has taken no position on how voters should cast their constituency vote. Nor is RISE taking a position on the EU referendum.
RISE’s “big idea” for the Holyrood elections — you guessed it! — is to demand another referendum: “RISE MSPs will table a motion to the Scottish Parliament that asserts Holyrood's right to stage another referendum at the time of its choosing. They will then invite other pro-independence MSPs to back the motion.”
While “Solidarity” and RISE have set up shop, the Socialist Party (SP) and its “Trade Union and Socialist Coalition” (TUSC) are still keeping everyone guessing about their plans for May. A TUSC conference held in Glasgow in January laid the groundwork for standing candidates in May. Last month the Socialist Party issued a statement saying that TUSC would “need to stand candidates” in May if Labour and the SNP did not stand up to Tory austerity. But with only eight weeks to go, the SP has yet to declare whether it will actually be standing candidates or whether — as effectively acknowledged by the SWP — standing candidates would be the emptiest of gesture politics.