Monday, October 13, 2008

Tavish Scott meets the Bloggers, Part 1 - Taxing Matters

On Saturday afternoon, 4 intrepid Scottish Bloggers, myself, Stephen, his blogging partner, Lionel de Livi (a very cute little Livingston FC supporting lion, and Bernard met over coffee (actually Earl Grey for some) with Tavish Scott, newly elected Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader. My first thought was to wonder what on earth it is about lurid pink ties that makes our leaders want to wear them - Nick wore a horrendous one on the leadership Question Time last year and Tavish chose a taking-no-prisoners shade of bubblegum pink on Saturday. It wasn't unpleasant - maybe it's symbolic that subtlety won't be a feature of this leadership.

I have to confess that Tavish is a bit like Obama for me. I suspect he would prefer I just left it there, but I will elaborate just a wee bit. Tavish is one of us, he's a decent person, and he's a million miles better than anyone any of the other parties has to offer. However, I'm still learning to love him, much the same as I am with Obama - I just don't quite get him yet. I was worried that his leadership would keep us on the same course, that we wouldn't develop the narrative we needed and internally that he might not quite remember that there's a party he has to take with him, preferably as painlessly as possible.

I certainly got my backside kicked out of the notion that we might stagnate under his leadership when he surprised us all by announcing the 2p tax cut plan at Bournemouth conference. I was worried about public services though, and I put to him that it wasn't really credible after the events of the last week to talk about cutting taxes any more when we'd surely have to put them up to pay for the bank bailouts?

Tavish was reassuring on this point: "The Scottish block grant is a fixed £30 billion which we are given to spend. We can make the savings and cut taxes in Scotland to help people now. This is a way we can help people now - this cut could be brought in next April if the other parties agreed."

Bernard asked if this was instead of or in addition to the Party's plan for a 4p tax cut - the Green Tax Switch. Tavish replied that the Federal Party's proposals won't happen now, but that this was a tangible thing that we in Scotland could do to improve people's lives.

Moving on to the Local Income Tax, Tavish was asked whether he thought that we should be less hung up about LIT and look at a range of options for local taxes. Tavish referred to Calman's suggestion that we need to consider "a basket of taxation." He said that should be flexible about how we approach taxation but clear on the principles which should underpin the system - taxes should be fair.

I asked about our position on exemption from LIT for students. Currently students don't pay Council Tax but there are worrying suggestions that a student working more than about 20 hours a week would have to pay LIT. A working week of 20 hours suggests that that student really needs the money whereas his flatmate with rich parents may not have to work. Tavish agreed, explaining that under our minimum student income proposals, students would be lifted out of paying any income tax unless they earn more than about £14000. He wants to "lift students out of financial difficulties that the current system creates for them."

More to follow in the next instalment.

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