I was at FMQs yesterday, and since I am inexplicably still considered to be a political blogger, I thought I should share this piece with you.
IAIN Gray accused Alex Salmond of playing politics by burying his party’s council tax plans under the onslaught of news on Alistair Darling’s pre-Budget report.
Labour leader Gray asked the First Minister at First Minister’s Question Time if he had chosen to publish the SNP government’s response to the consultation on their plans for a local income tax on Monday because it coincided with the Westminster pre-budget report.
Mr Gray said: “Monday’s pre-budget report was described in the media as the biggest budget statement since World War II – all eyes were on it. Is that then why the SNP government chose Monday to publish their response to the consultation on Mr Salmond’s so-called local income tax? Did the First Minister think no one would notice?”
Mr Gray demanded that the First Minister dumped his plans for a local income tax, calling Mr Salmond to “do what is right for Scotland’s economy and Scotland’s working families”.
He cited the example of Chancellor Alistair Darling who acted speedily on Wednesday to rectify his “mistake in raising whisky duty by 8 per-cent in his pre-Budget report”.
“He fixed it in 48 hours,” said Mr Gray of the Chancellor’s U-turn. “The First Minister is making a far more damaging mistake with his local income tax – will he fix his mistake and drop this policy now?”
Alex Salmond responded to this proposal by claiming his local income tax plans had received overwhelming support in every single opinion poll on the tax – which is based on the ability to pay, and undermined Mr Gray’s example of Mr Darling’s U-turn.
He said: “I don’t think Alistair Darling’s summersaults on the whiskey tax give much confidence that the pre-Budget review was carefully worked out. I welcome the about-turn on the whiskey tax because it might forecast about turns on other aspects of this policy.”
Mr Salmond also expressed his upset at the £500 million he believes will be cut from the Scottish budget in 2010 as a result of Alistair Darling’s £5 billion cuts UK wide.
He followed this by characterising the changeable nature of the Labour government at Westminster.
He said: “What we have got is a tax give-away next year followed by spending cuts in 2010 – John Maynard Keynes to Milton Friedman with no intervening period.
“New Labour to hard Labour – and Iain Gray had better get used to it because it’s going to undermine and hold below the waterline his entire political attack.”
He added, rounding off his attack on Gray and the Labour party: “In a phrase – you’re sunk!”
Annabel Goldie seconded Mr Gray’s attack in her questions during First Minister’s Question Time.
She said: “Iain Gray is absolutely right in his condemnation of the SNP’s local income tax. Unfortunately for Iain Gray, he is a man with no plan himself,” in reference to an interview with Gray in the Sunday Times on October 4, cited by Alex Salmond in a previous answer.
Salmond quoted Gray, saying: “’We don’t have our own proposals,’ he said candidly, ‘We went into the 2007 election with a proposal to try and make the council tax fairer and it didn’t add up. Central to our new manifesto is a properly worked out suggestion about how we can make the council tax fairer.’”
However, Mr Salmond criticised Mr Gray for not being forthcoming with these plans, quoting from the same article: “’I’ve always resisted being asked to do that immediately on the back of a fag packet. We made that mistake once before.’”
Miss Goldie demanded to know if the tax rate of 3 pence in the pound set by Salmond was going to be higher than proposed.
She based the question on the revelation of the £281m subsidy needed to fund the council tax having now more than doubled due to the economic circumstances the rate was calculated at having been “smashed to smithereens” by the credit crunch.
Miss Goldie said: “The First Minister is either deluding himself or he’s conning the public, because even in his own government no one has disputed the burgeoning black hole.”
The Tory leader added: “For the First Minister’s sums to add up there would have to be a 25% increase in income tax revenues in just one year.
“It isn’t going to happen; it’s total self-delusion.”
However, Mr Salmond claimed the local income tax was needed to introduce the freeze on council tax.
He said: “Given that David Cameron, in the House of Commons on Monday, stood up and extolled the virtues of a council tax freeze, said how important a council tax freeze was to restore the economy; can Annabel Goldie not follow in the line of her own party leader and complement and continue to support the government when we give help to hard pressed families?”
Alex Salmond said the reason the SNP wished to introduce the council tax freeze was the 40 per-cent increase by the Tories in government, then a further 60 per-cent over ten years by the Labour government, referring to both parties as “the unheavenly twins of the council tax”.
This political blogging business is taking me over: I decided to write my dissertation on MPs who blog (which is as good an excuse as any to spend hours on end reading Tom Harris’ blog); and next week I may have some more political goodies for you, as I have the biggest interview of my career so far with the one and only Annabel Goldie!
Actually, on that first part, I was in the library on Tuesday night trying to code blogs, when my work called asking why I was an hour and a half late for a shift… This dissertation business has made me lose all sense of reality, and I haven’t even started it yet.