Neil Mackay: Shame on the SNP for its sleekit council tax tricks

IT’S become something of a modern Scottish cliché to say that Boris Johnson is the SNP’s recruiting sergeant. There’s truth in the claim, of course – but it’s much more accurate to see the Prime Minister as the SNP’s human shield.

The King of Clowning Street is such a blundering, dangerous and delinquent lying oaf that the sins of Bute House go all but unnoticed. After all, who pays attention to a shoplifter when there’s a full-scale bank robbery going on in front of you?

And so the Scottish Government is currently getting away with stealthily adding to the misery of the cost of living crisis under cover of Johnsonian chaos. The SNP is desperately trying to play down how its policy reversal unfreezing council tax will contribute to financial pressures facing millions of Scots.

Put simply the issue is this: the SNP has granted local authorities the right to raise council tax for the first time since taking power in 2007. So amid crippling price rises, the party has offloaded the need for tax hikes on to its patsies in local government. Money must be found to keep services running in Scotland, but the SNP doesn’t want to bear any of the blame. When local authorities inevitably hike taxes – most likely after the May elections so councillors don’t suffer at the ballot box – Nicola Sturgeon’s Government can simply say: “Not me, guv.”

In fact, the SNP has also promised not to raise income tax – allowing it to falsely grandstand as the party not adding to the pain in your pocket. The Scottish Government, frankly, is at it. It’s sly, sleekit economics. One could call it “Sleekitomics”.

I asked one of Scotland’s leading economists, Professor Ronnie MacDonald from Glasgow University, what he made of the Scottish Government’s jiggery-pokery around council tax and how it plays into the cost of living crisis. He said that “the SNP’s policy is wrong-headed”.

Read more: How can the left support the SNP Thatcher-lite indy vision?

Prof MacDonald’s thinking is worth recording – so voters can properly consider the actions of the Sturgeon Government and its impact on their financial future. “The SNP’s policy of allowing councils to freely set their council tax rates is likely to be a step in the wrong direction in terms of trying to control inflation,” he says.

The paltry £120 million which the SNP recently announced for cash-starved councils is, he added, “unlikely to be enough to keep council tax bills from rising further given the dramatic worsening of local authorities’ budgetary positions”.

“Although, prior to the May elections, we are unlikely to see dramatic rises in council tax rates, there can be little doubt that given the persistent underfunding of councils over the years there will be a strong expectation of a significant hike in the council tax rate post-May, and this will simply worsen the current cost of living crisis, especially if it leads to a worsening of inflationary expectations. As a result, this doesn’t strike me as a very responsible policy strategy, although I daresay their strategy is designed to avoid the blame game of tax rises.”


Professor Ronnie McDonald

Professor Ronnie McDonald


So while the nation is rightly incensed by Downing Street wine fridges in a country of food banks, and machinations by cosseted super-rich bankers to deliberately suppress pay rises, the SNP is posing as the friend of the worker while picking our pockets.

The SNP is a fraud on so many fronts. Just look at the recent sale of the Scottish seabed to private and foreign companies for wind farms – a neo-Thatcherite move by a party posing as social democrats, and a party which once promised a public energy company. Or the failure to adequately guarantee that the Scottish Government will protect pensions post-independence, despite claiming all is rosy.

This is the party of the Wizard of Oz. If you simply accept the SNP’s version of itself then you’re looking at a great and powerful party here to protect the poor, suffering people of Scotland. But peek behind the curtain and you see a small and petty Government that pulls the wool over the eyes of the people of Scotland on a now daily basis.

We’ve the SNP warning of deaths from the cost of living crisis – and yes, it is right. People are going to die because they face the choice of heating or eating. But the blunt truth is that the SNP is now contributing to lethality with the inevitable rise in council tax.

Meanwhile, the party’s supporters cheer and holler. At the weekend, nationalists online were posting messages proclaiming a “Scottish revolution”. One could cry. As I’ve said before, I support independence – solely on the grounds that Westminster is a rotten joke and I see no other hope of improving circumstances for the poorest in society without breaking from the UK. However, the SNP offers no better future. At best, it promises a palace revolution where instead of Tory mismanagement from remote Westminster, Scotland faces nationalist mismanagement up close and personal by the SNP in Edinburgh.

Read more: How does SNP vision of an independent Scotland fit in a world where the threat of war grows daily?

Look, the SNP has done some good things – doubling the Child Allowance was an act which balances out many sins. But they’re not doing anywhere near enough to help ordinary people, and the thoroughly sleekit behaviour around council tax is a stinking dirty trick.

On Thursday the Scottish Government will outline how it intends to deal with the cost of living crisis. The £120m for councils was a spit in the ocean. Councils are already drawing up plans to cut services by £250m next year.

The SNP should reinstate the council tax freeze and give local authorities the money needed to keep services running.

For pity sake, if this party has the temerity to tell Scotland that it can lead us into an independent future, then lead us through this crisis without heaping pain on the people.

Independence is by definition a good thing – it’s a natural state of affairs. But independence can be distorted and bastardised by the political party and politicians who lead us there. It seems ever more likely that the SNP’s vision of independence is simply the current neoliberal status quo but decked in a Saltire rather than a Union Jack.

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