Scottish Parliament

13 December 2017

It is a bit rich for the Tories to come here this afternoon, claiming to be the guardians of working people on low and middle incomes.

It is one of the great illusions of conservatism down the ages: in shifting the burden of taxation from the rich to the poor, the Tories present it as cutting taxes for all.

They parade it as being a measure for the common good when it really benefits the richest people in society.

They claim to be the party of low tax for all when in practice they connive to redistribute income and wealth from the already worse off to the already better off.

Why was the Tory party not thinking about low and middle-income earners when it increased VAT—a regressive tax that disproportionately hits those on low earnings—to 20 per cent?

Why was it not thinking about low and middle-income earners when it cut the top rate of income tax for high earners from 50 to 45 per cent?

Why was it not thinking about low and middle-income earners when it cut capital gains tax and the stamp duty paid on shareholder dividends and bond yields?

Where were these guardians of working people when the first Panama papers—and now the paradise papers—revealed tax avoidance and tax evasion on an industrial scale?

To the Tories moving the motion, I ask—no, I demand—that they tell us what their Government is doing about the tax evasion and tax avoidance scandal.

Is it increasing the resources for tackling tax evasion and tax avoidance—or is it instead axing the jobs of tax recovery staff at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and closing their offices across the country?

In the Tory party press release in advance of today’s debate, Murdo Fraser is quoted as saying—and I must get this right—that “punishing and counter-productive taxes” should not be raised in tomorrow’s budget.

Is he seriously suggesting that income tax is a “counter-productive” tax?

It is a fair tax in principle that needs to be more progressively applied in practice—or perhaps the position of Murdo Fraser and his party is that all tax is “counter-productive”.

Perhaps he should tell us which forms of taxation the Tories consider to be productive. Is it the poll tax, the bedroom tax or indirect taxes such as VAT?

The current Tory chancellor showed in his budget last month that he is still continuing with the failed austerity agenda, and he now has his sights on the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Because of the downgrading of the economic growth forecasts in the red book, Philip Hammond is keen to improve public sector net borrowing by selling off RBS at a bargain-basement price.

Why are the Conservative members not on the side of the 321 low and middle-income earners who work in the 62 RBS branches across Scotland that face closure because of the chancellor’s action and inaction?

Tomorrow, the Scottish Government will unveil its draft budget, and tomorrow afternoon the people of Scotland will be entitled to ask what the difference is between Philip Hammond’s fiscal plans and Derek Mackay’s fiscal plans.

I have to remind people that, last year, there was very little difference between the two.

That is why I simply say to the SNP that it cannot denounce austerity today and do nothing about it tomorrow.

We all know that it is nothing short of a crime that the Tory Government can take money out of public services when it already criminally underresources them.

The reality is that, in Tory Britain, more children are living in poverty, more working people are on zero-hours contracts, more people are working harder for less, more people are sleeping rough on our streets, and the people with the least have even less.

That is why the people whom we represent know that we need real change, and they are looking for the Parliament to lead that real change.

When the Tories force through austerity across the United Kingdom, the Scottish Parliament can do things differently.

It can take a different path, and we need to do that tomorrow. Now is the time for real and radical change from the Parliament.

Now is the time to make the right choices for the people of Scotland, to stand up for the people of Scotland and for the communities that sent us here, to stand up against widening inequality and rising poverty, and to stand up against the trickery of the Conservative Party, which is laid bare in its motion.

I move amendment S5M-09513.2, to leave out from “freeze” to end and insert: “use its powers to stop cuts to local services and to offer an alternative to Conservative austerity to the people of Scotland.”


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