Cybernats are a funny lot. And by that I do not mean funny-haha. Writing for the Sunday Telegraph, Alan Cochrane – a pro-Union Tory, who would have thunk it? – discusses the attempts by the previous Scottish Government to block FoI requests into its conclusions at the cost of a local income tax (LIT) to replace council tax.
Maybe it is because of the snow-encased winter which, instead of killing the cybernats’ larvae, served to provide a warm blanket on the ground, but they came out in force to ramble about this and that and personally abuse Cochrane… in fact, anything but the issue of LIT.
As the resident House Jock at Harry’s Place, recently I wrote about the largess of the Scottish Government in promising free prescriptions on the presumption of continued grants from Westminster and the anatagonism this undoubtedly will cause to those in England whose charges continue to rise.
Another example of this has been a centrally-funded three year freeze on council tax charges, with pledges by all four main Parties (let us say that the LibDems still are one of the four) to continue after elections on 5 May (even from those who admit they probably would have raised council tax had they been in Government since 2007). Definitely popular, and seen also in numerous local authorities in England, but soon either it will have to end or for tax collecting measures be re-jigged.
One such proposal for the latter from the previous Government was the introduction of LIT, which would have the additional benefit of being collected directly from most eligable residents’ paypackets instead of the effective trust-based payments with an estimated £1 billion being unpaid across Scotland.
In 2009, the then SNP Government shelved plans for the LIT due to insufficient support in Holyrood due, in part, to warnings that any regional variance in income tax – as much as 3p – would result in middle-earners paying more than they had on council tax. Further investigations led by the chief economic advisor, Andrew Goudie were implemented with a stated intention from Alex Salmond to spend the next five years laying the ground for an LIT. Yet, Goudie’s report initially with-held even from the Information Commissioner for Scotland, Kevin Dunion so he could determine if there was a public interest case.
Despite eventually dropping their legal objection, the Government continued to reject Dunion’s opinion that the findings should be published as well as FoI requests from journalists at the Daily Telegraph. The most recent episode was on 22 February when the Court of Session ruled against the Government, but gave it six weeks to appeal.
Cochrane observes that the appeal was lodged after almost the full six weeks, and right before Holyrood was due to be dissolved in advance of the 5 May elections. Maybe Cochrane is correct in his suspicion that this was a filibustering technique, maybe he is being unfairly cynical.
What is clear that whoever forms the next Scottish Government will have to balance the desire to spend money on public services with the guarantee of receiving this money.