Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Getting the numbers straight

Within minutes of John Swinney announcing that he had been compelled by the stance of others to defer legislation for local income tax until after the 2011 election, Professor Richard Kerley suggested on television that the problem had been the failure of the SNP and Liberal Democrats to come to an agreement over the issue of the local variability of the tax rate - if that agreement had been there, a parliamentary majority would have been there, Kerley stated as if it were simple fact. Admittedly, Kerley is the leading expert on local government finance and not on parliamentary arithmetic, but you'd think someone so engaged with this issue would have explored it from all the angles. Either way, he's simply wrong. The SNP and Liberal Democrats between them have 63 seats, while the other parties in combination have 65. As John Swinney pointed out in his speech, without the Greens altering their position radically there was never the slightest prospect of getting the legislation through this side of an election. And, as we've recently learned, those who think that the Greens will back down easily are usually guilty of wishful thinking.

This is not a mere technicality - we saw from Andy Kerr's response that Labour are determined to propagate the fiction that the SNP have backed off the policy because they knew it was wrong, and that they have betrayed the electorate by not fulfilling their manifesto pledge. (Usual muddled message - if in Kerr's fantasy world the fabled "hard-working families" were to be hit by a tax bombshell, are they really meant to feel "betrayed" now that they've been spared such a calamity?) It's vital that this fiction is not allowed to take root, and that the electorate fully understands that not only was the majority in Holyrood not there, but that the Westminster government had used an array of outrageous tactics to make it logistically impossible for a local income tax to go forward even if a majority had been there. The real 'false prospectus' was not the SNP's manifesto pledge, it was the UK government's claim of respect for the devolution settlement.

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