IT’S put up or shut up time in the Scottish Parliament – for every political party, not just the SNP.

Yes, its Budget has plenty of holes in it.

Most produced by a UK Chancellor who chose tax cuts over public service investment, and built that desperate, short-sighted priority into Holyrood’s block grant even as he withheld a billion pounds to compensate for the rocketing inflation fuelled by his own government.

Rishi Sunak and his guys are cute.

But the cut in Scottish housing cash is very bad news. The failure to reach Humza Yousaf’s promised £30 Scottish Child Payment is grim. Councils are panicking over the veiled threat to their public sector workforce and one quarter say they are approaching bankruptcy.

And high earners in Scotland are paying “even more” tax than elsewhere in the UK – a scandalous reality that headlined the Jeremy Vine Radio Two show yesterday.

Congratulations, Shona Robison – you’ve arrived.

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Now was that a classic bit of Scot-baiting or a great opportunity to explain the workings of a normal, redistributionist government to English folk who can barely remember one? Maybe a bit of both.

The Finance Secretary pointed out that a top teacher (along with most public sector professionals) earns 16% more in Scotland than England, and also gets free university tuition and prescriptions, better childcare and a society that generally gives a toss.

I’d imagine headies are smart enough to realise a good overall deal when they see one and able to make tax comparisons beyond broken Britain – Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden all have higher top tax rates than Scotland.

But basically, as Richard Murphy explained so well in yesterday’s National, the Scottish Government cannot use income tax alone to create sustainable growth in Scotland or duck and weave round a Budget built to reflect Westminster’s spiv and speculator tendencies.

Robison at the Holyrood despatch box was a bit like the fictional Dutch boy who saved his country from flooding by plugging a dyke with his finger. Except leaks are springing up everywhere. And Shona Robison cannae plug them all.

The National: Scotland shouldn't fear doing things differently from the Westminster establishment Scotland shouldn't fear doing things differently from the Westminster establishment

That’s where hard choices come in – and political vision. And listening to Scottish Labour’s finance spokesperson yesterday morning was grimly instructive.

I expected a lot better from Michael Marra – not just because the MSP for North East Scotland is the nephew of the late great Bard of Dundee. Marra the MSP is no dafty and no slouch. But in a Radio Scotland interview he also made no suggestions for improving the Scottish budget, presumably because radical change is off the agenda for Keir Starmer – even though Marra must know that wealth taxes and greater Holyrood powers are the only way to get Scotland motoring.

Indeed, his exchange with tenacious interviewer Laura Maxwell confirmed that Scottish Labour will girn about the SNP’s budget choices, but produce no convincing alternatives;

Q: In Scottish Labour’s 2021 manifesto you backed higher tax on those earning £100k and over. So presumably you welcome the SNP’s £75k taxband?

A: No, we don’t. The reality is that the top rate delivers a very small amount of money…

Q: So how much would it have raised if you’d introduced a tax on incomes over £100k?

A: Well, we have to look at this country, different ways we raise taxes, wealth taxes…

Then followed a lengthy detour justifying lower taxes on doctors and surgeons to fill Scottish vacancies without any mention of Brexit. And then…

Q: Would you support the Scottish Child Payment being rolled out across the UK if you win at Westminster?

A: I’m not going to get into the UK Labour position on benefits…

Q: Well, where would you have cut yesterday?

A: We wouldn’t have started from the position we were looking at …

Q: Yes but we are where we are. What would you have cut?

A: Dealing with those hypotheticals Laura, in terms of if we were in government right now, rather than what we are doing is preparing a manifesto for 2026 that will resolve the problems created by this SNP/Green government…

Q: Would you have frozen council tax?

A: If it was a fully funded freeze we think that’s an acceptable way to tackle household budgets problems…

Q: Where Labour are in power in Wales, the headlines are saying councils are looking at a 10% council tax increase because they’ve only been given 3.1% more.

A: Certainly colleagues in Wales will take their own decisions…

WAFTY, wafty, wafty.

And proof positive. The Labour cavalry isn’t coming.

For anyone growing weary of the SNP, the only relevant tax question is this:Which party is more likely to believe that taxation works, and that tax revenues help deliver a better society for everyone? It’s the party/parties who are able to take inspiration from Europe’s leading social democracies. There’s a section of the new Denmark film that’s relevant.

Larissa Albers is a teacher in Jutland with a wee boy who attends a nursery that costs a third of the UK average. She says: “I’m really happy to pay 37% tax because it means I have kindergarten and hospitals when I need them. We all help each other so everyone gets possibilities. By us paying tax, families without much money can go freely to kindergarten. I’m glad to do that.”


That’s the kind of society we are trying to create. In Scotland a young teacher like Larissa would pay just 21% tax and if promoted, £5-700 of her salary would creep into the new higher tax bracket of 42%. Combined, that’s a far lower tax contribution than the Nordic average.

Yet citizens in all these countries are happier than us and their economies are stronger. Now, it’s true that 30 Norwegian billionaires and multi-millionaires moved to low tax Switzerland last year after the new centre-left government in Oslo increased wealth taxes to 1.1%, costing the Norwegian government millions in lost tax receipts.

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But no-one is demanding that Norway raids its oil fund instead – the importance of safeguarding their future is so completely understood. Nor is anyone suggesting wealth taxes are abandoned – just tweaked. Even though Norway imposes wealth taxes at the state and local council level.

And this I think is Richard Murphy’s main point. In Britain, we only talk about tax on income – we never discuss taxing wealth even though that’s common elsewhere.

America taxes its citizens on income they earn abroad, and if high worth Americans want to avoid that bill and renounce US citizenship, they face a 23.8% exit tax on their net wealth. And that’s been in place for 15 years. A new temporary solidarity tax in Spain will be charged on fortunes above €3m (£2.7m). But in Britain that is unthinkable.

In 2020, the Wealth Tax Commission costed a one-off wealth tax. Levied at 1% on individuals with net wealth of £10m and above, it would raise about £43bn from 22,000 wealthy Brits.

That could transform the NHS.

It could reverse poverty. In 2007, the average UK household was 8% worse off than its European peers. It is now 20% poorer.

Other countries are tougher on taxing wealth. But Scotland hesitates because Britain has never even started. Yes, there’s inheritance tax – but it’s widely avoided.

Westminster’s aversion to wealth taxes has become contagious. Scotland doesn’t tax the asset of land – almost alone in Europe. And Scottish Governments of all political hues Labour/LibDem and SNP/Green have stood united in their very British squeamishness. Even though a Scottish Land Tax would come direct to the Scottish Government via Revenue Scotland.

The only solutions for our economy and society are big, ambitious, radical ones.

It’s clear Scottish Labour have none. Do the SNP?