SHONA Robison insists that Scotland is at the “upper limit of mitigation” of UK Government policies (Scotland “now at upper limits of mitigating Tory austerity”, The National, December 20).

That might well be true so long as the Scottish Government fails to look beyond the range of taxes determined by Westminster.

Ms Robison was convener of the Social Justice and Fairness Commission which in 2021 recommended the adoption of Land Value Tax (LVT) as part of a wider reform to “remove our dependence on council tax, land and buildings transaction tax and non-domestic rates” (NDR). There has been no hint of any move in that direction by the Scottish Government.

Land values represent a huge source of largely untapped revenue. The Welsh Labour government recently commissioned a lengthy study into the potential of LVT which indicates that land accounts for 48% of overall residential property value. The figure is likely to be similar for Scotland. This is a huge tax base and does not include land currently eligible for NDR, nor vacant or derelict land of which Scotland has 11,000 hectares and which would be liable to LVT. Land hoarders would be put on notice.

READ MORE: Budget issue is Westminster’s fault – but here’s what Scotland can do

Wales seems to be ahead of Scotland in examining its tax options under devolution. A study in 2018 by Plaid Cymru showed how a partial shift to LVT would allow not only council tax and NDR to be scrapped, but would enable a 9p reduction in income tax across the board.

So where are the Greens in this? In 2009, they commissioned a study by Andy Wightman (below) which showed how LVT – as a revenue-neutral replacement for council tax – would leave 75% of homeowners with smaller bills, yet they seem reluctant to rock the boat.

The National: Land reformer and former Green Party MSP Andy Wightman in his HIghland wood. STY Vicky A. MAG
Pic Gordon Terris Herald & Times

If the Scottish Government is to plug the huge gap in its own finances and enable local authorities to function, it needs to look at other sources of revenue. Land values are the obvious target. Economists agree that LVT – unlike taxes on employment and productivity – is economically non-distortive. In 2022, the Government think tank the Scottish Land Commission urged “systemic changes to enable government to tax land values more effectively”.

This is achievable under the current devolution arrangement. In seeking further independence from Westminster, Scotland must surely demonstrate its ability to use its existing devolved powers creatively before seeking more.
John Digney

IN his column “Scottish Budget is a mess but it’s thanks to the Tories, not the SNP” (The National, December 20), Professor Richard Murphy is incorrect to state that the Scottish Government is starved of money and there are no other options but cuts.

Through the Fiscal Framework agreement between the UK and Scottish governments, the consequence of raising more revenue through devolved taxes results in the corresponding reduction of funds received from the UK Government towards Scotland’s public services. That is a stitch-up.

However, Professor Murphy fails to look at the other side of this particular equation.

What if the Scottish Government raised all the funds it requires from devolved taxes without any contribution from the UK Government?

The Scottish Government would be in control of Scotland’s finances and show to all the doubters that Scotland can stand on its own.

But is this not a fantastical notion?

Well, just take a look at Section 80I of the Scotland Act 2016.

If the UK Parliament had intended to restrict the power of the Scottish Parliament to only create land and building transaction tax as a tartan version of stamp duty land tax, it would have legislated accordingly. But it didn’t! The section is much more permissive whether by design or the ignorance of Scots conveyancing law by UK parliamentary draughtsmen.

I’d invite Professor Murphy and your readers to examine the above section of the 2016 act.

In summary, the section empowers the Scottish Parliament WITHOUT the consent of Westminster to legislate for tax on transactions which involve the acquisition of an interest in land.

The act does not define “transactions”, “acquisitions” or “interest”.

Under Scots Law – in addition to purchasers – the following acquire interests in land: Mortgage lenders; local authorities; government agencies; executors, beneficiaries and property factors – all of whom can and do secure the title of land to protect their financial, fiduciary and public policy value of their interest in the land.

Under Scots Law, in addition to a contract between two or more parties, the definition of “transactions”

includes unilateral actions. Current examples are the submitting of a bill or notice for rates or council tax, making of a will and serving a statutory notice on the owner to do something to his land.

Thus the Scottish Parliament can use Section 80I to introduce other taxes, provided that the tax involves a transaction which acquires interests in land.

These could include my suggested model of Annual Ground Rent – known as Annual Ground Floor and Roof Rent (AGFRR) – on all publicly and privately owned land which has been shown to raise far more money for public funds than all current Scottish and UK taxes and can lift everyone out of poverty with a Universal Citizens’ Income of £200 or more per week.

In his reference to the Scottish Government’s restricted powers to raise income tax, Professor Murphy also fails to mention that the powers under the 2016 Act permit the Scottish Parliament to set a zero rate for income tax on earned income which has the effect of abolishing income tax on earned income.

By omitting what I have referenced above, Professor Murphy is disregarding the ultimate power which the Scottish Parliament actually has under devolved powers to raise all public funding which it deems Scotland needs from our land without any perceived subsidy, block grant or Barnett consequential. This would severely restrict the amount of tax HMRC would receive from Scots to reserved taxes.

Furthermore, under AGFRR, the Scottish Parliament could have separate land types for energy and whisky companies’ interests in land and charge an appropriate rate on these interests to increase funds being paid directly to Revenue Scotland. This would significantly reduce the net profits of these organisations and the amount of corporation and other taxes which they pay the UK Government.

There are plenty of non-fiscal opportunities for the Scottish Government and parliamentarians to challenge Westminster, but I respectfully suggest that should the Scottish Government concentrate its efforts to use existing powers to simplify our tax regime by requiring all land to contribute towards our wellbeing and eradicate poverty, then the path to independence is short, simple and devastating to the Union. He who controls the money controls the debate.

Governor-General Jack may seek to block the introduction of AGFRR on the grounds that it undermines the “no detriment” rule in the Fiscal Framework agreement. The arbitration process to establish any detriment to the UK Government is long and convoluted and probably unsuccessful. Alternatively, he might just strike it down under Section 35 of the Scotland Act.

Either way, such actions would be the best recruiting sergeant the SNP and independence cause could have.
Graeme McCormick

ON a short cruise the other week in the western Mediterranean, one of our ports of call was Valletta. As the ship manoeuvred to the dockside, I looked up at the bluff where the old town sits, topped by an elegant low neoclassical building. It flies the Maltese flag and identifies itself with the words under its pediment: National Bank of Malta. I shuddered with mortification that the tiny island country, three-quarters the size of Arran, has done something which the main independence party of Scotland lacks the gumption to dare, in spite of consistent 50/50 polling.

The National: Flags of Malta surrounding the Malta Independence Monument are seen in Valletta, Malta on 21 September 2022  (Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images).

Malta chose independence from Britain in 1964 and became a republic 10 years later. Our visit happened to be on Republic Day, a national holiday, and the Maltese marines were led by their band on a march to the fine modern parliament building. The country joined the EU in 2004, and has not looked back, despite a lack of natural resources. With a large population of half a million, its per-capita GDP is almost $39,000 (more than $63,000 in purchasing power parity). It has a high Human Development Index rating and signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2021. It has a centre-left social democratic party in power.

So Scotland can find good examples not just in the north (as set out so thoroughly and so well by Lesley Riddoch) but in southern Europe too. Scottish independence could come about easily if we simply vote for it. There is no other barrier, but the only way for it to happen is by a plebiscitary General Election (since we are not going to get a referendum – full stop). Furthermore, the only way for us to be given such an election is for the SNP to put it clearly and unambiguously into their manifesto – vote by majority for the SNP and Scotland WILL go independent.

Unfortunately, that is not their intention, and the route they have adopted still relies on London’s co-operation, a doomed mixture of subservience and oblivion. Until the SNP alter their suicidal policy, there can be no progress whatsoever towards independence and all the now-burgeoning discussion that avoids that issue is seriously beside the point.
Alan Crocket

IN thanking you for a year of fair and unbiased content in your letter section, may I wish you all – along with friends and foes alike – health, happiness and joy at Christmas and in the year ahead.

Someone once said: “Friends make you laugh a little louder, smile a little bigger and live a little better.”

So enjoy the magic of the moment, as when the world turns with the promise of a million tomorrows, only love and friendship survive beyond time.

Planet Earth is full of colour, beauty and light and even in these dark and troubled times, since there is always more good in the world than evil, sense and worth will always prevail.
Grant Frazer

IT’S that time of year again when The National has a holiday. After the year that it’s been, we should be glad of the break, but the day doesn’t seem right when it doesn’t start with The National!

Anyway, hope you all enjoy the well-deserved break and goodness knows what you’ll be reporting in 2024! All the best to everyone.
Ann Leitch
via email