Every time today that we’ve re-watched Johann Lamont’s multi-vehicular pile-up of an interview on last night’s Newsnight Scotland, we’ve seen something new in it that we missed previously and which makes us pull this face:
So (hngh) we’re going to have to get these down for posterity.
We’ve already dealt in the previous piece with the bit where Johann admits that what Labour proposes (if elected in 2015 and there’s been a No vote) is to divert money from Scotland to poor parts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. So let’s skip ahead.
1 MINUTE 45 SECONDS
BREWER: What do you think the basic rate of tax should be?
LAMONT: Well, it’s currently 20 pence.
Oh, this is going to go well.
3 MINUTES 50 SECONDS
BREWER: Now, you want the power to raise the higher rates of income tax – that’s just the 45p rate, is that correct?
BREWER: Not the 40p rate?
LAMONT: Yes, the 40p rate as well.
BREWER: So you want the power to –
LAMONT: I want the power, and the flexibility, to make those decisions, but that is again subject to the agreement of the people of Scotland in an election. That’s what we would discuss ahead of 2016.
BREWER: But not to lower them?
BREWER: I’m… what on Earth is the logic of that?
LAMONT: What you of course have already got the power to lower taxes across all over the bands, and we think there’s an argument which says if you’re going to lower at the top rate you can lower all of at the levels. But what we don’t want is a position, the concern of course around Corporation Tax is tax competition.
We took the judgement that actually there might be an issue, if you had the flexibility to cut as well as raise the top level, you might create a degree of tax competition across the United Kingdom.
Again, the balance is, the extent to which the sharing union, the co-operative, the sharing pooling risk and resources, actually holds the United Kingom together, which is why we don’t want to import too much responsibility onto the Scottish budget, but equally we don’t end up in a position that’s a race to the bottom on taxation.
Okay, everybody clear on that now?
6 MINUTES 55 SECONDS
BREWER: Do you, as a matter of fact, should you come to power in Scotland, want to put taxes up to 50p?
LAMONT: Once you have the power, you then have that, we make those decisions ahead of 2016, and we will put them before the people of Scotland.
We’re totally bemused as to why Lamont answers that question so evasively. Because as recently as Sunday, she’d said she would:
“Lamont indicated she would follow the approach taken by UK Labour leader Ed Miliband, who has been a fierce critic of George Osborne’s 2012 move to cut the tax rate for those paid more than £150,000 from 50p to 45p.
Miliband has promised it, Johann Lamont has said she would follow what Miliband did, so why not just say “Yes” when Brewer asks if that’s what she wants to do? Is the habit of dodging questions so totally ingrained in Labour by now that Lamont is pathologically incapable of answering one directly even when she’s already announced the answer barely 48 hours before?
BREWER: What happens if, let’s say, the Scottish Parliament decided to put the top rate of tax up to 50p, and lots of high earners just left or based themselves in England, and they thought “Ooh, well that wasn’t a very good idea, let’s put it back down again”, would they be forbidden from doing that?
LAMONT: No, they can do that.
BREWER: But I thought you said they couldn’t put it down?
LAMONT: What they can’t do, they can’t reduce it below what the level is set at a UK level.
BREWER: Ah, so it’s the UK that determines it?
LAMONT: Well, we have accepted that, we’re part of the United Kingdom.
Johann not quite grasping the concept of devolution, there.
BREWER: What if Ed Balls should become Chancellor of the Exchequer and he says “Right, I’m going to put the top rate up to 50p”, can the Scottish Parliament say no, we’re not going to do that, we’ll just keep it at 45?
LAMONT [after pause]: I wouldn’t have thought so.
You WOULDN’T HAVE THOUGHT SO? You’ve been working on this for TWO YEARS and you can’t answer even the most BASIC, OBVIOUS AND STRAIGHTFORWARD QUESTIONS ABOUT IT, you LUDICROUSLY INCOMPETENT BUMBLING COMEDY HALFWIT? For the LOVE OF GOD, COULD WE OR COULDN’T WE?
LAMONT: Why would we, you know, why would we do that?
BREWER: Well, would we have the power to do that, that’s what I’m asking.
LAMONT: The power we’ve got is not to cut below what the UK rate is, so the UK rate is set and then we can’t cut below that.
Feel the power, readers!
BREWER: So if they put taxes up, we have to put them up?
LAMONT [strangled]: Yes.
BREWER: And if they put taxes down –
LAMONT: Well, to the top rate, yes.
BREWER: – if they put the top rate down, we don’t have to do that?
LAMONT: Well, they establish, it’s quite basic, because of course, we’re still part of the United Kingdom, we’ve accepted that macro-economic policy should be decided at a UK level, what we want round about that is flexibility.
…but only the flexibility of travelling along a one-way street. You can go up it in one direction just fine, but if you want to reverse back down it the wrong way, strictly speaking it’s technically doable but everyone else behind has to go backwards with you and the whole thing’s just an insane mess.
BREWER: It just seems… it’s a very peculiar way to run a tax system.
LAMONT: Well, you may think it’s peculiar, but then what we have here is an interesting combination of us being part of the United Kingdom, which shares and pools risk and resource, but also gives the Scottish Parliament accountability.
We don’t know about you, readers, but when we see people queueing at a foodbank, the sentence we hear over and over again is “Look, I might be starving and reduced to this appalling, desperate measure to feed my family, but so long as the Scottish Parliament is more accountable over its tax revenue that’s what really matters.”
BREWER: What about tax bands, can we change them?
We sure do love all this new flexibility over taxation! Go go Devo Nano!
We’re going to have to leave the bit about Housing Benefit out – where Lamont concedes that Housing Benefit is a fundamental part of Universal Credit, but that you can nevertheless remove it without destroying Universal Credit, in ways she doesn’t specify, even though it’ll still be part of Universal Credit in the UK, and that somehow Housing Benefit is a SOURCE of income (“monies that accrue from Housing Benefit”) rather than an EXPENSE – because every time we try to listen to it it makes us cry.
10 MINUTES 25 SECONDS
BREWER: Now, you say the Barnett Formula should continue, which is fine for you to say. Can you imagine a situation where a Scottish Government says “Right, we’re going to be bold, we’re going to have a Baltic states policy on taxation, we’re going to cut tax across the board 5p in the pound” – which would mean that the Barnett money, while it might be the same, would be a greater proportion, obviously, of reduced tax revenues in Scotland – and everyone in the rest of the UK is going to say “Oh, that’s absolutely fine”?
LAMONT: Well, I think Barnett Formula works for the United Kingdom. Clearly if you’ve got a tax-cutting agenda –
BREWER: But if Scotland did that, surely even a Labour government in London would say “You must be joking”?
LAMONT: – a tax-cutting agenda, if you had a tax-cutting proposal, Barnett adjusts round that. You don’t, you would take the risk to yourself, of cutting taxation.
Wait, WHAT? No it doesn’t, you blithering imbecile. The whole point of the Scotland Act proposals and Labour’s suggested extension of them is that your block grant gets cut at the beginning of each funding period, only half of income tax is levied by London, and then you have to make up the Barnett shortfall with your own Scottish taxation, thereby making Scotland responsible for raising more of its own revenue.
If you want lower taxes you can choose to do it, but if so you have less money and have to cut elsewhere. You DON’T then get DOUBLY punished by having Barnett cut even further if you’ve chosen to absorb some of the original cut to keep taxes down. Barnett doesn’t “adjust” to anything you do, it’s set at a fixed level before you start.
Johann Lamont wants to be the First Minister, readers. She doesn’t understand how the Scotland Act – essentially drafted by her own party – works, she doesn’t know whether Scotland would be able to have a lower higher tax rate (if you see what we mean) than the rest of the UK, she thinks only being able to move in one direction is “flexibility” and she thinks you can take one of the fundamental core elements out of Universal Credit, in only one part of the country, while simultaneously keeping it intact and retaining control of welfare at Westminster as one of the pillars of the Union.
If we vote Yes in September, she won’t be the leader of Scottish Labour any more. If we vote No she will, and there’s at least a theoretical chance she could be in charge of the country 20 months later.
The choice is in your hands.