Question Time audience member mocks Ian Blackford
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is quietly working on her country’s independence bid. Her Scottish National Party (SNP) secured Holyrood in May’s elections, just one seat short of a majority. Before the ballot, Ms Sturgeon said gaining a majority in the Scottish Parliament would give her the mandate to push forward with a second independence referendum.
However, she said her main priority was in tackling Scotland’s coronavirus epidemic.
A number of sticking points remain unchanged in the independence debate, including taxation.
Leading figures in the SNP like Ian Blackford, the party’s Westminster leader, have long claimed that Scottish people subsidise projects in the UK through their taxes.
While he was proved wrong by Channel 4’s fact checker in 2019, the SNP’s own website even contradicts Mr Blackford’s assertion that Scots are being taxed unfairly.
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In a report, the party promoted the fact that English and Welsh residents pay higher taxes than their Scottish counterparts.
In 2019, the SNP told of how under their governance Scotland had “the best deal for taxpayers of anywhere in the UK”.
It read: “We continue to have the fairest income tax anywhere in the UK with 55 percent of taxpayers paying less in Scotland than they would elsewhere in the UK.”
The paper added: “Council Tax bills are lower in Scotland than in England – average Band D bills are £499 lower.”
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Even today, many Scots pay less tax than taxpayers in the rest of the UK.
A University of Strathclyde study found that Scotland’s tax regime is designed to “raise more revenue, but the majority of individuals pay fractionally less than if they lived in the rest of the UK”.
The study also found that spending north of the border is around £1,300 per capita higher than equivalent spending in the UK as a whole, a source of grievance for many voters around Britain.
It noted how Scotland has benefited considerably from the Barnett formula, and explained: “The block grant provides Scotland with a relatively more generous settlement.”
This included things like a “relatively generous baseline settlement,” a “slower growing Scottish population (which eases the ‘Barnett Squeeze’),” and “various oddities in terms of how the formula has worked in the past – including treatment of Non Domestic Rates and one-off spending increases”.
It added: “Of course there are heated debates about the Barnett Formula, its merits, the role of oil, the underlying politics and inter-regional fairness across the UK.
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“But what we can conclude factually is that it is this mechanism that provides most of the uplift we see in spending in Scotland relative to the rest of the UK (not income tax decisions).”
Ahead of the 2019 general election, Mr Blackford made the claim that Scottish people subsidised the UK as a whole, and said: “UK Government figures make it absolutely clear that Scotland has subsidised the rest of the UK in most of the last 40-year period.”
Yet, Channel 4’s fact checker came to the conclusion that it was a claim “impossible for us to stand up”.
The only data available to make such a claim was published by the Scottish government in 2013, and contained discrepancies such as missing dates and only going back as far as the year 1980/81 – despite Mr Blackford having said Scotland “has subsidised the rest of the UK in most of the last 40-year period”.
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The data set was published with a warning: “Please use with caution as these statistics are particularly liable to revision as the data sources and methods used to produce them are developed”, immediately raising red flags.
It found that while it is true that Scotland paid more per head into the UK Government’s coffers than Britain as a whole every year from 1980/81 to 2011/21, the higher tax accounts for the fact that “most of the UK’s oil and gas assets are located in the North Sea, off the coast of Scotland”.
Channel 4 noted that there was also another side to the taxation argument: public spending.
Tax receipts have often been higher per head in Scotland, but so has public spending.
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In 2013, Professor Brian Ashcroft of the University of Strathclyde looked at these figures and found that the extra spending per capita on Scotland cancelled out the extra tax revenue almost exactly over the 32 years covered by the stats, although his analysis did reveal that Scotland paid in slightly more than it took out.
In response to the findings, an SNP spokesman said: “We have demonstrated to you using official Government statistics that Ian Blackford’s comments are correct.
“The evidence shows that tax revenues per head in Scotland have been considerably higher than the UK – that has unquestionably subsidised UK public spending over the period.
“We have also demonstrated how your argument about public spending does not take into account the costs to Scotland of servicing UK debt that would not have been required had we been independent.
“There is nothing you have presented that suggests Ian Blackford’s comments were not true.”