When the Poll Tax was introduced in 1989, public opposition was so strong that a campaign of non-payment, followed by a famous riot in London, led to an embarrassing retreat by the Thatcher government.
The hostility came from a belief that the Poll Tax, which saw every adult charged the same level of tax for local services, was fundamentally unfair. The Poll Tax went against the egalitarian principle that the level of tax you pay should be based on your ability to pay, with the wealthiest facing the largest burden. Instead, the millionaire in a luxury home was paying the same rate as the low-income worker in a small flat.
The Poll Tax was replaced by the Council Tax system that we have to this day. By setting the level of tax based on the value of the home you lived in, the Council Tax was an improvement.
But it’s also an imperfect system that still largely fails to take into account your ability to pay.
A wealthy couple who choose to live in a modest flat may find themselves in the same Council Tax Band as a low- or middle- income family with several children. The well-paid professional and the minimum-wage worker may have vastly different incomes but might receive the same bill each month.
The Scottish Government is committed to finding a fairer way of funding local services, and in my capacity as Minister for Local Government I currently co-chair a cross-party commission to consider alternatives to the Council Tax. And we want the public to take part.
I’m therefore hosting an open event on September 9 where you’ll have a chance to have your say on how we should replace the Council Tax.
The event will require no prior or expert knowledge, and will take place as a series of informal discussions. This will give everyone a chance to contribute based on their own experience as Council Tax payers, city residents and citizens.
The question of who pays tax and how much is, above all, one of principle – and one of the biggest tests of the fairness of a society. But we also all use the local services – like Edinburgh’s schools, roads, parks, bins, and social care – that depend on local tax for their funding.
The event will be held at Augustine United Church on George IV Bridge, starting at 7pm, and will be open to all who wish to attend.
New life was injected into the idea of the town hall meeting during the referendum. In Edinburgh thousands filed into church halls or school theatres. That’s how politics should be.
My experience of those events was of an informed, intelligent public who often had a much deeper insight into the issues than they realised.
Local tax might not raise the fervour of the referendum but it is still a £2 billion question that affects how much each and every one of us pays. We have to get it right.
Marco Biagi is SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central