Martin Hannan: Unfair tax rules are polls apart

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Of all the biased manufactured outcries aimed at the SNP government, nothing has beaten for sheer ludicrousness the complete and utter tosh spouted by those who have decried the proposal to ban councils from using electoral registers to collect unpaid poll tax debts.

To listen to the whingers, you’d think Alex Salmond had sold off the Crown Jewels, but last year the total unpaid poll tax – as opposed to council tax – collected by all the councils in Scotland was less than £400,000, and it cost more than that sum to collect it.

No-one has yet made a positive case against the Scottish Government’s plan, and it is significant that the Conservative and Labour leadership have said relatively little. That’s probably because the Tories, at least, are all too aware of their own weakness in this argument.

For was the Conservatives’ poll tax not the most hated, most heinous and downright anti-Scottish tax ever imposed upon us by the Westminster government? Does no-one remember how across Scotland, people joined forces to protest against the so-called Community Charge levelled on Scotland first, don’t forget, by Margaret Thatcher’s government? She did it in revenge, it seemed, for the Scottish electorate’s rejection of the Conservatives in the 1987 general election. I’m glad we smelted the Iron Lady’s feckless local mob in that election, reducing them to just ten MPs in Scotland.

How the Scottish Tories preened at abolishing their hated “rates” until they saw the reaction on the streets. How we learned the sad truth that Labour’s infamous “feeble 50” MPs could do nothing about the poll tax being introduced, except show up for the odd march. That’s what happens when you don’t govern your own country, and I know I am not alone in saying that the democratic deficit at that time was one of the reasons that convinced me of the need for independence.

I wasn’t a member of the SNP then as I am now, but I almost joined Tommy Sheridan’s socialists because of my loathing of this vile and outrageously unfair tax that hammered the poor. Yes, those on benefits had their poll tax paid, but those on low incomes suffered in a hugely disproportionate manner. I even remember a picture in the News of a group calling themselves Stockbridge and New Town Non-Payers – proof, surely, that the tax offended people everywhere.

It was just so wrong, so unfair, and John Major couldn’t drop it quick enough, replacing it with the property-based council tax in 1993.

Now that’s enough history –here’s the single most fair and just reason why the plan to stop poll tax collection is sensible. No-one condones non-payment of a legitimate tax, so that is why council tax arrears can still be chased across Scotland, and they will be.

In England, however, councils have only SIX years to chase you for unpaid council tax, and action goes through the courts. In Scotland, if they play their cards right, councils can go after you for up to 40 years, with court action often unnecessary.

That is just so unfair. In our brave new Union, let the rule be the same for everybody. If councils can’t collect a debt in six years, then they shouldn’t be in business.

David’s talent? I Begg to differ

There’s a wee council exhibition on at the Usher Hall on the history of local planning. It’s laughable.

The trams, by far the biggest, and certainly most disruptive, change to the city in decades get one line: “The first phase of the new electric tramway, from the airport to the city centre, opened.”

By comparison, a certain ex-transport convener, Professor David Begg, above, gets a whole section to himself, citing his focus “on constraining use of the car” by bus greenways, widening pavements and introducing the Blue Meanies. Yep, they were all Labourite Dave’s fault, and we won’t forget it.

Roads focus is all about the money

The continuing controversy over this capital city’s roads and their appalling state of disrepair is an issue which will come back to really hurt the council. Going to the Scottish Government to ask for the right to borrow more money is the only way that the council now has of dealing with the vast array of problems.

Last week, however, I said I would prove to you that roads and repairs are not really a council priority. All you have to do is check the home page of the council’s website.

Under Roads, Travel and Parking you will see that the first two items are “find parking spaces and pricing” and “pay a parking ticket”. Says it all, really.

Hibs on the ball with fan survey

They have had a topsy-turvy season but I have to congratulate Hibs on getting one thing right. The club’s mass consultation of supporters’ views is evidence that, in one respect, Hibs are heading in the right direction. The fact that they did the survey at all is proof that the club’s new chief executive, Leeann Dempster, is the right person to lead them at this time.

BILLY’S STILL THE BEST

I had the great privilege of meeting and shaking hands with Billy Connolly at the Usher Hall the other day. He’s not tickety-boo healthwise, but remains the funniest man alive.