Lib Dems pledge to increase income tax

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LIBERAL Democrats could go into next year’s Scottish Parliament elections arguing for a 1p rise in income tax to boost funding for the NHS.

A motion to the party’s spring conference in Dunfermline tomorrow calls for the increase across all bands in order to combat pressures on accident and emergency waiting times, restrictions on the availability of “life-saving drugs” and a growing GP crisis.

And it claims that because of the increase in the income tax threshold promoted by the Lib Dems during their coalition with the Tories at Westminster, a tax rise would now have less impact on the lower paid.

The motion also calls for the policy to be given a “prominent place” in the party’s manifesto for the Holyrood elections.

An increase of 1p in income tax in Scotland would raise an estimated £330 million.

The proposal comes as an Audit Scotland report highlighted increased waiting times, missed targets and a reduction in the NHS budget in real terms.

The Scottish Parliament has had the power to raise or lower income tax by up to 3p since it was established in 1999, but from next year MSPs will have new powers to set a Scottish rate of income tax, which could be the same, higher or lower than the UK rate.

There is already speculation the Scottish Tories will take the opportunity to fight the election advocating a tax cut.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, Lib Dem candidate for Edinburgh Western, has put forward an amendment to the 1p tax rise motion, saying an attempt should first be made to resolve the NHS funding crisis through “a fair reallocation of current spending” but backing a tax rise if that does not succeed.

He said: “It’s not saying we would put up tax tomorrow – but if we can’t make it work through a review of existing money, we are prepared to put up taxes.”

And he said be believed it was “likely” a tax rise would be necessary.

He said: “We should make it clear we will not shy away from using that tax power.

“This is a service that has been allowed to dwindle into disrepair while the SNP concentrated on the constitution.

“We need a spending review and if we can’t give the health service the spending it needs, then it’s time for a tax increase.”

Tomorrow’s one-day conference, the first since the party was reduced to just a single Scottish MP, will also debate GM crops, homelessness, policing and the constitution.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com