Scottish taxpayers have every right to legally reduce the tax burden imposed by John Swinney, for all his talk about morality – John McLellan

How many of the thousands of people being caught by higher Scottish income tax realised they should be grateful to the SNP for paying hundreds of pounds a year more than their southern colleagues?

John Swinney's cod moral philosophy should not worry taxpayers (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)
John Swinney's cod moral philosophy should not worry taxpayers (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)

I’ll hazard a pessimistic guess and reckon it’s maybe a handful more than the square root of hee-haw, but anyone who is less than grateful for how the extra hard-earned cash the Scottish Government will take from anyone earning more than £43,000 a year needs to have a good look at themselves. At least that’s the implication of the view of Scotland’s stand-in Finance Secretary John Swinney, who this week effectively said it would be immoral for any higher rate taxpayer to think about finding ways to avoid the tartan tithe.

“Morally, I believe that’s wrong because people living in Scotland have access to a different set of provisions and services than are available in other parts of the United Kingdom,” he told Holyrood’s finance and public administration committee.

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It is true that in a democracy we must suck up whatever the properly elected government throws at us, but to shroud the government’s policy decisions with such a cloak of ethical superiority opens a wagonload of worms. “If their child goes to university in Scotland, they will not pay tuition fees, or they will have access to free prescription charges or, if they have got young children, they will have a better proposition in early learning and childcare,” said Mr Swinney, claiming council tax is comparatively lower than in other parts of the UK.

The latter claim is vacuous because council tax varies as widely within Scotland and England, but even if taxpayers agree with free university tuition, is it moral for working people whose children don’t go to university to subsidise those who do? It also presents the moral case for opting out of state services so others less fortunate might benefit.

It costs around £7,500 a year for each state secondary school pupil and £5,500 for primaries, so is there therefore a moral case for a family with two children to go private from primary one to benefit Mr Swinney’s treasure chest by around £170,000? Is there not a moral case for Mr Swinney to encourage people to take out private health insurance?

He repeated his budget statement line about “a social contract of provisions”, but the contract is loaded entirely in the government’s favour. You pay the tax and must accept the service you get, even if the contract to educate your children means the average 15-year-old can’t read or count as well as their English counterparts, or that you lie on a trolley in an A&E corridor overnight waiting to be admitted.

A contract, social or otherwise, is worth nothing if there are no consequences for a breach; tax evasion is a crime, but as electoral failure is the only consequence of the government welching on the deal, then it appears the SNP sees little incentive to up its game.

Under those circumstances, those ‘non-contents’ with the ability or resources to do so can hardly be blamed for taking advantage of legitimate means to claw back a refund. Who wouldn’t take their business elsewhere if the service isn’t up to scratch? It’s a matter of choice, not Mr Swinney’s cod philosophy.