Ah, budget time again. Newspaper pages, the internet, television and social media were all swamped with coverage last week, especially as the final vote through still has to take place.
And though complexities such as block payments, economic growth predictions, inflation, “behavioural impact” and investment priorities zoom over most of our heads, the matter that directly affects us all is, of course, changes to tax bands and rates.
One problem with our adversarial party-political system is that no-one gives us a truly objective assessment as to whether the Scottish budget was a good one, or a bad one. No matter which party is in the hot seat, the main objective of most others is to knock it and suggest we’re all doomed.
Expert economists offer views based predominantly on economy and growth. But in a desperate situation such as this, a national budget isn’t just about money and predictions. It’s about people’s urgent needs.
I’ve often criticised SNP policy in this column. And I’m certainly not a professor of economics. But in my humble view, this is the best budget I’ve seen in my 64 years of life in the UK.
Scotland and the UK are in a critical financial state with essential services from the NHS to police and education under stress, a chronic lack of affordable housing, a rising cost of living, wages falling, working people resorting to food banks, local services being cut back and much more.
Crucially the gap between rich and poor is growing wider and wider. And if tax on higher earnings doesn’t rise, the future of this country, and the UK as a whole, is grim.
It was courageous, and morally right, to make sure there were no tax rises for anyone earning less than £33,000. And essential that those earning over £150,000 are paying the most. That is the basis of taxation – the more you earn, the more you pay. And introducing two more tax bands ensured more fairness and gradation in tax bills.
Too often governments pander to the rich, hoping to keep them onside, at the expense of the poor. In a country where many put in a full working week but still can’t afford to pay basic bills, that is politically sinful.
Removing the charity status of independent schools – and treating them as businesses subject to business rates – is another brave move. With some charging fees of around £12,000 a year per pupil how can that be anything but a commercial concern? And yes, they should be expected to continue playing their part in boosting equal opportunities by offering bursaries, but if they choose not to, so be it.
In harsh economic times such as this, fair taxation is vital. And one large part of that lies not with the Scottish Government but with the UK and HMRC. Despite their pledges to do a better job, multi-nationals are still being let off with minimum tax payments by negotiating deals behind closed doors.
This is not all about being “socialist” and “punishing” the rich. In more affluent times, with economic growth, plenty of jobs, annual pay rises increasing average family wealth, affordable housing and an adequately funded NHS, it would be perfectly reasonable to cut the top rate of income tax. Will days like that ever return? Who knows.
Meanwhile the privileged have to pay up.