Steve Cardownie: McVey wrong to try to usurp Hyslop's power

First of all, let me say that I do not support the Scottish Government's position on the tourist tax, as I fully support its implementation in the city of Edinburgh. And, as the former Festivals and Events Champion for nigh on 20 years, I have consistently expressed this view both privately and publicly.

Wednesday, 11th July 2018, 7:00 am
Council leader Adam McVey. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Council leader Adam McVey. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

I am all too well aware what benefits such a modest tax would bring and I don’t believe that many tourists would bat an eyelid if they were required to pay it. This kind of tax is quite common throughout the world and there has been no drop-off in tourist numbers where it is in force, indeed I distinctly remember meeting a delegation from Quebec a good few years ago that expressed astonishment that we did not apply such a tax as they had brought one in many years previously which had proved to be a resounding success.

The Twitter exchange between council leader Adam McVey and Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop provided political opponents of the SNP with ammunition that they have used to their advantage and understandably so. They saw a difference of opinion expressed in the tweets and sought to exploit it, gleefully highlighting “a split in the ranks”.

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The blame for this does not lie at the Culture Secretary’s door, however, and I for one commend her for keeping up with events in Scotland while on an official visit to the other side of the world, as all too often criticism is levelled at politicians that they are divorced from what is happening at home when they are on foreign shores. The fact that she keeps an eye on matters within her remit should be supported rather than criticised as some commentators have sought to do. The issue is not that the city council supports the implementation of such a tax (a position which the Culture Secretary is all too well aware of) but that Mr McVey was quoted in this paper as saying: “I think we have made quite a lot of progress. We’ve started the discussions with the sector – having the key industry players around the table. I think in a year’s time or so (my emphasis) we will have a TVL (transient visitor levy) of some sort.”

Given its implementation is entirely within the gift of the Scottish Government, it cannot be applied here without its say so and as Councillor McVey is not a member of the Government it is not within his power to determine when, if ever, it will come into force. No Scottish Government minister is going to take too kindly to being painted into a corner by such a public statement, particularly coming from a member of their own political party. I believe that this is why it provoked the response that it did and was, or should have been, entirely predictable.

I hope the Scottish Government can be persuaded of the benefits such a tax would provide by sheer force of argument and hold no truck with the counter position that it would be unfair. As I have said many times before, the public purse foots the bill (in the main) for festivals and events in the city, while the hoteliers, publicans and restaurateurs laugh all the way to the bank. These activities draw visitors to the city with hotel occupancy rates soaring despite a grotesque hike in room prices so it is about time that hotel sector stumped up and shared the burden.

I hope the council leader is right and wish him luck but predictions of when a tourist tax may come into force, especially when the power is not there to deliver it will inevitably raise the hackles of those who do have that power and only serves to provide political opponents with the kind of fodder they crave.