Tax row

Former SNP strategist calls for ‘urgent rethink’ on tax

Andrew Wilson: called for change (pic: Terry Murden)

A former strategist for the SNP has joined a chorus of business leaders demanding change to the party’s tax policies amid growing concern that they will undermine confidence in the Scottish economy.

Andrew Wilson, who was the party’s finance spokesman and led the Sustainable Growth Commission for Nicola Sturgeon, has called for an “urgent rethink” by the Scottish Government “to prevent material damage.”

His comments followed the Bank of Scotland’s latest monthly survey of business sentiment showing there was a 10 point fall in confidence to 31%. It was conducted before the tax rises announced in the Scottish Budget.

While many business and opposition critics are accused by SNP supporters of lacking a vision for the country’s wider wellbeing, the intervention by Mr Wilson, now a communications executive with banking giant Santander UK, will be regarded as an indication of deep-rooted concern about the party’s direction.

Senior business figures have expressed a concern at the impact of the higher taxes being imposed on Scotland. Judith Cruickshank, who chairs the Scotland board at Royal Bank of Scotland, said UK-wide financial companies now found it a “challenge” to attract people north of the border.

Further damage to First Minister Humza Yousaf’s party came in the shape of Ayrshire businesswoman Marie Macklin, who has been a close confidante of Ms Sturgeon. She claimed that Scotland is “en route to being a third-world economy”. 

In a fierce attack on the tax-raising strategy, she said: “The political incompetence is creating a volatile economy. You wouldn’t give some of these MSPs a job.”

More criticism came from Roger Mullin, a former SNP MP, who was a member of the growth commission and helped produce research papers alongside business partner and current SNP MSP Michelle Thomson.

“We need to prioritise growing the economy and the measures in the budget do not do that,” he stated.

Former Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, who was narrowly defeated by Mr Yousaf in the spring leadership election, told a radio programme’s listeners that the tax changes would be a disincentive to talented workers.

Their comments came after businessman Sir Tom Hunter told Daily Business last weekend that the government was failing to convince the public that they are getting value for money from the tax rises.

The theme of ‘more for less’ dominated First Minister’s Questions. Both the Conservative and Labour leaders accused Mr Yousaf of asking Scots to pay more for fewer services.

Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the “so-called progressive” tax rise would raise £82m, which would “buy you a fifth of an SNP ferry that hasn’t even sailed yet”.

Humza-Yousaf-
Humza Yousaf: Scotland has benefited from a net gain of people

Mr Yousaf dismissed Mr Ross’s claims that a “mass exodus” would follow the increase in taxation, and pointed to National Records of Scotland statistics from 2021 that found 56,200 people came to Scotland from the rest of the UK, while 47,300 left Scotland for other parts of the UK – a net gain of 8,900.

“While we ask the top 5% to pay a little more in tax, they get more from it,” he added, noting that people were attracted to Scotland by the benefits provided by the SNP-Green government. These include free prescriptions, free university tuition fees, free school meals, free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds and a publicly-owned railway.

In a statement issued today, Alison Thewliss MP said: “In the last ten years, more and more people from the rest of the UK have decided to make Scotland their home – with a higher number coming to Scotland than moving away year on year.
 
“This shows that Scotland’s progressive tax system and the strong ‘social contract’ between the Scottish Government and the people of Scotland is attracting others from across the UK. 
 
“It is our view that those with the broadest shoulders pay a little more to protect the better policies and public services that we all enjoy here in Scotland – and it is working. 
 
“This is in stark contrast to the backwards approach taken by the Westminster government, which prioritises tax cuts for the rich and anti-migration rhetoric over protecting the NHS and other public services. 
 
“The policies and public services being delivered in Scotland are clearly attractive to those from the rest of the UK and the world and the SNP welcomes this. We are clear that migration is good for Scotland – our economy and our public services – and we need more of it.
 
“With the full powers of independence Scotland could do more to strengthen our public services and create a fairer, more equal society.”

Comment: Scottish Budget put brake on growth



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