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Holyrood scrum

Brian Taylor | 13:45 UK time, Thursday, 13 March 2008

Just back from having a shufti at the Calcutta Cup, won so magnificently at Murrayfield last weekend.

It was briefly on display at Holyrood as MSPs mustered to congratulate Frank Hadden and the team.

Many congrats from me too. Frank’s footballing allegiance may lie in the direction of a certain Dundonian side who play in dark blue - but he’s a good man and a talented coach who, after setbacks, managed to draw the best from the side in a performance that showed the consistency and confidence which had been lacking previously.

Prize for the best rugby gag of the day goes to Annabel Goldie who informed the chamber that Scotland’s grand slam victories have been during periods of Tory rule at Westminster.

“Not long to wait now, lads,” she added cheerily.

Labour MSPs were looking a bit chirpier too after first minister’s questions. They reckon Wendy Alexander put up her best showing since taking over as Labour leader.

New momentum

Both she and Annabel Goldie pursued the FM over Local Income Tax. Details, they demanded, details.

Alex Salmond duly produced details. Just not, entirely, the details he was asked to produce.

As ever, the FM sounded confident, perhaps taking his lead from the new Murrayfield momentum. He sounded relatively unconcerned when pressed on the specifics of LIT.

Why? Other than his natural ebullience, why? Is it perhaps because Mr Salmond can detect the prospect of a twin-track victory?

If he can steer local income tax past the hostile elements at Holyrood, then that’s a manifesto commitment delivered.

'Estimable doing'

If, as seems much more likely, he is thwarted, then he can blame the wickedness of the opposition.

Frankly, the greater political gain probably lies with the second scenario. That led The Scotsman to speculate today that the Scottish Government’s heart wasn’t truly in it when it came to advancing local income tax. (Nice piece, Hamish.)

The paper cited an interview on BBC Newsnight Scotland in which, they suggested, John Swinney got a doing from the estimable Gordon Brewer.

Think there’s a touch of truth in that analysis. Certainly helps explain why the detail hasn’t perhaps been quite as fully and freely available as one might expect.

However, we must be careful not to take this too far. John Swinney and Alex Salmond want to be able to show that they have, at the very least, given local income tax its very best shot.


  • 1.
  • At 02:11 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Scamp wrote:

Actually your colleague Mr Brewer might have learnt a bit more if he'd allowed John Swinney to get a word in edgeways during that interview!

Interesting post Brian.

I have a question about how Scotland's share of welfare spending should be calculated. I don't come at this from any set standing point but, as John Swinney says, to have a consultation.

The purpose of welfare spending such as unemployment or council tax benefit is (in theory) to help people through temporary financial problems whilst they get back on their feet and into work again. The reality is that unlike other spending which is covered by the Barnett Formula (health, education and so on), there is properly no set share of welfare spending for any part of the UK.

To illustrate thus: Area X has 10% of the population but due to major local economic problems, 20% of local people could be unemployed and claiming benefits. Technically this is more than their area should get but because of the way the system works everyone is still entitled to full benefits. Conversely if an area only has 5% unemployment, they don’t get a rebate either. You could call this the social contract.

Now consider the SNP’s argument. For Local Income Tax to work they need to get what they say is Scotland’s share of welfare spending. But how exactly do you define this share? What happens in future if more people’s economic circumstances mean they need to claim council tax benefit? How will this extra need then be calculated and allotted?

More importantly, if in future Scotland has a set share of all welfare spending (which is the logical conclusion of this), what happens when that amount is reached? Would we either have to turn some people away, or reduce everyone’s benefits across the board?

I’m not saying this is insurmountable but it’s certainly not something which should just be ignored or swept under the carpet.

  • 3.
  • At 02:26 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • FM wrote:

Hi Brian

I have to say after watching the mentioned interview by Gordon Brewer on Newsnight I certainly didn't feel that Mr Swinney got "a doing" at all. What I did see was an interviewer who was incredibly rude and wouldn't allow the minister to finish a single sentence without interruption.

I personally favour LIT as a fairer more socially just taxation based on the ability to pay and I am delighted that the Scottish government is trying to introduce it.

Anyway, fingers crossed United can give Rangers a doing on Sunday. Shed rule!

  • 4.
  • At 03:06 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • L.Telfer wrote:

Why are the Tories and Labour so much against getting rid of the iniquitous council tax? It has always been a stopgap measure which suits councillors because there is no political comeback from it. At least with a L.I.T. someone else would control the purse strings and the town hall numpties would have to pay the price if they can't balance the books. Even if L.I.T. doesn't materialise, some other way of funding Local government must be found. Anything is preferable to council tax. Local councils must not be allowed to ever again have any say in raising finances. They are totally uncontrolled when it comes to spending, knowing they can go back to the cash cow (the taxpayer) at will. If finance comes from central government, then if they overspend they will have to reduce costs , cut staffing or face the consequences. Councillors and their finance departments must be made culpable for poor budgetting.

  • 5.
  • At 03:10 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • HughB wrote:

If that was Wendys best showing yet, I can't imagine what all the other "showings" were like!!

Wendy in fact got a blasting for supporting Westminster in holding back the £400 million payment of Scottish money.

Wendy is an expert on figures, after all, especially those just below £1000.

When she asked about the "blackhole", she should also ask how Westminster are going to fill their massive blackhole with revenue from oil, whiskey, etc. no longer going south.

  • 6.
  • At 03:14 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Colin wrote:

Didn't see the interview. Its a pity Scottish Politics is generally on late at night. Perhaps Newsnight UK could be 'recorded' and played later for those Scots who really want to see "P-friendly Y-fronts"?
I suppose when the Scottish 6 is introduced, we may get better value for money? BBC Breakfast TV is just so anglo-centric - partly I suppose because education, health etc are all now devolved. However the proportion of this UK "News" programme that is completely irrelevant to Scotland must be approaching 75%.
At the moment its obvious to all that most of the political commentary is extraordinarily pro-establishment and anti-SNP. I wonder if it was the same in 1945 when "shock & horror" a Labour government was elected in Westminster.

I think Brian may be right that LIT is a win-win for the SNP. If Westminster don't make it straightforward to implement, then its clearly their fault if it is not introduced. However, fingers crossed that some form does get introduced. It may not be perfect - but its a lot fairer than "Tory-Labour's" alternative.

  • 7.
  • At 03:18 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • HughB wrote:

Wendy is always negative, and is the mirror image of the SNP. She never has anything constructive to say, and that's what Scotland needs: a constructive opposition, rather than a destructive one, which will stoop to any depth just to gain political capital.

SNP is forward looking, while Wendy is always backward looking (or southward looking as the case may be).

Asking for details about LIT is a bit premature, and is asking for answers when both Scotlands hands are tied behind its back, as Scotland doesn't have control over taxation which would impact on a thoeritical shareholder with £100000 a year dividend income. That will all be fixed when we get full fiscal autonomy.

And don't tell us that we couldn't make a tax system work up here, because we couldn't be any worse that the mess they are making of things at Westminster.

  • 8.
  • At 03:19 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Stephen Davidson wrote:

While I have been interested in the SNP's performance lately, John Swiney's showing on Newsnight was not his best. Complaining about being interupted and then repeating the same thing he said a minute earlier without offering and answer to the question was not the best move. The interviewer did have a point: Where is the fairness of a system where a minority of people pay no tax at all?

  • 9.
  • At 03:38 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • HughB wrote:

Where is the fairness in a system where all our tax (income tax, vat, road tax, capital gains tax, stamp duty, etc) and all our oil money is taken by Westminster???

  • 10.
  • At 03:38 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • James wrote:

I agree with the comments about Mr Brewer's interviewing techniques with John Swinney. He spent too long on one question which we all new the answer to anyway. There were many other things that we would have liked to have heard from John Swinney, but Gordon Brewer blew it!

I think we can put that interview in the same box as the Salmond/Wark interview and an apology to John Swinney wouldn't go wrong.

Mr Brewer was noticeably more temperate last night when he had several politicians in tow. I hope he was got at by the powers that be to tone down a bit, but I don't hold out much hope of that.

  • 11.
  • At 03:40 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • HughB wrote:

Where is the fairness in a system where all our tax (income tax, vat, road tax, capital gains tax, stamp duty, etc) and all our oil money is taken by Westminster???

Gordon Brewer needs to look up the meaning of "fair".

At the moment it is up to Westminster to close the loopholes which allow a minority of people to pay no tax at all. This responsibility will change when we have full fiscal autonomy.

  • 12.
  • At 03:46 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • HughB wrote:

Where is the fairness in a system where all our tax (income tax, vat, road tax, capital gains tax, stamp duty, etc) and all our oil money is taken by Westminster???

Gordon Brewer needs to look up the meaning of "fair".

At the moment it is up to Westminster to close the loopholes which allow a minority of people to pay no tax at all. This responsibility will change when we have full fiscal autonomy.

Indeed, Westminster has allowed these "loopholes" to persist for a long, long time. I wonder why. Anyone for shares and hidden income???

  • 13.
  • At 03:53 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • scyinical sid. wrote:

afternoon all: only one problem with L Telfer's(4) thoughts. the majority of our msp's used to be councillors and as they say you can't teach an old dog new tricks.they couldn't run our councils effectively i agree but at least we are having the debate about how best to fund councils now

  • 14.
  • At 03:56 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Gail wrote:

If I can recall there were a lot of so called experts and Labour supports saying that the Council Tax freeze would not happen. Guess what it happend.

As for using the Scotsman as a guide for a good article, you may as well ask Wendy Alexander if she will be contributing to the Policemans Ball.

The anti-bais from the media against the SNP is astounding. The local income tax will happen as sure as night follows day follows independance.

  • 15.
  • At 04:13 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • karin wrote:

I also watched the newsnight interview, the interviewer wouldnt let john swinney even finish a sentence before he shouted him down. I actually wouldnt have minded if john swinney had actually had the chance to say something, anything and then the interviewer had jumped in. As it was a previous poster is right the interviewer was just plain rude and pig ignorant. I couldnt even get the jist of what swinney was saying due to the behaviour of the interviewer.

As someone else suggested , Mr Brewer seemed to have been to the Wark school of interviewing skills of SNP MSPs.
The Quiet man did not get a chance to answer. When the Labour representative should have been squirming on hooks over illegal donations ,she was allowed to get away with repetition and diversion.

  • 17.
  • At 04:28 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Steve H wrote:

Hello Brian
I am happy with the idea of a local income tax, but I concerned that Mr Swinney seem able to accept that some who live of investments would be excempt from the tax.
I understand that TV pundits like Mr Brewer will clamp onto any weekness percived, but it did not look good.
I would heve thought that the SNP could decide on how to tackle that or any other loophole after greater deliberation.
There is a masive bias or selective journalisim going on in the Scottish media, how about some honest and transparent reporting from all the media.
Steve h

  • 18.
  • At 04:30 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Keith Geddes wrote:

Number 1. Swinney might have got a few more words in if he had answered the question! He didnt! No wonder Sir Sean wants to retire to Scotland-he wouldn't have to pay any local tax.

More importantly surely Nationalist supporters can see the discrepency between their position that Holyrood lacks credibilty as it has no tax raising powers yet local (?)income tax would remove tax raising powers from councils.

Devolution should not result in centralisation in Edinburgh. for people in Dumfries/Inverness and many other parts of Scotland, Edinburgh is just as distant as London!

Trust local people to set tax levels commensurate to their perception of local need. If people do not agree they can vote the Council out-that's called democracy.

In any case the idea is as good as dead. At the first whiff of gunfire the Lib Dems will be trying to work out why they can justify abstaining on the issue!!

  • 19.
  • At 04:41 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • David wrote:

I thought FMQs today was one of the best, with some good hearted banter as well as the piercing political issue of the moment, though the plant questions from the Lib Dem for Orkney, and SNP's Jim Fitzpatrick were hilarious. What was David Whitton on? He'd got an agreement from the Justice secretary to do something.......and then goes and starts criticising disturbed young people. The politics of picking on the defenceless?

As for Newsnight, I think Gordon Brewer is a waste of space who frequently seems not to grasp the issues, and who waves his glasses around like a windmill. Glenn Campbell is much more assured in that position, giving knowledgeable questioning, and allowing time for the answers. His questioning is also more focussed on getting answers rather than points scoring.

  • 20.
  • At 04:55 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Roddy wrote:

Brian, "best showing"?!

I voted for Labour back last May and even I know that Wendy was on poor form today! Not that I would ever dream of equating the BBC to bias, but just look at her performance! She has a habit of asking the same questions over and over again, and it's really getting my goat!

For the sakes of humanity, the party, Scotland... a new leader pleeeeease!

  • 21.
  • At 05:09 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Gemma wrote:

FM and Scamp, what you saw on Newsnight Scotland the other night was Gordon Brewer getting fed up with John Swinney refusing to answer his simple question. Yes, Brewer did interupt him but he never interrupted the Cabinet Secretary giving an answer to the question.
L. Telfer: Anything is preferable to council tax? What about a return to the poll tax then?

  • 22.
  • At 05:55 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Huw Jars wrote:

Gordon Brewer seemed to me (as a non-SNP supporter) to be trying for the Paxman prize for interruption.

As for the fairness compared to council tax - can someone explain to me the 'fairness' when I live in a 3-bedroom house and I'm two bands below the Duke of Roxburghe at Floors Castle. I'm reasonably sure his ability to pay is somewhat higher than the 18/13 ratio the council tax bill suggests.

  • 23.
  • At 06:05 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Irving Parry wrote:

It will be a sad day if those Partys opposed to a LIT defeat the Government on the issue. Council Tax, everyone must agree, is unfair, and not only fails to take into account peoples' ability to pay, but allows Councils to be unaccountable to the taxpayers. I would hope that if the introduction of a LIT is defeated, then the SNP goes to the Country on the issue. That would give them a good working majority, and stifle the claptrap coming from the Opposition

  • 24.
  • At 06:19 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Steve H wrote:

Hi Brian
I think the local income tax is a good idea and it should benefit the average family.
I watch the inter with Mr Swinney and Mr Brewer, Mr Swinney's performance with Mr Brewer was not bad, but he did seem to accept that some rich or clever people who be able to avoid paying the tax if they earned their money from investments etc.
This is not acceptable one rule one and one rule for another will never work and it allowed Mr Brewer to clamp onto and mask the other good work.
The SNP should look at this and any other possible loopholes, in greater detail and find a way to ensure that everyone, without exception, pays their fair share.
Another issue raised in this blog is the bias and selective journalism in Scotland’s media, major issues are being ignored.
I think it’s about time the media put away their Red or Blue flags and reported all the issues with out bias;
Scotland is the poorer for your lack of professionalism..

Steve H


  • 25.
  • At 06:26 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • S.R wrote:

Gordon was extremely rude on Newsnight and never let John make any attempt at explaining anything. He made several attempts to set the scene, but was interrupted every time, by an 'interviewer' who was obviously not listening to a thing.
I was disgusted at Gordon's behaviour.
At the same time, I do not think John was at his sharpest either.
I cannot pass any comments on the coverage at Holyrood today as I 'was otherwise engaged'

  • 26.
  • At 07:24 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • john radford wrote:

Gordon Brewer's interview with John Swinney simply displayed vitriolic tunnel vision on behalf of the interviewer. I learned nothing new from his continued tirade, as he wouldnt let Mr Swinney finish one sentence. I watched in order to learn more. All I learned was how much of an amateur Mr Brewer is at extracting useful information from the victim of his interview.
I am in favour in principle of a LIT as a means of funding local expenditure. I currently pay council tax, and the only tangible benefit I receive is to have my bins emptied once a week ( at a rough weekly cost to me of £37 ). Due to the location of my house, I get significantly less for my council tax than most other houses in my area and coucil tax band. Most households get the roads outside their houses maintained ( and gritted when required ), street lighting is provided, pavements provided etc etc. and are charged at the same level as my proprty which benefits from none of the above services. This is a real problem that exists today, and thus is relevant to Mr Brewer's viewers ; perhaps he should learn to investigate real life situations at the expense of his childish attempts at headline grabbing with respect to hypothetical situations. Mr Brewer appeared to be incensed by the prospect of exceedingly wealthy people being exempt from Mr Swinneys proposals, due to the fact that they receive income exclusively from savings and dividends. I do wonder how many people would fall into this category. I also wonder if Mr Brewer has any clue how many people in Scotland would benefit from this hypothetical loophole. I would also like to know if Mr Swinney is aware of how big this loophole would be. If Mr Brewer had done his job properly, perhaps the extent and thus relevance of his only point would today be clearer than it currently is.

  • 27.
  • At 07:44 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • bill millar wrote:

I agree that no one should be able to get out off paying the local income tax,even if it means that it might cost more to collect, than what it is worth collecting.I would name and shame anyone who manipulated their finances to get out of paying their fair share of local taxes.

  • 28.
  • At 07:45 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Alex Brodie wrote:

Brian - just carry on with your "blog" in which you attempt to distort people's perceptions by trumpeting Wendy Alexander's "performances" and agreeing that John Swinney got a "doing". You don't seem to know ho it is coming across. The longer it goes on the more obvious your Labour-party bias becomes, and the more ridiculous you appear, as increasing numbers of people are pointing out on a daily basis.

  • 29.
  • At 07:56 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Craig M wrote:

The council tax has to be one of the stupidest taxes ever thought of, they would be as well to tax us on the number of windows we have, or how many roof tiles or how tall we are, how fat we are, how gullable we are. The council tax in no way represents a person's ability to pay via their income. Why are the Conservative and Labour parties so entrenched in wanting to retain it. The Conservatives thought it up so they can't admit it's there stupidity that introduced it. Labour just don't have a clue and can't bring themselves to admit that the SNP idea of a local income tax albeit with some incompleteness or even the principla of a local income tax is still a more logical and fairer method of collecting local tax. Labour as always are a let down in Scotland always backwards, never forwards.

  • 30.
  • At 07:57 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Celtic Lion wrote:

This is a change Brian – usually you're the one telling us “It was Wendy's best week yet.” I welcome your change of attitude that it is now “they” who insist on kidding themselves. Look carefully and you'll see Wendy laughing as Salmond reads out the concerns of the Child Action Poverty Group and Age Concern – she still can't stop her body language from betraying her true feelings. If (and thankfully it's a very big if) she ever becomes First Minister then it will be a disaster for Scotland.

You be careful you don't get any shorter with the amount of people you prop up Brian (next you'll be telling us we need more like Gary Robertson). Gordon Brewer's interview with John Swinney was one of the worst interviews I've seen. Those of us who long ago left behind the trials and tribulations of the pubescent years realise the way to question a person is not to shout loudest and interrupt at every moment. Unfortunately there were some of us who aren't hardcore New Labourites cheering on the sidelines, and we were keen to learn more about local income tax – the BBC failed (as it does more and more often these days) to inform us of the facts. No I'm not fully convinced about LIT yet and could be swayed either way, but given the media's appalling coverage of it I'm left to trust in the only party who puts Scotland's interests first.

PS You convinced me to begrudgingly give the hootsmon two clicks to read Hamish's article – I shouldn't have wasted my time. It's full of opportunism and reads like a unionist fantasy.

  • 31.
  • At 08:22 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Scamp wrote:

Gemma ...... You seem to be ordering me to believe your version of events. You must be a Labour voter.

  • 32.
  • At 09:23 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Ross McLean wrote:

Brian, I have been critical of the SNP on this blog before, but I have to say I thought Gordon Brewer's 'interview' of John Swinney was an absolute disgrace. The Scotsman article today talks of Brewer's 'withering attacks' on Swinney. Excuse me but since when was it the job of an interviewer to launch withering attacks on his guests? Whatever the rights and wrongs of LIT that interview was a disgrace - and if you want to know why voters are so disillusioned with politics, look at the antics of political broadcasters as well as at politicians themselves.

  • 33.
  • At 11:52 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Hamish Mitchell wrote:

Just watched the News and Newsnight (Thu 13th).

What a torn-faced performance from Johann Lamont and baw-faced nedism from Chairman Duncan McNeill.

Let me see .. Alex Salmond broke no laws or procedures yet these Labour numpties are prepared to waste taxpayer funded committees just to make cheap political points.

Are they aware of the laughing stock they make of a progressive Scotland ? Actually, forget the rhetorical question - they are dinosaurs, stuck in their numptyworld of handouts and self denegration.

On the other hand. Wendy Alexander BREAKS ELECTORAL LAW and .... do we here condemnation of her or statements from taxpayer funded committees about her bringing the Scottish political process into disrepute ?

I beg you to ask .. who has done more to damage Scotland .. and who has stood up for Scotland.


  • 34.
  • At 09:39 AM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • embraman wrote:

Message to SNP spinbots from spinbot control:
Line is to blow smoke by abusing Wendy Alexander and Gordon Brewer. Repeat, line is...oh I see you've got it already.

  • 35.
  • At 09:51 AM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Anonymous wrote:

Watched reporting scotland last night and have to say the bias of the media is a total disgrace and something we should all be worried about. A fair and impartial media is needed so all sides of the arguments can be seen but with BBC Scotland firmly in the Unionists side it seems we are unable to get fair and impartial reporting.

I would hazard a guess that people are still very happy with the government in Scotland and like any good match will start clinging to the under dog in good scottish fashion.

On a side note missed Newsnight last night and watched Question Time. Alex Salmond performed very poorly and his manner didnt really work with the Londeners. Got a few applauses but the highlight of the show was deffinetly Charles Kennedy. Out performed everyone in the panel and showed himself to be very savvy and trustworthy. IF Lib Dems ever want power in Scotland getting Charlie up here to lead would do wonders for them and givev the fingers right up to the mess that the Libs are nationaly.

  • 36.
  • At 12:06 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Steve H wrote:

Hamish Mitchell
I am an ex member of the labour party and I counldn't agree more with your comments.
The labour and liberals on that committee could find nothing wrong with alex salmonds behaviour, so they used inuendo to try and blacken his name.
They behave like tabliod journalists, they are a disgrace to the Scottish electorate and I hope the electorate remember this and all the rest of their pathetic behaviour.
From top to bottom the labour party are a disgrace they still cant accept that they lost the election and the SNP are doing very well.
Their liberal poodles had better start thinking for themselves soon, they will be lost in the political wilderness if they continue to follow there pathetically twisted dog walker masters.
Steve Haggerty

  • 37.
  • At 04:22 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • William Campbell wrote:

I am no friend of John Swinney or the SNP, and no friend of the Local Income Tax. Usually, when Gordon Brewer is dealng with Economics he is a good deal better than in straightforward political interviewing - perhaps he has an understanding these issues.

His interview with John Swinney was a propoganda gift to the minister. Brewer had a golden opportunity to explore the real issues around this tax, but all he did was to reiterate a couple of (pretty relevant) points ad nauseam, normally while the minister was apparently trying to respond to his questions. He let John Swinney away with murder, and had me almost sreaming with frustration at the TV by his failure to require answers to the difficult questions which surround the whole issue of Local Income Tax.

Don't be surprised if Swinney insists on Brewer interviews from now on. How much more effective some gentle probing from Glen Campbell or (dare I say it) Brian Taylor would have been!

  • 38.
  • At 03:41 PM on 06 Apr 2008,
  • Andrew wrote:

Well there is a £400m gap to be plugged, The Scottish Parliament cost £400m, the price of housing in Edinburgh has been skyrocketing. Looks simple to me - remortage the parliament.

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