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The big freeze

Brian Taylor | 15:16 UK time, Thursday, 8 November 2007

Fancy a council tax freeze? Not a low increase. Not containment within the rate of inflation. A freeze - nothing added to the present rate next year.

Here’s another question. If you got a council tax freeze, would you be more inclined to overlook other promises in the SNP manifesto that, perhaps, may not be delivered instantly, in full?

That’s one scenario providing innocent merriment to the coffee-sipping denizens of the Garden Lobby at Holyrood, politicians and members of the wicked media alike.

Here’s the thinking. John Swinney is meeting leading councillors today.

He wants them to agree to a council tax freeze in return for giving them a higher percentage of the Scottish block. Get more, tax less.

At the very least, the council leaders in Cosla are treating the notion seriously – with the occasional mutter that a freeze might not cost as much as has been suggested in some quarters.

So, you could have a situation where Cosla recommends a freeze to members – although, of course, it is up to individual councils to set their budgets.

Why would they undertake such a course? For more dosh, greater freedom to allocate it – and new status as the quangocracy shrinks. Plus bear in mind that there are now more SNP councillors than Labour ones.

What would they have to do? Make strides towards implementing SNP policies on police numbers, class sizes and the rest.

Research since the election has suggested that council tax had particular salience in the minds of the voters. (Hint - they don’t like it.)

So, if they got a freeze, would they overlook the prospect that many of the promised 1,000 new police officers are reconditioned and that class sizes in primaries one to three won’t be cut to 18 all that soon?


  • 1.
  • At 04:31 PM on 08 Nov 2007,
  • Stephen wrote:

Nice points Brian,

As a nationalist, Im well aware that my chosen party is unable to provide all it has included in the election manifesto for May. Although That was a manifesto for Government, not minority Government. we lost the vote on trams and therefor 500 million went from our budget. The Westminster allocation is the worst since devolution (not insinuating anything it just is)and we have to find ways of compensating our poor farmers by ourselves (What are the Tory, Labour, Liberal MSP + MPs doing for the farming communities in their constituencies). This means dissapointingly a loss of 1000 new police officers, a climb down on the end of student debt but not the end of the student endowment, and probably more. However I think its crucial to get a council tax freeze, continue free care for the elderly and lower business rates. On the other hand what would we be getting from the same ol same ol if the election hadnt been a nationalist victory. Probably the same unambitious grind. Its better to aim for the stars and fall a little short than walk with your head held low.

  • 2.
  • At 04:33 PM on 08 Nov 2007,
  • DGY wrote:

Brian, one thing I'd like the media to watch out for on the budget is a calculated gamble by the Nats to bankrupt us all.

Last month, the SNP complained that the supposed 1.4% block grant increase was actually only a 0.5% increase. Yet despite their protestations about penury, they continue to make spending commitments like there's no tomorrow (bridge tolls, graduate endowments, council tax freeze).

The aim of this could be - if one were Machiavellian about it - to run the well dry before the end of the next financial year and then, as the day approaches, protest about Westminster's parsimony (except that they will call it "London Labour" parsimony) and demand either more money in grants or the oil money (which they now claim, based on the skewed figures they asked Andrew Goudie to provide, and rising world oil prices, is said to be enough to get Scotland back in the black).

Now, this may not conform to the Nats' stated aim of governing devolved Scotland well to convince us all that they are a worthy bunch, but it would be a possible way of stoking up resentment with London in a short space of time. This is actually a necessary and urgent strategy for the Nats, given their wafer thin majority over Labour at Holyrood, and the risks of them losing their tenuous grip on minority power at any moment due to illness/death/resignation/defection/ the hand of God.

The justification for this fast-and-loose approach would be that, when the skids had to be hit, the Nats would win a war of words blame game with Downing Street and turn the Scottish public on their side.

Labour would be caught in the middle, and have to decide if they were going to risk seeming anti-Scottish by failing to stump up extra cash, or risk alienating middle England Mondeo Man, who thinks Scotland is over-subsidised anyway. The Tories in particular would make hay with any extra money given to Scotland (especially as it now seems that David Cameron is pursuing an England-only political strategy).

Most people in Scotland are prepared to consider extra powers for the Parliament within the UK, but that could get lost if there was a big stramash between the Scottish and UK governments over money. This is the only way the Nats are ever going to get the outcome of the national conversation they want.

  • 3.
  • At 08:19 PM on 08 Nov 2007,
  • Hugo wrote:

#1 makes a reasonable, if biased, case.

May I suggest a different and more likely case, with a different bias.

The SNP are playing the long game where they rightly protest at the money allocated by Westminster, then proceed to work within the allocated amount. All the time they will be gaining experience, showing overall competence, and laying many fears to rest.

At the end of their 4 year term they can proclaim 'We have shown YOU can trust the SNP'.

Time will tell.

  • 4.
  • At 10:26 PM on 08 Nov 2007,
  • will wrote:


Sorry, trust SNP is an oxymoron. They are as trustworthy as the others.

  • 5.
  • At 02:54 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • k wrote:

give us some more examples then #4

im a nationalist but i really would be keen to hear.

  • 6.
  • At 03:32 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Mike wrote:

Well it appears we have two types of Numpties in denial.

Numptie number one has dreamed up this long winded conspiracy theorie that sounds like a John le Carr novel. This story goes on to itemise more twists and turn than a game of snakes & ladders. He has got to be paid up Numptie Member who lives in Lanarkshire.

Then we get to number two who hates this government because they are going to take his job away in a non achieving commitee that hasnt got a clue as to why they are there or where they are. You know what they say about getting the chop. Its like paddling up the Quango, which is Westminster speak for getting paid for nothing. At least the SNP are trying to get these spongers out of jobs that they obviously hate. Of course Jack and Wendy would never have stooped this low even if they hid so many Numptie deals like giving up 100 million from Westminster or hiding the Howat report.

The Numptie power building days are over. It is time you went out into the big bad world like the rest of us and get a job where you are judged by tangible results. Welcome to the real world laddie.

  • 7.
  • At 10:26 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Scott wrote:

I don't know about anyone else, but if my horrendous council tax bill does not increase this year, it would be the biggest tangeable change to my individual life and finances (therefore excluding wars and Trident etc) any government in any parliament has given me.

I think many people will notice this many times more than any other policy. Which is what the SNP is hoping for I presume.

  • 8.
  • At 11:42 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Andrew wrote:

number 4 is talking rubbish. i too work for them (in fact thats wrong as neither of us work for "them"; we both work for the duly elected Scottish Government) and to suggest that the SNP are the only Govt who massage the figures is a total nonsense. what he's talking about is the Government Expenditure Review Scotland (GERS) which was introduced by the Tories in the early 90s specifically to fool the voters into thinking that everything was rosy in the garden. the Labour party then used it specifically to attempt to discredit the SNP's economic arguement. no surprise now that the boot is on the other foot that the SNP would seek to use it to highlight the case for independence.

  • 9.
  • At 11:45 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Andrew wrote:

The UK Government’s own fiscal accounts shows that it can only be have been Scotland that has been the great benefactor for all the four home nations. The last Tory Government, in 1995, actually had to admit that the flow of cash could only have been happening in the other direction:

  • 10.
  • At 11:54 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Andrew wrote:

There is no such thing as Scottish oil!

Any individuals here, who really believe that, need to take that up with the UN, who have actually defined the terms of "areas" of the UK waters being Scottish, English, and Northern Irish:

As shown above, there are areas of the UK waters that have been defined as belonging to the three component parts that have their own respective law systems: England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. As such, all the UK territorial waters have been split into three areas covered by the jurisdictions of the said countries.

For the case of the North Sea, where the majority of the UK oil fields are found to lie, the UK sector has is divided into specific English and Scottish jurisdictional areas where the application of both countries law applies.

The following legislation: The Continental Shelf Act 1964, Continental Shelf (Jurisdiction) Order 1968 (the one covered in the above link), The Civil Jurisdiction (Offshore Activities) Order 1987, Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Act 1982, The Criminal Jurisdiction (Offshore Activities) Order 1987and the Petroleum Act 1998 have all been UK Government Acts which have been passed which have all stated that the UK North Sea maritime area to the north of latitude 55 degrees north as being under the jurisdiction of Scottish law.

This means that around 95% of the UK's oil resources come from areas under Scottish legal jurisdiction. In addition to this, Section 126 of the Scotland Act 1998 also defines as Scottish waters, the internal waters and territorial sea of the United Kingdom, which are adjacent to Scotland.

  • 11.
  • At 11:58 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • EricH wrote:

Well said #6. Nothing squeals so loudly as those whose gravy train is about to be shunted into oblivion.

  • 12.
  • At 12:33 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Stephen wrote:

# Mike

Its numptie number 1 here.
I am a nationalist I admit it and did want to highlight that the scottish representatives of the farmers not in the SNP were very silent about the lack of Defra support, whereas the Welsh and NI representatives from all parties were trying to get better deals for their farmers. Scottish unionist parties were in effect told to be quiet by their London counterparts. Or can you remember any of the unionists complaining about this.If im wrong Id love to know.

We did lose the vote on Trams and we have an especially tight funding year ahead. I think everyone agrees on this right.

I admitted Im dissapointed we wont be able to meet all Our manefesto commitments because of funding and being a minority government.

What is it im supposed to be in denial about.

Ps never been to Lanarkshire, might have driven through it once. However Im sure its a nice place with very generous people. Like most places in Scotland.

I can't think of any previous government in Holyrood or Westminster that actually delivered what they promised.
The SNP at least seem to be trying to deliver on their pledges, which is more than most governments do.
Their election pledges were somewhat over ambitious but if they can deliver on 75% of them I reckon they'll be doing alright.

What did Labour promise? They promised that if the SNP won that Scotland would explode and we'd all be living in cardboard boxes with no jobs.
Looks like they're promise has been broken too...

  • 14.
  • At 01:33 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Poppaea wrote:

#5 - I presume that civil servant 4 wants to keep their job, so I doubt you'll get examples! Perhaps a quick google of recent questioning of the accuracy of the SNP administration's figures would throw some light on it?

Personally, I think it's time they got down to governing, not constantly 'squaring up' to Westminster. Methinks they do that to distract voters from their failures on their many promises, but perhaps I am just too cynical?

  • 15.
  • At 01:40 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Peter wrote:

#2 SNP are going to bankrupt us.

I believe that the combined debt for Scotlands Councils is well in excess of £20 billion. I think we all know what flavour of administration run that up!

  • 16.
  • At 04:06 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • davie wrote:

I wonder , , what is Brian Taylor going to do when we get our 1000 policemen ? will he have to resign / retire ?
For the last few weeks his entire world it seems has revolved round the possibility that it might not happen! Will he have to resort to stuffing pamphlets through doors for Windy?

  • 17.
  • At 07:58 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • J Nicholson wrote:

Freeze what freeze? The word in Fife is that this so called freeze could cost those who require elderly care at least £1000/annum in additional charges. Once again those who require most support are going to be the most disadvantaged.
The law of possible unintended consequencies strikes again or is it deliberate

  • 18.
  • At 10:47 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • JimThomson wrote:

Dear All,

Rather than making bald statements about Westminster not giving enough money can someone please set out

(a) the actual amount of money (to nearest £ billion) that Holyrood has been given for each year of CSR and

(b)amount (again to nearest £ billion)SNP stated they would need from to meet their promises.

Then we can have a sensible discussion.

I have asked this question on a number of occasions but have received no answer. Is that because no journalist or SNP supporter knows?

  • 19.
  • At 10:52 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Tom wrote:

The people of Scotland will judge on the basis of what the parties aspire to do. Removing bridge tolls, more police, free education, smaller class sizes and replacing Council tax are all pretty good objectives and so is scrapping the new Trident and getting out of Iraq to help pay for them. I'm old enough to remember when Labour were in favour of that kind of thing. So if SNP say that is what they want to do but can't implement it immediately becaused Westminster controls the purse strings then it is simply the truth.

Labour OTOH have painted themselves into a ludicrous corner of appearing to oppose any kind of progress on these issues and even hoping they fail! Cutting of the noses of the Scottish people to spite SNP. They've become extraordinarily introverted and see nothing outside their party political interest.

I think I know which approach the Scottish voters will support

Just a quick point ...

Surely 1000 experienced officers are better than 1000 inexperienced?

I know which thousand I'd rather see.

And, nobody ever said a party had to implement it's entire manifesto as quickly as the SNP's opponents are suggesting they should.

I'm tired of hearing about the government not implementing all of their manifesto ... they've done more in the short time they've been there than the previous lot did in their *two full* terms!

#6. I'm impressed by the number of times you used the word 'numptie' in your post ... I don't think it gets used enough in relation to politics! ;)

  • 21.
  • At 01:24 PM on 10 Nov 2007,
  • Ken Kennedy wrote:

Personally i dont think that the Executive should have any involvement in the affairs of local government. What is happening here is an ongoing and constant erosion of the line between the Scottish Exectuive and Local Government.

What was the point of Electing Local Councillors (many of whom were elected as independendants) if the scottish executive are going to interfere with the way they run their affairs?

Many of the indedpendant councillors (im not going to get into the point that there are those who arent genuinely independants) were elected on a manifesto of cutting beurocracy and balancing the books of the local government how arey supposed to do this when they keep getting dictated to from the executive?

  • 22.
  • At 06:58 PM on 11 Nov 2007,
  • PMK wrote:

These screams coming from Wendy and sections of the media about promises not met ... the new Government is only six months old! We will be able to more accurately judge the SNP's performance in power when it has had some time. Considering that Gordon Brown and his New Tory cronies down south continue to blame their Old Tory predecessors for pretty much anything that goes wrong ... I think some political commentators are being overly harsh on the new administration by comparison.

Council tax - hugely unpopular, Lib Dems backed its replacement by a local income tax in their manifesto! This will be a real test to see if Nicol's Liberals are an independent political party, or if not being in coalition with Labour while in power effectively means being in coalition with them in opposition.

  • 23.
  • At 10:01 AM on 12 Nov 2007,
  • Hula wrote:

Hi Brian,

Good Blog,

I'd like to pick up on your point that the SNP would perhaps like people to take the big carrot (Council Tax Freeze) in the hope that people won't notice non-delivery of the wee carrots.

I think that is fair enough, as most folk would love to see their council tax being frozen. My problem is, it doesn't solve the problem - it just masks it. We've had years of Labour led inefficiencies in local councils, evidenced by successive above-inflation tax rises without noticable sevice improvement, and in some cases cut-backs. At some point above inflation tax rises have to stop; basic economics tells us this, if nothing else!

My hope is that the Labour led councils don't kick this in the face of the SNP because it is coming from the SNP. At least credit us voters with having the brains to make the money that pays your wages and give us a reasonable argument why not!

As for the small carrots, I still think it is too early to say if the SNP has or has not delivered on other manifesto pledges...they've not even been in a year yet!

  • 24.
  • At 11:34 AM on 12 Nov 2007,
  • Dave "Boy" wrote:

#19, this may help:

2004-05 21,338 million
2005-06 22,757 million
2006-07 24,202 million
2007-08 25,549 million
2008-09 1,189 million more than 07/08
2009-10 2,340 million more than 07/08
2010-11 3,725 million more than 07/08

There has been some rebasing in this CSR which makes it hard for joe punter to compare on a like for like basis. This has created the situation where we have the SNP saying "bad deal" and Labour saying "good deal"

  • 25.
  • At 12:44 PM on 13 Nov 2007,
  • Tam McGowan wrote:

"Gaelic Digital Service has found it must offer more to justify the level of spending it will need." Quote - BBC Website

If you entrust the finances of your country and its culture to another, don't be suprised if you end up getting fleeced!

  • 26.
  • At 12:51 PM on 13 Nov 2007,
  • Tam McGowan wrote:

If we managed our own money and affairs we would not have to debate foolish side issue of "allocation of our buget from another country"!

  • 27.
  • At 02:20 PM on 14 Nov 2007,
  • Duncan wrote:

You may well be right Brian. As one of those who voted SNP because they are they only Party who reprsent my views on Council Tax; the Lib Dems have blown it with their Property Tax proposals.

It is a blatantly tax unfair that puts the biggest tax burden on those who have the least income, not something that Labour can be or should proud of.

The repeal of this tax will get my vote irrespective of what other issues arise and I suspect I am not alone.

  • 28.
  • At 02:28 PM on 14 Nov 2007,
  • Duncan wrote:

You may well be right Brian. As one of those who voted SNP because they are they only Party who reprsent my views on Council Tax; the Lib Dems have blown it with their Property Tax proposals.

It is a blatantly unfair tax that puts the biggest tax burden on those who have the least income, not something that Labour can be or should proud of.

The repeal of this tax will get my vote irrespective of what other issues arise and I suspect I am not alone. There will be lots of ex Labour and ex Tory voters out there who voted for the SNP because of their stance on this issue.

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