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A 'very bad thing indeed'

Brian Taylor | 16:08 UK time, Thursday, 27 November 2008

Regarding this matter of the economy, politicians have two roles. To do things which make the economy better - and to shun things which make it worse.

In truth, we learned little today at FMQs as to things which might ameliorate the situation.

Perhaps understandably, the debate centred on competing visions of what might prove a problem.

Labour's Iain Gray pursued the first minister over the SNP's plans for a Local Income Tax.

It was, averred Mr Gray, A Bad Thing. A Very Bad Thing indeed. It would penalise hard-working people.

It would be a tax on jobs. Business loathed the notion. Dump it now.

Alex Salmond dismissed this. LIT was fair and popular. By contrast, he was keen to talk about the consequences for Scotland of the pre-Budget report.

Mutual strength

In particular, the sting in the tail: the prospect of spending cuts in 2010.

It was a test of mutual strength. So who won on the day? Alex Salmond, in my view.

Firstly, he was on rather good form generally, plainly recovered from his illness.

Secondly, Mr Gray suffered from sundry weak points. Chief among these is that Labour has yet to set out its alternative to the council tax, its proposed reforms.

Presumably that is why the party did not submit evidence to the consultation over LIT. It is, however, fundamentally weak to rail against a proposal without being in a position to set out your own views.

Mr Salmond reminded Mr Gray that the Labour leader had decried his own party's efforts on the topic during the last Holyrood election.

Another problem for Mr Gray on the day was that he inadvertenly opened up an opportunity for the first minister.

Lit questions

Mr Salmond talked of £500m Scottish spending cuts due in 2010 as a result of efficiency savings to be pressed in Whitehall.

Barnett consequentials, you understand.

Instead of dismissing this on the day - and inviting the FM to answer the questions about LIT - Mr Gray entered momentarily into a discussion of the point, suggesting that the sum might be lower than £500m.

This merely allowed Mr Salmond to pursue the point more vigorously still. A debate about LIT duly became a debate about the PBR and "spending cuts."

More generally, it still seems likely that LIT will be thwarted by a combination of opposition from rival parties - and disquiet from business and others.

At which point, Mr Salmond will lament pitiably - and will set about blaming Labour for preventing him from effecting reform.

This will be on the not unreasonable grounds that people hate the tax that is in place - and long for the green fields of alternative taxation over the hill.

The impact of the PBR and the recession, however, will still be in place.

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