Alex Salmond sorry over tartan tax decision

From Democracy live: Alex Salmond made his apology at question time

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First Minister Alex Salmond has apologised to the Scottish Parliament for not keeping MSPs informed about the loss of the tartan tax powers.

The deal, which allowed Scotland to raise or lower income tax by 3p in the pound, was allowed to lapse in 2007 and cannot be used until 2013-14.

Mr Salmond's comments came after Finance Secretary John Swinney made a similar apology, on Wednesday.

The first minister insisted the problem existed before the SNP took power.

The tax-varying powers, backed by the public 1997 devolution referendum, have never been used and have been ruled out by the SNP.

It emerged last week the Scottish government refused to pay £7m to HM Revenue and Customs for an IT upgrade, meaning the ability to use the Scottish Variable Rate had lapsed.

Mr Swinney earlier said the powers had already lapsed before the SNP came to power in 2007, following eight years of Labour-Lib Dem rule, and expressed concern about paying a large bill during tough financial times in relation to an unused power.

Analysis

Alex Salmond's friends and critics (including those who occasionally move from one camp to the other) are wont to try to define their man, to pin him down.

Is he statesman? Is he passionate patriot? Or economic calculator? Is he mischief-maker? Is he ballad singer, manqué?

Today, facing first minister's questions, he offered his own answer.

Turning to Annabel Goldie, he declared: "I am Spartacus."

Spartacus? You know, the novel? Turned into a film by Stanley Kubrick? Starred Kirk Douglas as the eponymous hero? Spartacus.

Today's movie was a rerun. Swinney 2: the FM Strikes Back.

The finance secretary said sorry for failing to inform parliament of the decision, but opposition leaders used first minister's question time to accuse ministers of a cover-up.

And in a reference to the famous Holywood film, Mr Salmond responded: "I'm Spartacus. I apologise with John Swinney to the parliament and I think I'm now on my fourth apology.

"It is a point of principle, the parliament should have been informed. I knew about it, Mr Swinney advised me about it, I'm first minister. I believe it's a lesson well learned."

Going on the attack, Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray, said: "It is bad enough that this parliament doesn't know what the Scottish government is doing.

"The real problem is they don't know what they're doing either. They are an incompetent shambles.

Tory leader Annabel Goldie, said: "To hide the truth from this parliament and from the people of Scotland is a shocking state of affairs."

And Tavish Scott, the Liberal Democrat leader, pointed out that parliament had passed a motion on the tartan tax row accusing SNP ministers of "an abuse of power" by failing to sustain Holyrood's tax powers and misleading parliament over the issue.

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