Scotland politics

Scottish politics: Deja vu all over again

stack of pennies Image copyright Barry Eastwood
Image caption Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have proposed a 1p rise in Scottish income tax rates, which they say would raise about £500m to help protect education budgets and other local services

Scottish politics feels this week as though we have taken a step through the looking glass. Traditional arguments have been turned their head as the Scottish Labour Party surprised everyone with their plans to put a penny on the basic rate of income tax.

Those of us who have been following Scottish politics for long enough can recall this argument from years gone by - when it was the SNP who went into the first elections to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 proposing a "Penny for Scotland".

On that occasion it wasn't quite a 1p tax raise - they were arguing that Scotland should forego a 1p cut in the basic rate that then Chancellor Gordon Brown was proposing for the UK.

But the basic argument was the same. So now both parties can lob around quotes like hand grenades demonstrating who has changed their minds.

Low incomes

Extracts from the SNP 1999 manifesto are doing the rounds on Twitter, reminding the party that they said then: "Brown's election bribe, or Scotland's Penny. It's a clear choice in this election.

"It is a choice the SNP think Scotland is prepared to make, for the good of our society and our country."

But it is just as uncomfortable for Labour to be reminded that back in 1999 Gordon Brown responded by saying people on low incomes and average earners struggling to maintain a family would bear the brunt of the SNP's Penny for Scotland plan, and: "This tax rise will hurt low and middle income families who can least afford it".

The very argument the SNP use today against Labour's new plan.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon have said raising income tax rates across all bands would hit the lowest-paid workers hardest

Seventeen years ago Labour said that a higher tax rate in Scotland would be damaging because it would mean employees would have to pay higher income tax than those in England.

They've obviously changed their minds since. But then, so has the current Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney, who in 1999 thought the Penny for Scotland policy "was not a tax rise", but an "investment" that would make people living in the country better off."

First Minister's Questions in Holyrood today was a bit like an episode of "Quote Unquote", with the party leaders trading some more recent extracts.

Scottish labour leader Kezia Dugdale started off with a quote from First Minster Nicola Sturgeon that seemed to support raising taxes: "We will use the powers we have in the Scottish Parliament to pursue a different approach.... to halt the deeply misguided march to austerity."

Ms Sturgeon came straight back with a quote from Ms Dugdale's conference speech in October when she said: "A fairer Scotland is not one where everyone pays more tax..... We must stop tax raises on working families."

The Penny for Scotland campaign was not a great success for the SNP in 1999. No wonder they don't want to revisit the same policy.

Labour obviously think the electorate have changed their minds about paying more tax. Why else would they now be proposing a policy that in 1999 they called a ''tax-hike blunder"?