Readers of the National are unlikely to need a reminder that Sunday marks the second anniversary of Scotland’s independence referendum (perhaps to be known in future as Scotland’s first independence referendum).
Tax avoidance is nothing new. For as long as there have been taxes levied, there have always been people willing to jump through every loophole they can find to avoid paying their fair share. It’s unlikely that any tax system will ever be perfect, and the problem has grown as the financial and business environment has become ever more complex.
So that was summer. Just a few typical “silly season” stories this year… the UK vote to quit the EU, the renewed prospect of Scotland reconsidering independence, the Chilcot report, a sudden bout of Tory backstabbing before a new Prime Minister took office, economic turmoil, ever-more urgent climate warning signs, open civil war in the Labour Party with the prospect of splits to come, devastating acts of violence in Europe and the middle east, and of course continuation of the bewildering delusional nonsense from the Cult of Trump.
The phoney war that is the annual GERS debate has broken out again. It’s all too predictable, but with Scotland’s public finances under scrutiny I make no apology for once again challenging the dominant assumptions about oil and gas. In 2014 the Green Yes campaign published figures showing that the multinationals operating in the North Sea were receiving around £1 billion worth of tax breaks from the UK Government every year – despite making huge profits.
One of the most frequent arguments heard in 2014 in favour of Scotland becoming an independent country was that it would give us an opportunity to operate our own social security policy, setting a different political course from Westminster. In the face of the UK Government’s full scale assault on the welfare state, many people saw the need for a radical change and saw independence as the means.
Recently I wrote in The National about Holyrood’s financial limbo as we wait for the UK Government’s autumn budget statement. Till then the Scottish Government cannot publish its spending plans for next year, so the committees which cover spending areas cannot yet know what will happen to the public finances. This situation is made even more complex and unhelpful given the additional powers coming to Holyrood; undertaking those changes in a period of financial uncertainty could prove very problematic.
Given the pace of events this summer, you could easily forget just how slow political change can be. More than a decade and a half after devolution in Scotland, and with the Conservatives never having been even close to power at Holyrood, you’d have thought that the legacy of Margaret Thatcher would have been long buried, at least when it comes to issues within the control of Scotland’s own Parliament, such as social housing.
At this point in the Holyrood calendar MSPs are normally looking forward to a quieter time over the summer recess, while the committee clerks and government officials are preparing for the budget process which begins when Holyrood returns in September.
As you may have noticed, this is no ordinary year.
The petitions which appear on change.org cover a wide range from deeply serious campaigns to eccentric ‘hobby horse’ issues. Perhaps the best I’ve seen appeared yesterday. Expressing the exhaustion many people feel with the current state of politics, a petitioner proposed: “Can we all agree that there will be no news on Friday. None. Nothing will happen. At all.”