Comment: UK lags behind Norway in tax transparency

Norway is streets ahead of the UK's tax system, writes Denis Dixon. Picture: Getty

Norway is streets ahead of the UK's tax system, writes Denis Dixon. Picture: Getty

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WHEN it comes to declaring taxes, Norway shows the way ahead, says Denis Dixon

All across Scotland, tax returns are being submitted in time for the end of January but imagine if your wealth, income and tax payments were published alongside everybody else’s – from politicians to pop stars to business moguls?

That’s what happens in Norway, where I lived for many years in the 1990s and their system offers some lessons for us here in Scotland.

Paying tax is still seen as a national duty in Norway and the transparency they employ is in stark contrast to our model, which safeguards privacy and confidentiality.

Unfortunately, such traditions of ours are very helpful to those who don’t wish to disclose all their income or assets, whether it’s for fear of the taxman, an unhappy spouse or a nosey journalist.

Take those living in Britain but with non-domiciled status (the infamous “non-doms”). Often rich and powerful, it is difficult to imagine them all scrupulously paying every last penny of tax that they owe.

But full disclosure, with the backing of the law, would at least improve transparency around levels of income from overseas (which, unfortunately, usually goes untaxed for those not domiciled here).

Chancellor George Osborne is reportedly making some headway in tackling tax evasion from both multinational companies and individuals, but it would be interesting to know exactly how he structures his own tax affairs. Why should he have anything to hide?

When I lived in Norway, my friends and I would submit our records and then have a few drinks outside around a brazier to celebrate. In those days tax records were only available on paper and easy internet access has led to an almost voyeuristic interest in tax affairs, often fuelled by journalists seeking cheap headlines.

It’s not quite as easy to browse the details these days but the basic principles remain sound and important to Norwegian society.

And these Norwegians who scrupulously pay their taxes also expect and demand high standards of transparency and accountability of those civil servants and others who spend their tax money. We certainly need the latter here in Scotland. More transparency is almost always a good thing.

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• More information on becoming a Friend of The Scotsman

• Denis Dixon is an Edinburgh Councillor for the Sighthill/Gorgie Ward

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