On 3 October, The Scotsman published an editorial lucidly explaining just how unfair the poll tax had been. Judging by the selection of letters published on 4 October, it seems to have been missed or ignored by contributors to the letters columns. Nevertheless, I commend it to them.
Of the letters published, with the exception of the letter from Hugh Kerr, all are opposed to the proposal to write off this historic debt. However, in the cacophony of outraged bleating, which appears to have been motivated by personal dislike of Alex Salmond rather than a balanced look at the reality of the then and current situation, one from Brian Petrie jumps out.
Mr Petrie chooses to insult people who legitimately marched to protest against an iniquitous tax as a “rabble”.
But will he have the energy and courage to do anything about issues he feels strongly about other than write to the newspapers? I doubt it.
John Campbell (Letters, 4 October) says he is glad he voted No. But will he rise up and protest when the mythical promises of increased devolution take years to materialise (if at all) and are nothing like the federalism promised in the “vow”? I doubt it.
Will they concede that in the rest of this Union which they voted to preserve, the statute of limitations on pursuit of this historic debt is six years? I doubt it.
Will they rise up in protest at another foreign misadventure? I doubt it.
Will they criticise this foreign war which is going so swimmingly and has taken out one small command post, two pick-up trucks with machine guns bolted to their backs and one transport vehicle at the cost of £600,000 for the missiles alone?
I doubt it, because they are the silent majority and that is what they do best.
I was surprised to read your editorial (3 October) advocating councils must forget debts owed to them for 20 years because of being “tainted” through being an unpopular tax.
The so-called poll tax was unpopular because it demanded that everyone pay for the services they use – not, on the face of it, an unfair proposition. It was the amount they paid which was, arguably, unfair, but it was the law at the time.
When using a public facility such as going for a swim or getting on a bus, I expect to pay the same fee as everybody else using it.
Many taxes or charges have an element of unfairness, which does not mean we simply should not pay them – and more importantly, be allowed to get away with it!
In my little VW car I have to pay the same fee for parking it in Edinburgh or Perth as the person next to me driving an expensive Rolls-Royce or Porsche; and when I pay for servicing it, VAT is charged at the same rate as for any other car. It is a tax that I pay, like any other.
As for the fact that the debt is history, time passing does not make a wrong right.
The majority of the letters you published (Letters, 4 October) are critical of the Scottish Government’s proposal to write off poll tax debts on the basis that a government should not pick and choose which laws it enforces and which it does not. John Fraser goes one witty step further and asks for a rebate of the poll tax that he had paid.
The lone voice on the other side of the argument is that of Hugh Kerr. I should like to add my voice to his. Mr Kerr gives two reasons for his support of the Government’s proposal: one practical and one on a matter of moral principle. He points out that most local authorities in England had written off the debts years ago on practical grounds: the costs of collecting these debts were greater than the amount of income the action would generate.
He also points out that the poll tax hit the poor, and so, by implication it is morally questionable. He is right, but not totally wholly accurate: the poor who lived entirely on benefits were unaffected as the poll tax was paid for them, just as the rates had been. It was the working poor who were affected by the unexpected and significant changes in their budget – just as the better-off members of the community had been affected by the earlier significant increases in rates due to the revaluations. None of these formed “a rabble and took to the streets” (Brian Petrie, Letters); instead, from the comfort of their leafy suburbs, they lobbied the Government to the extent that Margaret Thatcher was convinced that Scotland wanted the abolition of the rates.
The payday lender Wonga has been obliged to write off debts that were obtained through pursuing practices of dubious moral value, that contravene regulations which have been retrospectively imposed. The Scottish Government seems to me to be echoing the moves of the FSA.
Armed with this zest for retrospective legislation, it is to be hoped that it does not now try to recoup the great savings made by the owners of homes of above-average value when the switch was made from the rates to the poll tax.
(Dr) Francis Roberts
Duddingston Square West