FIRST MINISTER Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of wanting to bring in a “new tartan tax for hard-pressed workers” after she called for Holyrood to be given greater control over taxation.
The SNP leader said the new package of devolved powers drawn up by the Smith Commission failed to include the “key lever” of the income tax personal allowance - the amount people can earn before they have to pay the levy.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
The Smith Commission recommended the Scottish Parliament should be able to set its own income tax rates, with all of the cash earned staying north of the border.
But while it said there should be “no restrictions on the thresholds or rates the Scottish Parliament can set” on income tax, it said all other aspects of the levy would remain reserved to Westminster, including the personal allowance.
Ms Sturgeon told the Murnaghan programme on Sky News: “The Smith Commission recommends income tax be devolved, though interestingly it says the personal allowance of income tax, which is one of the key levers you could use to lift people out of poverty, should remain reserved to Westminster.”
But Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Demanding the personal allowance must mean the SNP want to increase tax. They should come clean.
“In the independence White Paper the SNP proposed £450 more tax for those on low and middle income earners. The last thing low-earners need just now is to pay more tax but it seems that is what the SNP want to do.
“A new tartan tax for hard-pressed workers is the last thing Scotland needs.”
He said Liberal Democrats in the UK coalition government had “cut tax for low and middle earners by £800 thanks to the increase in the personal allowance to £10,000” and added: “The only reason the SNP must want the devolution of the personal allowance is to put income tax up for hard-pressed workers.”
A spokesman for the First Minister stated: “The reason we want Scotland to have full responsibility for all tax and welfare is simple - to create a more prosperous and fairer country, and to stop the punitive austerity agenda which the Lib Dems are helping the Tories implement at Westminster and which is causing such hardship for so many people across Scotland.”
Ms Sturgeon had stressed the need for ministers at Holyrood to “get our hands on the range of levers of power that allow us to grow our economy and allow us to tackle some of the deep-seated inequalities we have in Scotland”.
With Chancellor George Osborne expected to give Northern Ireland the power to set its own corporation tax rate in this week’s Autumn Statement, Ms Sturgeon insisted if that happened “then there is no argument that says it shouldn’t also be devolved to Scotland”.
She welcomed the findings of the Smith Commission, which recommended devolving air passenger duty and giving Holyrood some powers over benefits, “as far as it goes”.
But the First Minister said: “I do think there are some significant powers that are not in the Smith Commission that we should have in Scotland, corporation tax, indeed a range of taxes, are one of them, but also power over the minimum wage, greater powers over the social security system.”
She added that by voting SNP in next May’s UK general election, people in Scotland could seek to win more powers for Holyrood.
She stated: “The Smith Commission is welcome in so far as it goes.
“I think it is the power of the votes in the referendum in Scotland that have forced the pace to this stage.
“I think now the Scottish people can decide if they want to use the power of their votes in the general election to up this offer and get more powers devolved to Scotland”
Ms Sturgeon continued: “The SNP has to make its case to the people of Scotland and seek to persuade people to vote for us, we will be working very hard to do that.
“But the key message at the heart of our general election campaign will be this one - the referendum showed very clearly that power over the future of Scotland lies with the Scottish people.
“If we want to make sure we build on the momentum of the referendum, if we want continue to move forward as a country, if we want to continue to see more powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament, then the best way to secure that is through the votes of the Scottish people voting SNP to give us significant influence in the House of Commons.”
She said if Labour needed the support of the SNP to form the next government at Westminster Ed Miliband’s party would “have to seriously up its game in terms of the powers it was promising to the Scottish people”.
The First Minister said: “My message to people across Scotland, even if they’ve never voted SNP in a Westminster election in the past, is in May next year lend us your vote to allow us to make sure that Scotland’s voice is heard and Scotland’s interests are protected.”
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS