THE Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, yesterday challenged rival political parties to rule out tax increases when new powers come to Holyrood.
Davidson attempted to move the constitutional debate on from the battle with the SNP over what powers should come to Scotland to what those powers should be used for.
David Cameron’s government has promised that the new powers over income tax and welfare contained in the Scotland Bill will be on the statute book by February, a timetable that will give the Conservatives the ability to go into next year’s Scottish election campaigning as a tax-cutting party.
The Conservatives hope that promoting a tax-cutting agenda will create a clear divide between them and the SNP, which has sent out signals that it is moving to the left under Nicola Sturgeon.
The Scottish Tories have already pledged not to raise taxes above rates in the rest of the UK once the Scottish Parliament receives full control over income tax bands and rates.
Davidson has also said the party would even like to see rates of tax reduced for individuals and businesses.
Davidson said: “With tax powers coming to the Scottish Parliament, the debate is moving from what powers it should have, to how best to use them. As we said before last year’s referendum, we will change the law so that all income tax rates and bands will be set by Holyrood. It is a massive change and, rightly, businesses and families are beginning to ask what Scotland’s political parties will do with these powers when they come in.
“Of course, individual parties will want to consider their policies, but I believe we need to send an early signal to reassure investors, firms and families that new taxes in Scotland will not simply mean higher ones.
“I pledge that, under my leadership, a future Conservative Scottish government will never have higher rates or bands of income tax than elsewhere in the UK. And I challenge my political opponents to commit to a tax regime that does not take more money from Scottish income tax payers than they would have paid under the Westminster system.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “The Scotland Bill has been published, but we are no closer to understanding when new income tax powers will be introduced. Responsibility for some aspects of income tax is an additional lever for the Scottish Government to use to benefit the people of Scotland and the Scottish economy.”
The Scottish Labour finance spokesperson, Jackie Baillie, said: “In the last parliament the Tories put up VAT, a regressive tax that hits the poorest hardest whilst cutting taxes for millionaires. That’s not fair and does nothing to help build a better economy.”