Leader comment: Budget debate gives Scots distinct choice

Sturgeon says SNP won't raise starting rate for higher tax, Davidson says Tories would, igniting debate on how to use new powers

George Osborne raised the rate at which workers start paying top rate tax. Picture: Carrick Gazette

Nicola Sturgeon’s suggestion that she will refuse to follow George Osborne and not raise the starting rate for higher rate tax is brave, and should be welcomed.

Whether you agree with the decision on tax or not, Scotland is now having the debate around going its own way in terms of creating the society the country wants – an argument which has not been had in Scotland for far too long. This is Scottish political parties making decisions on tax raising and spending and giving the electorate a choice.

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Some might think it is a risk for Sturgeon to alienate middle earners who could benefit from this Budget announcement, but the SNP knows it is in a very solid position and does not look set to lose at May’s election.

Yes, Sturgeon may lose the relatively small proportion of voters who would have stood to gain from Osborne’s decision to raise the rate at which workers start paying top rate tax from £42,385 to £45,000.

Around one in ten people – totalling 375,000 – would have benefited from the move and many may choose to vote with their feet against Sturgeon’s strategy to remove the benefit for Scots.

Sturgeon deserves respect for simply taking the risk and taking the high ground by refusing to introduce the change, which would have seen a typical higher rate taxpayer £442 a year better off.

And what Ruth Davidson has done with her Conservative party by saying they would implement the budget measure is give voters a choice. All of Scotland’s political parties need to reveal in detail how they would use the new tax raising powers granted to Holyrood, which are due to come to Scotland from 2017. MSPs will have control over income tax rates and bands from April next year.

Davidson also makes a decent point that in doing this, Sturgeon has created a system of higher taxes for Scotland compared to the rest of the UK. She has said that she does not want to see a sign at the Border saying “higher taxes here”.

Some businesses have backed her claims, saying that Sturgeon’s decision will weaken Scotland’s position economically.

At First Minister’s Questions yesterday, Sturgeon hit back at Davidson, saying she was just going to “mimic George Osborne” and the policies he is planning to implement south of the Border, criticising her for failing to take advantage of Holyrood’s new powers.

She said she believes the Chancellor’s decision to raise the threshold for the top rate is the “wrong choice”.

Yet, the polarising of two of the main parties over this issue will create a debate in Scotland, which can only be healthy for our political landscape.

While Sturgeon still needs to formally state her case – which she will do early next week – it looks like she will opt for the more controversial option in terms of high earners at least, which will be interesting to watch.

At last Scots can expect to get a real debate and a real say in what kind of tax regime they want to see in Scotland.

EU must relieve pressure on Turkey

Turkey is a country under immense pressure. It wants to be part of the European Union and is currently in the process of applying to become a member. Yet it has problems with terrorism in the form of Kurdish rebels, as well as Islamic State on its borders, not to mention being in the front line of the refugee crisis.

Yet European leaders are pushing ahead with plans to send tens of thousands of migrants who have travelled to Greece from Turkey back to the country, hoping that this will solve the refugee crisis which is threatening to overwhelm the continent.

The sole fact that Turkey wants EU membership means that the country has little choice but to agree to the EU’s suggestions, which in itself is somewhat of a pressure on the nation. The reward, the EU has made clear, is incentives for Turkey, including financial aid and visa-free access to Schengen countries. In a separate, but no less important, issue, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has strong reservations about asylum standards in Turkey, while human rights groups are concerned over Ankara’s crackdown on the media and its increasingly bloody conflict with Kurdish rebels.

Sending migrants back to Turkey is not a solution. Sending refugees back to Turkey is not going to stop the exodus. It might slow it down, possibly see it play out in different ways, but is not going to fix the root cause of the problem: the situations from which refugees are fleeing in the Middle East.

Europe needs to recognise the pressure Turkey is under and try to alleviate it, not add to it. Because a Turkey under massive pressure will just cause more problems for the EU in the long run.