Leaders: Keeping politics out of sport|Amazon tax

THE Ryder Cup, the Scottish Homecoming, the anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn … and the Commonwealth Games: ahead of the independence referendum in September, Scotland is set for a highly charged summer on the world stage.

The upcoming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow should not be used as political football. Picture: Contributed

It is perfectly understandable and appropriate that the Scottish Government should highlight these events – the Commonwealth Games in particular – to show the best of what Scotland can do and to ensure that we attract the maximum number of overseas visitors. But there is a line to be drawn between national promotion of the Games and politicisation of the event.

David Wilkie, Scotland’s gold medal winning swimmer and a senior figure in Scotland’s sports pantheon, has sounded a warning that the Games are being “hijacked” to further the cause of independence. He has accused the SNP administration of using the spectacle as a “political football” to help rally support for a Yes vote this September. He says the events leading up to Glasgow have been attended by a significant number of politicians, giving rise to concerns that they are trying to make political capital.

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A spokesman for Shona Robison, the minister for the Commonwealth Games and sport, says the government fully supports the view that the Games should be an entirely non-political event, but that it has said and done nothing to suggest otherwise.

There is always a danger that a sporting event can become a vehicle for political messages – and that would be a great shame if it happened this year. First Minister Alex Salmond’s waving of the Saltire at Wimbledon last year did not go down well: it looked like a stunt and one that embarrassed many Scots.

The problem, of course, is that major sporting events tend to attract political opportunism in one form or another. Which politician does not wish to bathe in the reflected glory of their winning athletes, or seek to take credit for a successful staging of such events? Memories of previous Commonwealth Games interventions send a shiver down the spine. Politics came to overshadow the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games in 1986. It became a vehicle for political protest, with boycotts sparked by the government’s stand on apartheid. The Scottish Government, of course, cannot help but be involved in the Games, given the considerable part it has played in promoting the event and in ensuring through regeneration projects that there is a legacy that confers much wider, tangible benefits to the citizens of Glasgow. Without the backing of this and previous administrations, the Games would not have been secured for the city. It is quite unrealistic to expect the government not to be present at such major occasions. Problems would, of course, arise when that position was exploited for political aggrandisement.

So far, this hasn’t happened. But ministers should take special care this summer to avoid crossing the line.

Time to halt Amazon’s tax advantage

DISTRIBUTION giant Amazon has been one of the great successes of the internet age. It has earned colossal revenues – but has managed to reduce its corporation tax bill through skilful use of loopholes. It has been heavily criticised for paying just £4.2 million in UK corporation tax last year, despite generating UK sales of £4.3 billion, and it has emerged it avoided paying billions of pounds in tax last year by funnelling revenue of £11bn through a company based in Luxembourg. Amazon is also reported to have received a £4m rebate from the authorities in Luxembourg as part of the controversial arrangements.

It is all the more controversial considering Amazon has received more than £10m in financial assistance from the Scottish Government, with the company opening a distribution centre in Dunfermline, alongside its customer call centre in Edinburgh.

How to strike the right balance between competitive rates of Corporation Tax to attract foreign direct investment such as this while ensuring companies pay their rightful share is a difficult and complex area for politicians of all parties. Amazon’s avoidance causes public anger, so it should be a vote winner to take the company on. But governments have to take into account the investment the company has made here and the employment created. Would Amazon have come here if it could not exploit this position?

A low rate of Corporation Tax should encourage companies to pay and reduce the incentive for elaborate avoidance schemes of this sort. These loopholes provide too much of an advantage to companies like Amazon. This has to be reined in by tighter scrutiny and legislation where necessary.