Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to set out plans to raise taxes in Scotland is a bold move to break austerity – and a considerable political gamble.
For years, the public – joined with some gusto by opposition politicians from all the parties – has complained about the state of health and social care, education and council services. In a sense, the First Minister’s announcement is putting us all on notice that she may call our bluff.
How much do we want decent public services? How much are we actually prepared to pay for them?
Raising taxes is seldom a vote-winning strategy. Few old-school spin doctors would recommend it.
Part of the problem is people usually feel the pain, before they notice any kind of gain.
And if a hospital waiting list is reduced from six weeks to three – potentially a life-saving improvement – individual people still have to wait and may not realise it was worse in the past.
If the decision is taken to introduce a new “progressive” income tax system, in which the poorest pay less, the richest pay more and total taxation increases, Sturgeon’s Government will need to proceed carefully. The key considerations will be ensuring the increased tax burden is shouldered by those who can genuinely afford it and that the extra money raised is spent effectively.
It is a welcome sign that the SNP is to hold talks with the opposition parties and one can only hope they enter into this process with the best interests of Scotland’s people foremost in their mind. The temptation to play politics is likely to get the better of some.
For their part, the SNP must also take the views of opposition parties and, in particular, the business sector seriously.
This could be a pivotal moment for Scotland. Introduce a tax hike, spend the extra money unwisely and the SNP Government is likely to fall. Hopes of independence any time soon would be dashed.
Subsequent governments would almost certainly be reluctant to go down the same path again; austerity could linger for years as our public services crumble.
But get it right and the future just might be brighter. The ramifications of a successful bout of tax-and-spend could echo beyond Scotland, affecting elections to Westminster and even in the rest of Europe.
It is, without doubt, a considerable political gamble. And it is one that could tell us a lot about ourselves and the kind of country that most of us want to live in.