Holyrood 2016: additional powers centre stage in live TV debate

Holyrood's political leaders were involved in heated exchanges over tax as the first live TV debate of the Scottish election campaign got under way.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon faced questions over how an SNP government would use additional powers

With the Scottish Parliament getting new powers over income tax rates and bands, the issue has been centre stage in the run up to the May 5 vote.

First Minster and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon accused Labour of “throwing in the towel” in the fight against austerity by backing the Tory budget at Westminster.

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She insisted the purpose of tax is to raise revenue for services - and said: “My tax proposals will do that.”

But the SNP has rejected increasing the top rate of income tax to 50p in 2017-18 - the first year Holyrood has the powers - arguing such a move could cost £30 million.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale hit back at her rival, saying: “You won’t ask rich people to pay a penny more.”

Ms Dugdale told the STV programme Scotland Debates: “Nicola says her plans raise £2 billion - actually you need to raise double that to stop the cuts.

“If she is not prepared to raise that amount of money she can not feasibly say she is against austerity.”

She argued: “Nicola Sturgeon has spent her whole entire life saying more powers would mean fewer cuts, We now have this immensely powerful parliament, we should use use the powers of the parliament to stop the cuts and Nicola’s proposals just don’t raise enough to do that. Labour’s do.”

Labour backs a 1p rise in the basic rate of income tax in Scotland, and also wants to restore the top rate of tax - paid by 17,000 people in Scotland earning £150,000 a year or more - to 50p.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said all four other leaders “want to raise taxes on the hard working people of Scotland” adding that in contrast the Tories would “fight to keep more money in the pockets of the workers of Scotland”.

She insisted taxes should be about raising cash for public services “not punishing people that earn money”.

The Conservative argued: “I think it’s not in the national interest to have a higher rate of tax here than the rest of the UK. Yes we need fair taxes but we also need competitive taxes too if we’re going to encourage the kind of enterprise and jobs we want to see here.”

But Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Ruth has just talked about cutting taxes, she only really wants to cut taxes for the rich, she doesn’t want to improve services for anybody else.

“I want to make a transformational investment in education so it is the best in the world again.”

The Lib Dems plan a 1p rise in the basic rate of income tax, which they say would raise almost £500 million for education, with the money to go to schools, nurseries and colleges

He added: “Nicola Sturgeon has bellyached about austerity and when she finally gets the chance to do something about it she is frozen to the spot, she’s not seizing the opportunity to do something radical, transformational.”

Scottish Green co-convener argued: “Taxation isn’t just an accounting mechanism to ensure we fund public services, it should also be about income and wealth inequality in our society because our economy belongs to all of us.”

His party plans to raise income tax to 60p for the very highest earners, though Mr Harvie insisted most taxpayers would be better off under the Green reforms.

He said: “We do need to be investing in the public services, all the public services, everyone of us depend on everyday throughout our lives.

“But the Scottish Green Party doesn’t believe we can do that with a status quo tax policy.”