“For a’ that, an’ a’ that, it’s coming yet for a’ that”

Posted by in February's Magazine

As Happy New Year wishes disappear over the horizon and resolutions are forgotten we begin considering what to aim for next, this time of year always feels like a chance to refocus and look forward to what’s ahead.

And whether it’s singing Auld Lang Syne in a spirit of human solidarity at Hogmanay, or enjoying some (in my case vegetarian) haggis at a Burns Supper, for many of us, celebrating Robert Burns’ poetry is one of the real highlights of this time of year.


My MSP office is in Constitution Street (and please do come by if you think I can ever help with something) not far from the famous statue of Robert Burns at the junction with Bernard Street. With a father from Ayrshire, learning about the Bard was part of my childhood, and whenever I pass the statue in Leith I always think about how pertinent many of Burns’ words are today – how some of the messages he tried to convey in his writing are as important as they’ve ever been. For instance, there’s the environmentalism in the words of Tae A Moose; and there’s the powerful egalitarianism and internationalism of A Man’s A Man For A’ That.

And as we get going with another year of trying to cope with the challenges of Westminster’s Brexit, Trumpism and continued Tory austerity, to me the humanitarian ethos of A Man’s A Man For A’ That is something we should all try to keep focussed on and keep striving for.

Like many others, I got involved in politics because I want to help build a fairer society and, ultimately, eradicate poverty – to help create a Scotland and a world that’s more equal and just. Some might say that’s idealistic – but, for me, if we don’t have aspirations and a collective determination to make a difference then things really won’t change – and we still need many things to change. And despite the problems of Brexit and Westminster austerity, in Scotland there are good reasons to be more cheerful – we can take confidence that, despite the challenges, we’re making meaningful progress towards building a fairer society for the benefit of all.

Making Leith and the rest of Scotland fairer is of course a very complex question and a challenging process. But one thing that’s clear is that the circulation and distribution of income forms part of the solution.

Before this spring, the Scottish Government will set its budget for the year ahead, with agreement from the Scottish Parliament. As has happened a lot in recent times, Scotland is receiving less resources from Westminster – £500 million (£0.5 billion) less over the next 2 years, which is part of £2.6 billion of Tory cuts between 2010-2020. And, as you’ve probably already heard, in order to help mitigate these cuts, the SNP Scottish Government intends to use its new income tax powers to support investment in the NHS, education, childcare, affordable housing and protecting the environment. I welcome this because it’s about all of us paying our fair share to support our public services – which are, of course, important for us all.

Unfortunately, aside from Income Tax, the Scottish Parliament doesn’t have control over many other taxes – yet. In Scotland we can’t increase taxes on multinational corporations, who are often hiding their profits offshore, because Corporation Tax and most avoidance regulations are controlled by Westminster; we can’t easily tax excessive wealth here in Scotland, because Capital Gains Tax, dividend income taxation and Inheritance Tax are all controlled in London too.

We also can’t raise the minimum wage, because powers over employment law were blocked from coming to the Scottish Parliament after 2014. However, what we can do is, responsibly and reasonably, increase income tax for higher earners – and that’s what the SNP Scottish Government plans to do.

To me that’s right and fair – those of us who earn enough should be willing to pay more tax to fund public services, help others and support future generations. And the good thing in Scotland is that, when you pay your income tax now, you know that any extra tax paid to Revenue Scotland will go straight to funding schools, hospitals, the police and building new homes – all here in Scotland.

Higher earners paying a bit more will deliver record amounts of funding for the Scottish NHS, more direct funding for head teachers to spend in their classrooms, real terms funding protection for the police budget and significant increased funding for more social housing.

Another important thing is that, under the SNP Scottish Government’s plans, 70% of taxpayers in Scotland will actually pay less income tax next year! Yes, lower earners will pay less tax – that’s fairer too.

So, despite the gloomy weather at this time of year, and the wider gloomy political climate, in Scotland we have good reasons to be hopeful. With the new powers that our Scottish Parliament has, real progress is being made, bold new policies are being actioned, and creative solutions are being found.

A fairer Scotland is possible – so let’s persevere, for a’ that

Twitter: @BenMacpherson

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