The Holyrood campaign is officially underway and parties have been setting out their income tax proposals. Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to leave Scottish rates at the same level as they are across the UK but has confirmed she’ll reverse George Osborne’s increase of the higher-rate threshold. Scottish based high-earners will pay a little extra each year – around £300.
The SNP has come under criticism from some quarters over the timidity of the income tax proposals, but one thing that cannot be levelled at Nicola Sturgeon’s party is a lack of clarity.
Even the decision not to increase the upper tax rate to 50p has been very clearly explained. Sturgeon has pointed out that whilst the Scottish Government has control over the tax rate, it doesn’t control tax evasion. The loophole could result in less revenue being generated if the upper rate was increased in Scotland alone.
Sturgeon was quizzed on this very issue when she appeared on the BBC leaders’ debate on Thursday.
But what about Scottish Labour’s income tax proposals? Kezia Dugdale wants to increase income tax by one penny for everybody earning over £11,000. The Scottish Labour leader says her party will reimburse low-paid workers by providing a £100 rebate to everyone who earns less than £20,000.
How will the rebate work? Nobody knows. Not even Dugdale herself who floundered when quizzed on the issue when she appeared on the same BBC leaders’ debate as her SNP rival.
Of the two leaders, it is Dugdale who has been unable to explain her income tax proposal fully, refusing to provide an explanation as to how the rebate would work, not once but four times.
Within an hour of the televised debate ending, BBC Scotland had published an online report of the proceedings. Bizarrely the headline focused not on Dugdales floundering when pressed on the tax rebate, but on Sturgeon’s crystal clear explanation of her 50p tax rate stance.
Pro-Union newspapers were quick to pick up the BBC narrative with their own peculiar take on the debate. It was no surprise that Nicola Sturgeon found herself targeted by these newspapers. Although there appeared confusion as to whether the SNP was going after high-earners or letting them off the hook.
That evening and into the next day, BBC Scotland news bulletins reported that the issue of income tax had “dominated” the debate. The bulletins were misleading in that they gave the impression that the issue had grown organically, that the audience had pushed the issue and that was why it had dominated.
The truth was that the subject had been chosen by BBC Scotland as the first question on the televised debate. Host Glenn Campbell then allowed it to take up over one third of the 60 minute programme.
Thus, it was pre-determined by BBC Scotland that income tax was going to be the dominant issue. Once established, it was then relatively easy to target Nicola Sturgeon, which the broadcaster duly did. There was no way the pro-Union newspapers were going to pass up the opportunity to have a go at the SNP.
On Friday morning Radio Scotland broadcast ‘analysis’ from two journalists. The pro-Union writer Hamish Macdonell and the Yes supporting writer Michael Gray. Both were fed the line that income tax ‘dominated’ the debate and were invited to offer their opinion. Both, as you can hear below, provided the commentary the BBC was looking for.
As an aside, by inviting Michael Gray onto Good Morning Scotland, the BBC cleverly ensured the inclusion of a pro-Yes commentator, but without the risk of a diversion from their anti-SNP narrative. Gray had already written an article for the online website Common Space in which he described Sturgeon’s upper rate decision as a U-turn. The article also contained quotes from anti-SNP political wannabes known as RISE, a group that often finds its way into Mr Gray’s articles. His opinions therefore were not a surprise.
Saturday morning heard similar analysis from BBC Scotland’s political editor Brian Taylor. The veteran broadcaster refused to highlight Dugdale’s tax rebate calamity and instead chose to critique only the Tories and the SNP, as you can hear from the clip below.
With Dugdale’s tax-rebate shambles airbrushed out of the news coverage it meant the Scottish Labour leader escaped scrutiny. The road has effectively been cleared to attack Nicola Sturgeon.
A myth is being cultivated by a corrupt corporate media that the SNP is in some kind of disarray over income tax. It isn’t of course. The SNP stance on income tax is as clear as day. It was clear on the day the SNP announced its income tax policy for Holyrood 2016.
It was clear the day after when Nicola Sturgeon clarified her decision not to increase the upper rate from 45p to 50p when she addressed the issue during First Minister’s Questions. FMQ’s took place one day before the BBC debate.
Some may not agree with the SNP’s policy on income tax, but that isn’t the point. The point is that the nationalists, unlike Scottish Labour, have a very clear and workable policy. It is telling that journalists don’t appear interested in the Scottish Civil Service analysis that identified the risks to revenue that would accompany a 50p higher tax rate in Scotland alone. They’d have to confront Dugdale if they did.
When Nicola Sturgeon was asked to explain her 50p tax rate decision by Glenn Campbell, the BBC Scotland presenter already knew the answer. The entire Scottish media already knew the answer because Nicola Sturgeon had explained it a day earlier.
The headlines that followed the BBC Scotland debate were for political effect. They were designed to give the impression of a sudden U-turn or a confusing compromise on the part of the SNP leader. This journalistic corruption will rear its head time and again as May 5th approaches and the usual media suspects push the line their corporate bosses want to hear.
Finally, I’d like to draw your attention to something nobody in the traditional media ever highlights when discussing political debates covered by BBC Scotland, the performance of the host. I carried out my own analysis of Glenn Campbell’s handling – in particular his behaviour when it came to the two main protagonists, Sturgeon and Dugdale.
I found that the BBC Scotland presenter had challenged and/or interrupted Nicola Sturgeon twice as often as he did the Scottish Labour leader. When I stripped out the contributions from the other four guests, the difference in approach was quite stark. Unlike her SNP counterpart, Dugdale faced absolutely no interruptions or challenges from Glenn Campbell on the issues of welfare, education and fracking.
You can watch the edited exchanges yourself below.
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