Scottish Labour’s £100 tax rebate collapsed this week. The scam was never designed to be implemented.
It had served its purpose which was to provide Kezia Dugdale with positive headlines as we approached the Holyrood election campaign.
The con was launched back in February. Jim Murphy’s replacement needed something to ignite her leadership and the one pence tax increase was it.
The flaw of course was that she had to tax everybody for the first year – even the very low paid. Scottish Labour came up with a ruse in the shape of a £100 rebate for anyone earning less than £20,000. The rebate meant the tax increase could be labelled ‘progressive’.
Everybody knew the rebate was a scam from the off. But few were prepared to call Dugdale out as she enjoyed a rash of headlines trumpeting her anti-austerity credentials.
There’s no show without Punch of course and the state broadcaster wasn’t slow in getting in on the act. Days after Dugdale revealed her tax-rise/tax-rebate combo, a story hit the BBC airwaves. An independent think tank had published a report – its conclusion backed Scottish Labour claims. Dugdale’s income tax plan could indeed reduce cuts in Scotland by a third. Moreover, the tax increases were progressive.
Here’s a snippet of news bulletins broadcast by BBC Scotland on Friday February 5th.
The broadcasts were pure propaganda. There was no such report published by the Resolution Foundation. What BBC Scotland was describing as ‘independent analysis’ was in fact a blog written by the former policy adviser to Ed Miliband. You can read the full shocking story here.
But back to the present and barely one week into the Holyrood campaign, Scottish Labour’s income tax plans for year one lie in ruins. The rebate was scrapped on Wednesday afternoon after a shock announcement. The progressive tax rises won’t be so progressive after all – at least not until 2017 when new powers will allow the Scottish Government to adjust rates differently for each band.
This is where the story gets interesting. On the day Kezia Dugdale was to announce her shock U-turn, she was interviewed on Good Morning Scotland. The Scottish Labour leader was interrogated by host Gary Robertson as part of a series of interviews with party leaders. It was a reasonably robust interview. But there was something missing – the tax rebate.
Robertson had refused to ask Dugdale about a policy that had plagued her since the Holyrood campaign got underway. She had been pressed in two TV debates and it was clear that the rebate mechanism was an Achilles heel. Rather than push the Scottish Labour leader, Robertson bizarrely ignored the issue completely.
His excuse, when I tweeted looking for an explanation, was that he had asked the Scottish Labour leader about the rebate two weeks earlier and didn’t want to repeat the same line of questioning.
Robertson had indeed pressed Dugdale on the tax rebate twelve days before, and she had struggled to answer. Below is the full exchange.
But that was a standard eve-of-conference interview of a party leader. Few ordinary members of the public would have known about the conference or even cared about the interview.
The interview twelve days later was an election campaign interview. It was much more significant and had been widely advertised on Radio Scotland. Far more people would have tuned in. Indeed such interviews are supposed to be the arena where issues known to be causing politicians difficulty are aired. But Dugdale was spared a tax-rebate interrogation.
Hours after the interview, news broke that Scottish Labour had ditched its rebate plan. The much vaunted ‘progressive’ tax policy was now in tatters. BBC Scotland’s coverage of the incredible U-turn was to suffer a similar fate.
Making policy on the hoof is not wise at the best of times, changing policy on the hoof even worse. Almost unheard of is for a political party to completely ditch a key plank of its main election pledge days into a campaign. That is what Scottish Labour had done.
Scottish Labour’s tax U-turn should have dominated the national news that evening, in the same way it had dominated when it was announced back in February. BBC Scotland had been promoting income tax as the key issue of the Holyrood campaign for days. But what happened?
Tuning in to Reporting Scotland on Wednesday evening most political anoraks would have expected Labour’s income tax U-turn to be a major item. They were to be disappointed.
The Holyrood campaign wasn’t the first news item on Reporting Scotland, nor was it the second. It was demoted to third place on the flagship news programme. The two leading stories were a statement from the family of murdered shopkeeper Asad Shah followed by an item about a possible breach of fox-hunting legislation. That’s correct, a fox being chased on a hillside by some dogs was the second most important story on BBC Scotland’s prime time TV news programme.
When coverage of the Holyrood campaign eventually appeared it was introduced by Jackie Bird with the following statement.
“The SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon says she doesn’t have the right to rule out a second referendum on independence during the next term of the Scottish parliament.
The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats argue that disrespects the No vote in 2014.”
The tax rebate U-turn didn’t even lead the item, never mind the news. The reason a second independence referendum led was because BBC Scotland reporter Glenn Campbell had asked Nicola Sturgeon about it. Campbell, as he had done days previously when he asked Alex Salmond about the currency issue in relation to any future Yes campaign, had cleverly crafted the news agenda himself. He asked a question that Sturgeon had been compelled to answer.
The pre-prepared news report played out as though nothing else of interest had happened that day. Nicola Sturgeon was presented in defensive mode with the three pro-Union parties on the attack.
When Dugdale’s tax rebate U-turn was eventually covered, it was a short studio discussion between Jackie Bird and Glenn Campbell.
Jackie Bird’s intro to the discussion was incredulous, “Labour appear to have changed their tax policy” she said. The truth of course was that Labour hadn’t appeared to change their tax policy, they had ditched a key plank of the policy. It was a campaign disaster.
The distilled language from Bird was nothing compared to the verbal somersaults that was to be performed by Campbell himself, as the clip below shows.
It’s worth analysing Glenn Campbell’s summary of Scottish Labour’s U-turn. He starts off by informing viewers that Scottish Labour intended to protect people on low incomes. This is accurate. However as he progresses he makes no attempt to explain the mechanism by which this goal is to be achieved in the first year, which of course was the now ditched £100 rebate.
Campbell then meanders vaguely, and starts talking about personal allowances and thresholds. At one point he explains to Jackie Bird:
“In the BBC debate last Thursday she [Dugdale] said she would do that using Holyrood’s new powers to set new thresholds to protect those on low incomes … they will not go down the route of setting new thresholds at Holyrood which might cost them revenue further up the scale.”
If Glenn Campbell was to be believed, the change referred to by his colleague when she introduced the discussion was merely setting new thresholds. Campbell cited the BBC Scotland debate which he hosted as proof of Labour’s ‘change’.
Let’s have a look at the debate in question and the section the BBC Scotland reporter is referring to.
The video shows Kezia Dugdale very clearly advocating her tax rebate mechanism, to be administered she says by local authorities. She does go on to mention tax thresholds, but that is for the next financial year and not the one for which the rebate mechanism is to be applied, which is 2016-17.
Let’s go back to Dugdale’s interview twelve days earlier. This is the one Gary Robertson had conducted in which he had pressed Dugdale on her income tax plans [and didn’t want to repeat last week]. In the interview Dugdale makes clear the rebate will be introduced immediately should her party win the Holyrood election. On being asked if there would be an emergency budget in order to implement her tax proposals, she says yes, as you can hear from the clip below.
In short, prior to its spectacular U-turn on the tax rebate, Scottish Labour was pledging to hold an emergency budget at Holyrood in order to introduce a one pence tax increase on every worker in Scotland. Workers earning below £20,000 were to be protected by a £100 rebate.
Glenn Campbell knew this full well, yet the BBC Scotland reporter led viewers to believe the policy ‘change’ announced by Scottish Labour on Wednesday 30th March related not to the tax rebate but to tax thresholds. This was a deliberate and blatant corruption of the story that had broken hours earlier which was Scottish Labour’s tax-rebate U-turn. Viewers had been misled.
Glenn Campbell’s obfuscation meant Scottish Labour had escaped having their income tax calamity exposed on prime time TV. It had escaped because a BBC Scotland reporter had failed in his duty to report accurately and honestly. It had also escaped because the editor of that night’s national news programme had shunted a huge political story into an eighty second bolt-on slot in the middle of the programme. But Campbell wasn’t finished yet.
Good Morning Scotland
As if the previous evening’s display hadn’t been bad enough, Glenn Campbell turned up the following morning on Radio Scotland where he was quizzed on the same issue. Below is the full exchange between Campbell and his BBC Scotland colleague Gary Robertson. It is quite unbelievable.
Campbell is invited by his colleague to discuss the now ditched £100 tax rebate, and initially does so, confirming Scottish Labour’s plan. However he then says something quite remarkable. Below is a transcript of what he says:
“Now to those of like me, the anoraks who have been following this closely, it’s not a surprise that they’re [Labour] not offering that rebate should they win the Holyrood election because they always made clear that was a proposal for this financial year if they’d been able to persuade the Scottish Government to adopt their idea.”
As I have already shown, Scottish Labour’s tax rebate was never conditional on the Scottish Government adopting it for this coming financial year, because Dugdale had already confirmed in a BBC Scotland interview two weeks earlier that an emergency budget would be held in order to introduce the policy if she wins in May.
Glenn Campbell had misled the public again.
The item on Good Morning Scotland contained clips of the aforementioned BBC Scotland debate hosted by Campbell days earlier. But the section where Dugdale mentions the £100 tax rebate, to be administered by local authorities, was edited out.
I’ve chronicled BBC Scotland coverage of Scottish politics for several years and this is the most blatant attempt at manipulating a story I can recall. The corporation played down Scottish Labour’s tax-rebate U-turn, there’s little doubt about that. However I believe that Glenn Campbell may have gone even further. The BBC Scotland reporter, by making what appear to be false claims regarding Scottish Labour’s intentions anent the £100 tax-rebate, has opened himself up to accusations of deliberate bias. Time will tell if there are to be repercussions.
In my first article for this new site, I predicted BBC Scotland would corrupt the Holyrood election campaign. I didn’t expect it to be quite this blatant.Views: 11980
If you enjoyed reading this article then you can make a small donation by clicking the ‘donate’ button below.