Lib Dem MP calls for tax avoidance

Cornish MP Adrian Sanders argues for mass avoidance of pasty tax.

Three weeks on from the Budget, the row over the pasty tax rumbles on. Following yesterday's summit in Truro, Cornish MPs from all three parties are reportedly planning to form a coalition to prevent the measure passing through Parliament. Meanwhile, the Lib Dem MP for Torbay, Adrian Sanders, has openly called for traders to avoid the tax. He writes on his blog:

I think there’s a way round this if every business in Devon & Cornwall stopped selling hot pasties. Once the customer has paid for their cold pasty they hand it back to the shop and ask if they wouldn’t mind putting it in the microwave or in the oven for collection later!

The key is for the shop not to advertise such a service and for us – the pasty eating customers – to ensure we are all in on the secret.

It's a not-so-secret call for mass tax avoidance. Can we expect George Osborne, who has described "aggressive tax avoidance" as "morally repugnant" [even while rewarding it] to come down "like a ton of bricks" on Sanders?

Hat-tip: James Ball.

Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders called for "every business" in Cornwall to stop selling hot pasties. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.