Osborne opts for the tax politicians love...

... and economists love to hate.

George Osborne's budget morning story, that Stamp Duty will go up to 7 per cent on properties over £2 million, shouldn't really surprise us. It has strong echoes of Gordon Brown's 2010 budget day story about hiking Stamp Duty up to 5 per cent on homes above £1 million in order to fund a tax cut for first time buyers. It's the tax that politicians have grown to love, and economists love to hate.

Not that the Chancellor will care much but he should expect plenty of gnashing of teeth from the dismal profession. Stamp Duty is after all a tax on labour mobility (a key economic resource), so it keeps people living in places they'd rather leave and makes it less likely they will move to take new jobs (though how much of a barrier this will be to those in a position to fork out £2m is far from clear). And the way it is currently structured results in major distortions in the housing market as small increases in house price generate large leaps in the tax owed.

And yet Stamp Duty is a popular tax with politicians. Why so? In part because the revenue it raises have risen quickly with house prices. But also because it is judged to be a less painful tax to get the public to go along with compared to many others. People pay it at a time - uniquely - when they are spending very large sums of money that the stamp duty tax bill is tagged onto. A tax bill of £20,000 incurred when buying a house for £500,000 may feel less painful to many than getting an annual bill of around £2,000 for 10 years for living in the same house. And unlike serious reform of our out-dated council tax system, or indeed the introduction of a proper Mansion Tax, increasing Stamp Duty doesn't require a wider revaluation - that most dreaded of political events. Nor does it suffer from the fabled problem of hammering the old lady on a low income living in an expensive house.

A full-blown mansion tax it certainly isn't, but 7 per cent stamp duty on properties above £2m is a tilt towards taxing big wealth. It's not a tax rise to please the wonks, it doesn't open a much needed new chapter in property taxation, and it falls far short of what the Lib Dems were aiming for. But it is still a symbolic move which will bring in a bit of extra revenue without creating many screams or administrative upheaval. Osborne will be pleased.

A tilt towards taxing big wealth? Photograph: Getty Images

Gavin Kelly is a former Downing Street adviser to Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. He tweets @GavinJKelly1.

Photo: Getty
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How a small tax rise exposed the SNP's anti-austerity talk for just that

The SNP refuse to use their extra powers to lessen austerity, says Kezia Dugdale.

"We will demand an alternative to slash and burn austerity."

With those few words, Nicola Sturgeon sought to reassure the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year that the SNP were a party opposed to public spending cuts. We all remember the general election TV debates, where the First Minister built her celebrity as the leader of the anti-austerity cause.

Last week, though, she was found out. When faced with the choice between using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in the future or imposing cuts to our schools, Nicola Sturgeon chose cuts. Incredible as it sounds the SNP stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories to vote for hundreds of millions of pounds worth of cuts to schools and other vital public services, rather than asking people to pay a little bit more to invest. That's not the choice of an anti-austerity pin-up. It's a sell-out.

People living outside of Scotland may not be fully aware of the significant shift that has taken place in politics north of the border in the last week. The days of grievance and blaming someone else for decisions made in Scotland appear to be coming to an end.

The SNP's budget is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. It will impose hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts to local public services - including our schools. We don't know what cuts the SNP are planning for future years because they are only presenting a one year budget to get them through the election, but we know from the experts that the biggest cuts are likely to come in 2017/18 and 2018/19. For unprotected budgets like education that could mean cuts of 16 per cent.

It doesn't have to be this way, though. The Scottish Parliament has the power to stop these cuts, if only we have the political will to act. Last week I did just that.

I set out a plan, using the new powers we have today, to set a Scottish rate of income tax 1p higher than that set by George Osborne. This would raise an extra half a billion pounds, giving us the chance to stop the cuts to education and other services. Labour would protect education funding in real terms over the next five years in Scotland. Faced with the choice of asking people to pay a little bit more to invest or carrying on with the SNP's cuts, the choice was pretty simple for me - I won't support cuts to our nation’s future prosperity.

Being told by commentators across the political spectrum that my plan is bold should normally set alarm bells ringing. Bold is usually code for saying something unpopular. In reality, it's pretty simple - how can I say I am against cuts but refuse to use the powers we have to stop them?

Experts - including Professors David Bell and David Eiser of the University of Stirling; the Resolution Foundation; and IPPR Scotland - have said our plan is fair because the wealthiest few would pay the most. Trade unions have backed our proposal, because they recognise the damage hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts will do to our schools and the jobs it will cost.

Council leaders have said our plan to pay £100 cashback to low income taxpayers - including pensioners - to ensure they benefit from this plan is workable.

The silliest of all the SNP's objections is that they won't back our plan because the poorest shouldn't have to pay the price of Tory austerity. The idea that imposing hundreds of millions of pounds of spending cuts on our schools and public services won't make the poorest pay is risible. It's not just the poorest who will lose out from cuts to education. Every single family and business in Scotland would benefit from having a world class education system that gives our young the skills they need to make their way in the world.

The next time we hear Nicola Sturgeon talk up her anti-austerity credentials, people should remember how she did nothing when she had the chance to end austerity. Until now it may have been acceptable to say you are opposed to spending cuts but doing nothing to stop them. Those days are rapidly coming to a close. It makes for the most important, and most interesting, election we’ve had in Scotland.

Kezia Dugdale is leader of Scottish Labour.