Miliband's 10p tax pledge is a political masterstroke

The Labour leader has distanced himself from one of Gordon Brown's biggest mistakes, demonstrated his commitment to redistribution and left the coalition playing catch-up.

It looks like Ed Miliband has been reading the New Statesman. Last week's NS leader urged the Labour leader to call for the return of the 10p tax rate (as demanded by Conservative MP Robert Halfon) and in his speech on the economy, Miliband has done just that. 

Having borrowed one smart idea from a Tory, Miliband has borrowed another from a Lib Dem (Vince Cable). The return of the 10p rate will be funded by the introduction of a "mansion tax" on houses worth more than £2m. 

The numbers will need to be scrutinised but the politics are perfect. The pledge distances Miliband from one of Gordon Brown's greatest mistakes, demonstrates his commitment to redistribution and splits the coalition. The Tories want a 10p tax rate but oppose a mansion tax; the Lib Dems want a mansion tax but oppose a 10p rate (preferring an even higher personal allowance of £12,500). 

Here's the key section from the speech: 

A One Nation Labour budget next month would lay the foundations for a recovery made by the many, not just a few at the top.

Let me tell you about one crucial choice we would make, which is different from this government.

We would tax houses worth over £2 million.

And we would use the money to cut taxes for working people.

We would put right a mistake made by Gordon Brown and the last Labour government.

We would use the money raised by a mansion tax to reintroduce a lower 10 pence starting rate of tax, with the size of the band depending on the amount raised.

This would benefit 25 million basic rate taxpayers.

Moving Labour on from the past and putting Labour where it should always have been, on the side of working people.

The question now is how George Osborne will respond when he delivers the Budget on 20 March. David Cameron hinted at PMQs yesterday that the Chancellor would announce the return of the 10p tax rate but having ruled out the introduction of a mansion tax, he'll need to find another means of funding it. The Lib Dems, meanwhile, are sceptical of the measure, arguing that a income tax threshold will do more to benefit the poorest.

As Lib Dem minister David Laws argued yesterday: "It's [raising the personal allowance] much simpler than having a 10p rate. It’s far more attractive to say to people on low incomes you won't pay any income tax until you earn a sensible amount of money. We’re even talking about raising it further in the next Parliament so people on minimum wage don’t pay any tax at all."

But whatever deal the coalition hammers out, Miliband's political masterstroke means Osborne now has no choice but to play a "trump card" at the Budget. 

Labour leader Ed Miliband pledged to reintroduce the 10p tax rate abolished by Gordon Brown in his speech on the economy in Bedford. 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.