Scotland's biggest U-turn?

Ditching the council tax in favour of a local income tax swung the Scottish Parliamentary elections

As the SNP went into the Scottish election in 2007 they thought they were onto a winner with their call to abolish Council Tax and replace it with a ‘Local Income Tax’(LIT).

The result was tight with the SNP gaining one more seat than Labour, but it has been widely acknowledge this totemic policy swung the election.

Less than two years later and the totem pole has been cut down by SNP leader Alex Salmond and his Finance Secretary John Swinney.

The Scottish media hailed it as the most humiliating U-turn since devolution began and not just a broken promise but a massive breach of trust with the electorate. If the nationalists will not bring forward LIT, what will they deliver on?

The SNP had faced calls to scrap the policy for the last year not just from Labour but the unlikely bedfellows of the STUC and CBI Scotland. Never before in Scottish history had two disparate sides like these two been drawn together to campaign against a government policy. Local Income Tax was not just bad for the working people but bad for business too and the SNP were fooling no-one.

There were other issues with the policy – it was not actually local as the rate was to be nationally set. The Liberal Democrats wanted to have 32 different rates that would have caused the biggest bureaucratic nightmare in local government history but in the end the decision was taken by Alex Salmond to abandon his ‘election winning’ policy and try to play the blame game.

The problem for the SNP is this is not the first time that key policy promises have been jettisoned when they found them difficult to deliver. The nationalists have let down students across Scotland breaking their promise to scrap student debt. The SNP also promised parents class sizes of 18 or less but have instead presided over larger classroom numbers, record number of teachers on the dole and not one new school commissioned by the SNP.

The significance of the U-turn on the abolition of council tax this week is being felt across Scotland not just because it was their most important policy objective but because it adds to a litany of other failed promises. But what’s next?

Along with the establishment of the Local Income Tax the other main plank of nationalist economic policy was the scrapping of Public Private Partnerships to fund schools, hospitals and major public works. The SNP heralded their Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) as the ‘not-for-profit’ way of delivering for Scotland. But just like the Local Income Tax the reality does not match the rhetoric. The SFT has so far become one of the most expensive Quangos in Scotland – over £17 million spent so far and nothing to show for it at all. People in Scotland look at the Local Income Tax and the Scottish Futures Trust and can see the clear parallels – policies that are not working and were designed with headlines in mind rather than parents, pupils, the travelling public and tax payers.

The ditching of Local Income Tax will prove to be the moment when Alex Salmond was finally exposed as incompetent and untrustworthy. Thundering from the dispatch box and turning up to photo-opportunities does not make for an adequate leader and certainly not a First Minister of Scotland. Delivering on your promises and putting Scotland first are the first requirements.