The Joy of Tax

I voted in yesterday’s local election. I’ll readily confess that it was less of a pleasure than it usually is as I was not particularly excited about the vote I cast. However, civic duty is civic duty and the fact that I can vote matters more than the actual people I voted for.

I had two predictions about these local elections in my New Year Predictions. In January, I said:

  • There will be further significant losses for the Liberal Democrats who will face a wipe-out in local elections north of the border. The message from party leaders will be that we need to keep on with current policies, times were bound to be hard, it was always going to be difficult, government is tricky but it will all be worth it in the end. Activists will pour scorn in private and increasingly in public. The country will refuse to be fooled (this time).
  • Labour will lose control of Glasgow City Council but Obama will retain the White House though America will seem more divided than ever. We might hope that he governs more bravely if he does get four more years.

It remains to be seen whether Mr Obama manages to retain control of the White House, but I don’t think I’m going to be far off when it comes to the rest.
The reality of the situation for the Liberal Democrats is that they are not going to be elected at any level unless there is a new leader and one who represents a clean break from the past. Yes, it is boring to say so, but the Tuition Fees debacle really was that serious a loss of trust. It was that serious because it was such a potent symbol of trust being lost on other issues.

One of the interesting things about the prediction I made in January is that some of the Lib Dem activists that I know said rather mournfully to me, “Yes, it will be bad in Scotland but, you know, this isn’t playing out as badly in England – it isn’t going to be as bad down there, just you wait and see”.

Well, I harumphed a bit about that in January and I harumph about it now.

The most frustrating thing about the local elections this time for me has been the absence of any real debate about local taxation or local services. I don’t feel as though I’ve been engaged by any of the political parties about that. The SNP seem more interested in the idea that winning Glasgow might be a stepping stone to independence than about providing adequate services to the city. Labour have seemed intent on ripping their local party to pieces and establishing one remnant as a permanent opposition. The Tory party are not a local fighting force. The Liberal Democrats, whom I do still, despite everything, feel supportive of, are being harried out of existence. Then there are the other parties – the Green’s whom I always feel I ought to want to support, Britannica, which I certainly don’t feel I want to support, various socialist factions and a ghastly right-wing Christian party that chills the blood.

One cannot say one wants for choice.

I’ve been very frustrated by the main players making a big deal out of freezing council tax this time. However did we get into a position where council tax has been frozen? Populist it may be. Stupid it certainly is. Freezing council tax hands power away from local government to the next tier up – Holyrood in our case. It also means squeezing public services beyond recognition.

When I was a local government candidate, I spent a lot of my time on pavement politics. It was said at one time that there was not a single pot-hole in Bridge of Allan that was so unglamorous that I would refuse to have my photograph taken by it. However, I was trying to make a point – that local services matter.

Last week my car had its MOT and needed quite a lot of work done on its suspension. “Ah, pot-holes!” said the garage manager with a fair degree of pleasure.

I’d rather pay a couple of pounds a year more in council tax and get decent roads than have a frozen council tax and a large bill when it comes to the MOT.

And therein lies my frustration with local government at the moment.

I believe in the joy of tax but, more geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.


  1. fr dougal says

    Indeed! The old party (for which we were both at different times candidates) will not recover until the Cameroon clone is gone and we have done penance for tuition fees. The penance will be of a length approved by the Celtic Penitentials! Meanwhile iIwent Green in rebellion against the muppetry of the d**n trams!

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