By Bob Duncan
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont could hit hard-pressed Scots with a massive hike in Council Tax of nearly £700 per household, if her party ever regain control at Holyrood.
Following Ms Lamont’s announcement of a ‘cuts commission’ in her speech on Tuesday – in which she repeatedly attacked the Council Tax freeze – the Scottish National Party pointed out that during the period when Labour were last in power in Scotland, the Council Tax soared by 60 per cent.
In terms of the existing average Band D Council Tax in Scotland of £1,149, a 60 per cent increase equates to £689.40. The council tax has been an achilles heel for the Scottish Labour party with successive leaders changing their stance repeatedly.
Lamont’s changing position on the Council Tax freeze was foreshadowed during the lead up to the Council elections last May by Gordon Matheson, the Leader of Glasgow council.
The Glasgow Labour team published its ‘manifesto for Glasgow’ in which the number one pledge stated that “Labour was the first council in Scotland to introduce a council tax freeze, and will continue to freeze council tax for the next 5 years.”
The manifesto pledge was backed by Johann Lamont herself who appeared alongside Mr Matheson at the campaign launch, along with Deputy Scottish leader Anas Sarwar MP and Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran MP.
Mr Matheson embraced the SNP flagship policy despite issuing letters attacking the Scottish government for pursuing the same proposal. In a letter to Finance Secretary John Swinney in December 2010, Mr Matheson claimed to have been forced into accepting the freeze, writing: “It is with a gun to my head that I agree to your short-term targets”.
Immediately after the local elections, Labour went further and joined forces with the Tories in Stirling Council to force through a 1 per cent council tax cut in the council’s budget.
The Scottish Labour party fought the 2011 Holyrood on a promise of a 2 year council tax freeze, having been completely against the idea until a few weeks before the election date.
Condemning the party’s latest U-turn, SNP Business Convener and Minister for Local Government and Planning Derek Mackay MSP said:
“Johann Lamont has let the cat out of the bag. If Labour were to get back in power in Scotland, they would hike the Council Tax – just as they did when they were last in office.
“Under Labour last time, the Council Tax soared by 60 per cent – which in today’s money is nearly £700. That is the dismal prospect Labour are holding out for hard-working families during tough economic times – which would also take vital spending power out of local economies, when our high streets and retailers are also needing all the help they can get.
“The SNP have funded the Council Tax freeze in full each and every year – and in terms of proportion of income it helps the poorest households the most.
“Instead of reflecting Scottish society, Johann Lamont seems to be trying to merge Labour policy in Scotland with the Cameron/Clegg/Miliband consensus at Westminster – that is undoubtedly wrong for Labour, but it is certainly wrong for Scotland.
“Johann Lamont’s speech is also a blow for the No campaign and a boost for Yes, because the ‘Better Together’ parties are all rejecting the track record of success of the Scottish Parliament since 1999 – success that we can and will build on by achieving the powers of an independent country.
“An independent Scotland would be the sixth-wealthiest nation in the developed world in terms of GDP per head – compared to the UK’s sixteenth place – and Scotland is consistently in a stronger financial position than the UK as a whole.
“With independence, we can and will build a dynamic economic and fair society – which invests in the things that matter such as free access to education, services for our old folk, and health care which does not tax sickness: the things that all the No campaign parties have now turned their backs on.”