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terça-feira, 15 de fevereiro de 2011
Escócia: nascerá mais um novo país em 2011?
Financing Scotland. War of numbers An offer of more power becomes an argument for independence.
Feb 10th 2011 | EDINBURGH |
ALEX SALMOND, Scotland’s nationalist first minister, hoped to persuade his countrymen to vote for independence during his term of office. The financial crisis, in which Scotland’s giant banks were bailed out by the Treasury, looked to have scuppered that ambition. Indeed, opinion polls suggest Mr Salmond’s Scottish National Party (SNP) is lagging behind Labour, its main opponent, in the run-up to May’s elections for the Scottish Parliament. But he hopes that plans by Britain’s coalition government to reform the way his administration is funded might turn the tide.
Drawing on proposals from a commission set up in 2007 with the support of Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, ministers plan to give the Scottish government more financial autonomy. At the moment, about 87% of its departmental current spending is funded by a Treasury grant; the rest is raised through local taxes. A bill now trundling through Westminster would give the devolved administration a much bigger say over tax.
Each year, starting in about 2015, the chancellor of the exchequer would set the income-tax bands in London as normal. But for Scottish taxpayers, the rate in each band would be 10p lower, while Scotland’s grant would be cut by the amount the missing 10p was estimated to raise. The Scottish government would then set the Scottish component of income tax at a level of its choosing. Scots could thus end up paying more, less, or the same in income tax as taxpayers south of the border.
Two small taxes—landfill levy and stamp duty on property sales—would also be devolved. This would, the Treasury reckons, increase the proportion of the Scottish government’s budget that it raises itself from 13% to 31%. It would also help to fix two glaring defects in the current set-up: that Scottish politicians have no incentive to make spending cuts and, despite some notional tax-varying powers, that they are not financially accountable to their voters.
Far from being pleased with these putative powers, Mr Salmond is appalled. He spies a Tory-Lib Dem plot, backed by Labour, to slash Scottish public spending. His government’s budget is already expected to fall in real terms from £29.2 billion ($47 billion) this year to £25.9 billion in 2014-15; hoping that doom-mongering will scare voters back to the SNP, he says the new scheme will make things even worse.
His team estimates that if the income-tax plan had been in place since the Scottish Parliament was created in 1999, the Scottish government would have been deprived of a cumulative £9.7bn by 2014-15. The Treasury indignantly disagrees. Its figures suggest a lower Scottish budget in some years, but a higher one in others (see chart), adding up to £400m extra.
The reason for the wildly different calculations, officials say, is that Mr Salmond chose to base his on a single year when British tax receipts were high. This implies big cuts in the Treasury grant, a shortfall that is accentuated if public spending is rising faster than tax revenues, as happened for most of the last decade. Using average receipts yields a less dramatic effect.
Mr Salmond thinks this nuance will be lost on voters. Since Scots tend to mistrust any Tory government, he might be right.