First Minister comments on Poll Tax anniversary
By Alex Salmond
A QUARTER of a century ago, a deeply unpopular new tax was imposed on Scotland.
And this Tuesday marks exactly 25 years to the day since Margaret Thatcher’s Tory Government brought that new levy – the Poll Tax – to homes across the country.
The country in question was of course Scotland, not the UK.
In a move almost as cack-handed and ill-thought out as the Poll Tax itself, the Tories decided it should be slapped on householders in Scotland alone – a whole year before being rolled out across the rest of the UK.
Almost nothing could have been designed to more infuriate and harden Scottish opinion against the Thatcher Government.
The Poll Tax was wildly unpopular in Scotland and spawned an era-defining wave of popular protest, including a huge non-payment campaign.
But it was more than 12 months later, and only after similar protest turned violent in London’s Trafalgar Square, that the Tories began to realise just how big a problem their new tax was for them.
And in the end of course it was one of the things that sealed Margaret Thatcher’s downfall as Prime Minister.
But, for all its unpopularity south of the border, the Poll Tax had at least been introduced by a Government with popular support there.
The same could not be said for Scotland.
The Poll Tax was imposed on a Scottish electorate that had already rejected the Tories at successive elections and would go on to do so again.
That was the democratic deficit that was at the heart of the home rule campaign that brought us our devolved parliament at Holyrood – a campaign that intensified after the poll tax when John Major won the Tories a fourth term in 1992.
The Tories have tried to claim, both then and since, that the Poll Tax was actually the brainchild of Scottish Conservatives – the same Scots Tories who tried to claim Kirkcaldy economist Adam Smith as a Thatcherite icon.
But the reality is the Poll Tax was one of the most blatant examples of the democratic deficit that fuelled that home rule campaign through the 1990s.
And while having our own parliament has helped address that issue, the democratic deficit is still there.
It was there when Westminster pushed through the Bedroom Tax – another measure which marks an anniversary on Tuesday – despite the opposition of more than 90 per cent of Scottish MPs who voted.
It was there when a majority of MSPs at Holyrood voted against a new generation of nuclear weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde, but whose votes do not count on that issue.
And it was there when Tory-led cuts to child benefit were voted on in the Commons and when again around 90 per cent of Scots MPs voted against.
The Bedroom Tax, which came into effect a year ago on Tuesday, affects more than 82,000 households across Scotland, more than 80 per cent of which have an adult with a disability.
It is a cruel, regressive policy which is every bit as unpopular as the Poll Tax was and which has been imposed on Scotland in much the same way.
The Scottish Government have done as much as we can to help, providing £55 million over two years to help those most affected.
But only the powers of an independent parliament will allow us here in Scotland to scrap the Bedroom Tax once and for all.
And only independence will allow us to take all decisions in our own national interest, ending the democratic deficit at the heart of Scottish politics and society.
This September, people across Scotland will have the opportunity to make that choice.
A Yes vote will mean we will always get the governments we vote for.
It will mean no more Westminster Tory governments ever again.
And it will mean no more policies like the Poll Tax, the Bedroom Tax and Trident – all imposed against the will of the people of Scotland and against the wishes of our democratically elected representatives.
A quarter of a century on from Thatcher’s hated Poll Tax, we in Scotland have the opportunity of a lifetime and the chance to end the democratic deficit once and for all.