The Scottish Conservatives are to try and put economic policy at the heart of their election campaign for Holyrood this year.

A commission they set up – The Commission for Competitive and Fair Taxation in Scotland – has recommended a number of measures which they hope will stimulate a debate in Scotland which now must include tax as well as spend. Here are its recommendations:

  • the overall tax burden should not be any higher than in any other part of the United Kingdom, and lower when affordable.
  • an income tax “middle band” of about 30%
  • freezing business rates for the course of the next Scottish Parliament;
  • a “reformed, fairer” council tax, with greater help offered to low income households across the bands.
  • abolishing the new Land and Buildings Transaction
  • replace Air Passenger Duty with a Departure Tax linked to travel distance.

Ruth Davidson has accepted in principle the recommendations and will use the report to develop a policy offering which shows “Scotland is open for business”.

An economy-led strategy is fair enough for the election. They’re not going to have any competition on this side of the debate during the election campaign so a distinctive message is almost guaranteed.

However, the problem is that it’s probably an election too soon for people to really get interested in.

The Scottish Parliament, for all the good it has done since its inception, is fundamentally soft as it has never had to consider the tax implications of its spend. If we’re being honest, the economy has never played a huge role in Holyrood elections because the potential government hasn’t had significant power to affect change on the economy.

This has a knock on effect on the voters who have grown used to choosing between the best free policy offering: free prescriptions, free tuition, council tax freeze, free bus passes.

With the new tax powered the Scottish Parliament is graduating. Greater consideration will have to be given to where the money comes from and not what it’s spent on.

When they say “want to see people keep more of the money they earn and not have it eaten up by excessive government spending” people believe them. The problem is they leave it open to interpretation what they think excessive government spending is.

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