ICAS: ‘Shouty’ tax debate obscures future Scottish plans

by Calum Fuller

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21 May 2014

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THE LEVEL of discourse around tax has done little to help inform voters, ICAS has noted, alongside the release of its paper discussing key tax and spending numbers at the centre of the independence debate.

Scotland's Tax Future; Taxes Explained outlines the need for voters to have more detail on the costs and practicalities of setting up a new tax system for an independent Scotland. It also lays out challenges over the practicalities and timescale of setting up a new tax system.

In 2012 it emerged Holyrood intended to establish its own tax agency called Revenue Scotland, with the claim the new body "would serve the needs of the people of Scotland at a lower cost than the UK set-up".

Finance secretary John Swinney added at the time that the agency could be set up as early as 2015 "in line with international best practice" and would be "operationally independent and its governance enshrined in legislation".

Scottish government would introduce a system "that is simple to operate and digital first" with IT systems developed to "simplify processing and reduce late payment", Swinney confirmed at the time.

ICAS director of taxation Elspeth Orcharton said: "Tax is seen as too complex and the political debate too ‘shouty' to allow these important aspects to be well understood by many. In response to questions asked of us, ICAS sets out the facts and context for the debate on Scotland's future. There has been no public discussion on the costs of tax independence or further tax devolution."

Orcharton went on to criticise the official documents produced by the Scottish government around independence for their lack of detail, adding it "falls short of the informative and detailed financial memorandum that might be expected to accompany even the smallest piece of parliamentary legislation at Holyrood or Westminster at the moment".

She said: "In the independence White Paper, costs were described as 'a small proportion of an independent Scotland's total budget'. How small is ‘small'? No further explanation is in the White Paper.

"'What is it really going to cost and how is it to be paid for?' is the question that still needs to be answered."

The powers to levy stamp duty land tax and landfill tax will also be devolved to Edinburgh in 2015 as part of the Scotland Act, which was given royal assent last year.

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