Did Richard Lochhead cost the SNP their majority?

417851-richard-lochhead-rural-affairs-secretaryThe SNP have spent decades slowly winning the support of Scotland’s farming communities. Though historically a solidly Tory demographic, the SNP first started making serious inroads in Scotland’s most agrarian areas in the 1980s, in particular in the North East. In the decades that followed their dominance in rural Scotland became increasingly apparent: they won Angus East, Banff and Buchan, and Moray in 1987; the Perth and Kinross by-election in 1995; and padded their numbers still by winning Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, and Tayside North in 1997. That dominance wasn’t just reflected in election results, either. The SNP’s support in rural communities, and their relationship with farmers, was visible in their ever-present stalls at agricultural shows, as well as the increasing number of giant “Vote SNP” hoardings on the roadsides, where once they would have said “Conservative and Unionist.” However, that relationship has severely soured in the past few months.

Since December 2015, farmers across Scotland have faced considerable delays in receiving their Common Agricultural policy payments from the Scottish Government.These payments are usually made in December, when many farmers settle their accounts, though by the end of February, only 1,000 out of almost 8,000 farms had received the payments they were due.. Though these delays are seemingly attributable to the shift to a new computer system and the shift to the new Basic Payments System, it has been alleged that Ministers were alerted to potential problems as early as 2014, while they were out campaigning in the independence referendum.

This led hundreds of farmers to descend upon Holyrood to protest the SNP Government’s handling of the issue. The previously-SNP supporting former head of the NFU in Scotland, Jim Walker, described assurances by Environment and Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead as “at best worthless and at worst plain lies” in what amounted to “a vain attempt to save his own skin.”

I spent a couple of weeks of the Scottish Parliament election campaign at home in the Highlands, and that the farming community had turned its back on the SNP was palpable. Gone were the scores of yellow Richard Lochhead and Fergus Ewing boards, and in their place were shiny hoardings bearing the names of Douglas Ross and Edward Mountain. That hostility was reflected too in the NFU hustings in Dingwall a couple of weeks ago.

Digesting the results of Thursday night, it is clear that the SNP paid a price at the ballot box for the Scottish Government’s failings over farm payments.

Below are the results of ten of Scotland’s most agrarian constituencies, and just look at those swings to the Tories. In addition to taking Aberdeenshire West, there’s a 15% swing from the SNP to the Tories in Moray, whopping 17% swing in Alex Salmond’s old constituency of Aberdeenshire East, and Roseanna Cunningham’s majority was slashed from 7,166 to 1,422.

The regional list results were just as bad. While in 2011 the SNP managed to win all ten seats in the North East and win a seat on the list, this time around not only did they lose Aberdeenshire West, but they weren’t even close to winning a seat on the list. There was an 11% swing from the SNP to the Tories in the North East. And while the constituencies panned out the same in the Highlands and Islands, the SNP dropped another two seats here, with a 9% swing to the Tories here.

So while the SNP remained static in Central and West of Scotland regions, and gained two more seats in Glasgow, the SNP lost two seats in the North East and Highlands and Islands, and another one each in Mid Scotland and Fife and the South of Scotland. Overall, six out of eight of the SNP’s losses came from Scotland’s rural regions (the Lothians providing the other two). If Scotland’s farming communities sought to punish the SNP for the farm payments fiasco, they’ve well and truly succeeded.

Back home in Moray, those who aren’t fans of the local MSP have been known to refer to him as Blockhead. Having potentially cost the SNP their majority, Richard Lochhead’s head might well be on the ministerial block.

Projection: SNP majority of 21, some relief for Labour, Tories stall

BMG 18 April-01

BMG 18 April 2016

This week we see a new entrant to Scottish Parliament polling, BMG Research. With two weeks still to go, BMG show the SNP on 51% of constituency voting intention, to Labour’s 21% and the Tories’ 16%. On the regional lists, the SNP slip to 45%, Labour to 20%, and the Tories stick on 16%.

On BMG’s’ figures, the SNP look set to win 70 out of 73 constituency seats. While the Tories lose Galloway and West Dumfries, and Ayr, hang onto Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, and gain Eastwood from Labour. The Lib Dems lose Liam McArthur in Orkney, but retain Tavish Scott in Shetland.

The regional list throws up a few results that look somewhat anomalous: it seems inconceivable that Labour wins three seats in the Highlands and only two in Central Scotland. Labour likely wouldn’t regard a tally of 23 seats as being too bad, though certainly on the lower end of that party’s hopes. The Tories’ hopes of becoming the Scottish Parliament’s main opposition would be dashed according to BMG, modestly padding their seat total by three. On BMG’s numbers, the 6th of May will be a disappointing one for Labour’s Ken Macintosh, Elaine Smith, and Cara Hilton.
The Greens pick up two in Glasgow, as well as one each in a further five regions, bringing their total to seven. The Lib Dems lose their seat in the North East and gain one in Lothians, bringing their total to four. In common with most other pollsters, BMG shows UKIP picking up a seat in the Highlands and Islands, as well as a seat in Central Scotland. It’s difficult to gauge RISE support on the back of BMG’s polling, as they’re not included in the prompt – however support for “others” appears to be negligible.

On these numbers, Labour only loses Dumfriesshire by a whisker (0.14%) – with their next most promising hopes being Cowdenbeath, East Lothian, and Dunfermline.

SNP makes the case for scrapping tax-free personal allowance and imposing a “Flat Tax”

Sturgeon ParliamentLabour (and the Liberal Democrats) have called the SNP’s bluff, by proposing a 1% tax increase in order to offset cuts to public services. Surely, the left-wing SNP warmly embraces slightly higher income taxes over austerity? It seems not, and the SNP’s spin machine has gone into overdrive, inventing new meanings for words, which hitherto had a commonly understood meaning.

In order to defend themselves against the claim that the SNP, while speaking the language of Syriza, bear a far closer resemblance to the Tories or New Labour when it comes to taxation; the SNP’s spin doctors (another trait they share in common with New Labour) have invented a new definition of “progressive”. Any tax expert will tell you that a progressive tax is one in which the effective rate increases with the value of the base. Income tax is progressive in that respect, because higher earners pay a higher proportion of their income in tax than lower earners; Council Tax, by contrast, is regressive to its base (property values) because the effective tax rate is lower for higher value properties. Simple stuff.

However, in response to Scottish Labour’s proposals to increase the Scottish Rate of Income Tax (SRIT) by 1% in every band, the SNP invented a novel definition of progressivity. The SNP described Labour’s proposals as “regressive” because the relative increase in the proportion of higher earners’ income tax is smaller than the relative increase in lower earners’ tax. In other words, the proportion of the proportion of income.

The SNP’s cyber-warriors went into overdrive, lovingly embracing this new definition of progressivity, seemingly without the slightest clue about what they were actually saying. For example, the first £11,000 of income is tax-free. A certain amount of tax-free income is a feature in almost every tax system and is, surely, progressive? Well, no longer, according to the SNP. Because we pay no tax on the first £11,000, the first penny of income tax is an infinitely higher burden than zero.

As can be seen on the above graph, the rate at which the tax burden increases (green line) is significantly higher at the lower end of income tax, because the tax-free personal allowance represents a much larger share of total income. Because of the withdrawal of the personal allowance above £100,000, the rate at which the tax burden increases in the top brackets approaches zero (the only constant being the weekly National Insurance threshold of £112). Under the SNP’s new definition of progressivity, the personal allowance is regressive, and presumably therefore, has to go.

By contrast, taxing us on every penny we earn at a single rate – a flat tax, without any personal allowance – would be much less regressive under the SNP’s conception of progressivity.

The SNP’s measure of progressivity is what’s called a derivative, and by the SNP’s new definition of progressivity, it’s not just Labour’s proposals that are regressive, but also the whole of income tax itself! In their attempts to spin Labour’s proposals as regressive (which I hope is clear by now, they are not) the SNP’s spin doctors and their online infantry have been making the case for scrapping the personal allowance and imposing a flat tax. And if you believe that’s “progressive” then you really will believe anything.