The suggestion by backbencher John Mason, right, that the top rate of tax should rise has been dismissed by Alex Salmond
John Mason, deputy convener of Parliament’s finance committee, told the Sunday Herald the top rate should go up once Edinburgh acquires increa- sed powers over income tax in 2015.
However, the First Minister’s spokesman last night dismissed Mason’s views out of hand and the division allowed Labour and the Tories to claim the SNP was “all over the place” on tax.
Tory Chancellor George Osborne is reportedly thinking of axing the 50% top rate as it doesn’t raise enough money, and may deter investment.
Mason told the Sunday Herald: “If George Osborne is going in one direction, then I think I want to go in the opposite direction. I’ll take a penny [on the top rate] for starters.”
The comments are awkward for the SNP leadership, which has sugges- ted Scotland could have lower taxes if they are passed to Holyrood.
Last week Finance Secretary John Swinney issued a paper arguing for corporation tax to be set by Holyrood so it could be cut from the UK rate of 26% to nearer the Irish rate, 12.5%.
But Mason, 54, whose Glasgow Shettleston constituency is one of the most deprived in the UK, said: “Some people at the very top have not really lost out of this recession ... but when you look at the price incr- eases, lack of jobs, people on redu- ced hours, people on frozen pay it all seems to hit those at the bottom.
“So I think there’s some public demand for increasing taxes on the well-off.”
He predicted higher tax would have cross-party support among MSPs, and there was no need to wait for independence, as the Scotland Bill currently going through Westminster will give Holyrood far greater control of income tax by 2015.
“There would be more appetite in Scotland, cross-party, to play around with the higher rates,” he said.
“Even before independence, if we’ve got power over income tax, then that will be one of the things that all of the parties will argue over. I’d be arguing for a bit more income tax.”
Under the Scotland Bill’s proposals, if Holyrood increased the top rate of tax, it would have to raise the basic and upper rates by the same amount, as all bands are locked in step.
However, MSPs recently called for Holyrood to have the power to vary the higher rate of income tax independently of the others in future.
Tory finance spokesman Gavin Brown said: “This SNP tax plan would hit every taxpayer… the last thing people need as they struggle to pay bills.”
Richard Baker, for Labour, added: “The SNP are all over the place on tax policy. Last week Alex Salmond and John Swinney were arguing in favour of cutting taxes for businesses and now John Mason is advocating a tax increase. The SNP do not have a clear economic strategy.”
A spokesman for the First Minister said that Salmond did not agree with his MSP, adding “John Mason, a backbencher, is entitled to his view.”