A Scottish tax system – some initial issues

I was asked this week to comment on some of the initial tax related issues that the Scottish Parliament might have to consider if Scotland votes ‘YES’.

The first comment I made was that the Scottish Parliament should pretty much enact the UK tax system on independence.  The Scottish Parliament should then take its time in deciding what to keep and what to change.  That said, there are a number of matters it might have to look at early on.

Let’s start with VAT.  Only if Scotland becomes independent will it have control, or at least as much control as is possible, of VAT.  The Scottish Parliament could reduce the VAT rate on home repairs and renovations to 5%.  Something our building industry has long been arguing for.  The Scottish Parliament could also ensure that Police and Fire & Rescue Scotland can recover their VAT costs.  This is something the UK Treasury has so far resisted.

The Scottish Parliament could look again at what constitutes a charity in Scotland and with that which entities should receive the associated tax and other benefits.  “Private” or “independent” schools for example.  This is an issue that should not just be left to OSCR, the body that regulates charities in Scotland.

Then there is the debate surrounding a European Union “financial transaction tax”.  An independent Scotland will have to consider its position on this.  If a number of European countries decide to go ahead with this then the Scottish Parliament will have to decide if it wants to join them.  One option could be to agree to a FTT and at the same time abolish stamp duty on shares.

Now to environmental taxes.  The Scottish Parliament might want to consider introducing a carbon tax.  The debate in Australia shows how difficult this might be.   Independence does though mean tough decisions.

Then there is local taxation.  I am sure “Land Value Tax” supporters will be pressing their case even more strongly if Scotland votes ‘YES’.

Now to administration.  Lots of opportunities here for simplifying things. There is no need for Scotland to have a separate Companies House, Stamp Office and Registers of Scotland.  “One stop shops” for the services provided by these bodies is a minimum of what we could do.  We could even create “tax and benefits” centres throughout the country that are based in our local authority buildings.

Then there is “tax avoidance” and “tax evasion”.  The Scottish Parliament could consider publishing at least a summary of each tax return or legislate for published beneficial ownership registers.

Just a few thoughts.

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