A high-tax anti-work attack on ordinary commuters
By Graham Grant
AS dedicated environmentalists, the Greens are also animal welfare enthusiasts, championing the plight of endangered species.
Chief among them yesterday was a political invertebrate called Richard Lyle, who has the chameleon-like knack of rapidly changing his principles.
Beholden to the Greens for keeping their high-tax Budget alive, the Nationalists caved in to their demands to let councils introduce a ‘workplace parking levy’ (WPL).
SNP MSP Mr Lyle showed some backbone when the idea first emerged, dismissing it as ‘unfair’, equivalent to a 10p income tax hike, and yet another unwarranted attack on hard-pressed commuters.
So Stalinist is the SNP’s ‘message discipline’ that very few of its representatives ever fail to toe the line, and entrepreneur John McGlynn – who opposes the levy – even praised Mr Lyle as a ‘national hero’.
That heroism collapsed yesterday in spectacular style as Mr Lyle told a parliamentary committee that he had had a Damascene conversion; he now supported the WPL, and claimed that critics of the parking tax were guilty of ‘scaremongering’.
In The Godfather Part II, a senator who once derided the Mafia cravenly speaks up in favour of a notorious mob boss at a hearing exploring organised crime, after being blackmailed by the gangster’s henchmen.
There are no such manoeuvrings at Holyrood, of course, but Mr Lyle’s sudden about-turn was just as jarring, and demonstrated that the SNP whips had been dusting off their thumb-screws to ensure that the WPL won just enough backing to make it through the committee – though only just: MSPs backed it by five votes to six.
They unanimously agreed to have national exemptions for disabled parking spaces, NHS premises and hospices, and to allow councils to create their own exemptions.
Proposals for further national exemptions for a wide range of workers – including the police, fire, coastguard and lifeboat services as well as teachers and carers – were voted down by the Greens and the SNP.
These developments are likely to dampen what remains of the celebratory atmosphere in school staff rooms following a 13.5 per cent salary hike – while police officers will be furious their warnings about the impact on the force have gone unheeded.
One of their anxieties is that officers who are at risk of being followed home by criminals need to be able to drive and to park at police stations, and the WPL – if they were forced to pay it – could force them onto public transport.
Green MSP John Finnie insisted that it was for councils to ‘determine if they wish to introduce’ a WPL, and it was a ‘power not a duty’ – displaying an admirable belief in the self-restraint of town halls when it comes to the ruthless exploitation of cash-cow motorists.
Pre-emptively pinning the blame on councils is a cowardly act – a distancing operation that allows ministers to claim it was nothing to do with them, it was all down to greedy local authorities.
What the debate needed at this juncture was an injection of intellectual rigour, but sadly what it received was an intervention by clueless SNP MSP John Mason, who once said IRA terrorists could be seen as ‘freedom fighters’, and compared them to Nelson Mandela.
He argued that the WPL was a ‘tax on the elite’, claiming that only ‘bosses and company directors’ have free city centre parking spaces, not ordinary workers, and he described the policy as ‘progressive’ – a word as nebulous as it is ubiquitous, normally used only in connection with any policy likely to hit you in the pocket.
This is a definition of the elite that may come as a surprise to dictionary-compilers – since when have teachers or police constables (notwithstanding recent pay rises for both professions) coasted to work in vintage Bentleys?
Thanks to Finance Secretary Derek Mackay’s high-tax Budgets, there are already powerful economic disincentives for new-start businesses or young professionals to settle in Scotland.
The WPL sends another signal that officialdom is more interested in removing yet more of your fast-diminishing disposable income than helping you to make a living.
In swathes of rural Scotland, public transport is virtually non-existent, making the car a lifeline – and it’s not as if motoring is exactly a low-cost pursuit: fuel, insurance, road tax and maintenance have combined to make it uncomfortably expensive, possibly even for MSPs on basic yearly salaries of £63,579.
For the average commuter, the WPL could be enough to force them off the road.
In the meantime, Nicola Sturgeon has proclaimed a climate change ‘emergency’, ignoring all of the other emergencies piling up around her such as homelessness and plummeting classroom standards.
The WPL is now presented as part of the government’s response to that emergency – but how galling that the woman whose blessing was necessary for the levy to come into being doesn’t even drive.
In chauffeur-driven luxury – or at election time flying in her ‘Nicolopter’ – she is shielded from the myriad inconveniences and financial demands faced by motorists on pothole-strewn roads around Scotland.
Holyrood is already engaged in another barmy legislative endeavour – a ban on smacking – that has descended into farce, amid warnings that parents could be criminalised for shouting at their children.
Recent history is littered with other humiliating policy failures, from the calamitous Named Person project to the now-rescinded prohibition of sectarian chanting at football matches – all voted through by MSPs who appear to exist in a parallel universe.
Yesterday it was left to Lib Dem Mike Rumbles to state the obvious: ‘We are making bad law. I think the SNP and Green Budget deal has shackled our work.’
But this mess is something more than basic incompetence – it’s another demonstration of the brazen contempt many of our cack-handed legislators display for the public they are supposed to serve.
The electoral repercussions for Miss Sturgeon when the full scale of her high-tax, anti-work agenda becomes clear to the bulk of the population could be severe.
When she ponders the reasons for her downfall, she should play back the footage of Messrs Lyle and Mason at yesterday’s committee – and reflect on the consequences of her party’s grubby backroom pact with the Greens.
*This commentary appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on June 20, 2019.