Scottish variable rate

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The Scottish variable rate (SVR) is a mechanism which enables the Scottish Government to vary (down or up) the basic rate of UK income tax by up to 3p in the pound. The power has never been used, and will be succeeded by the new legislative framework for Scottish public finance in the Scotland Act 2012. The upcoming legislative framework is expected to be in place by April 2016 and gives the Scottish Parliament the power to set a Scottish rate of income tax.[1]

When legislating for the Scottish Parliament, a number of matters were reserved by the UK Parliament at Westminster. One such reserved matter was taxation; however, this had been a key point in Scottish negotiations relating to parliamentary control. As a means of compromise, Westminster afforded the Scottish Parliament the ability to vary income tax, which was subsequently given the consent of the Scottish electorate in the second question of the 1997 devolution referendum.

Therefore, the Scotland Act 1998 granted the Scottish Parliament the power to vary income tax by +/- 3p in every pound. This power is often referred to as the tartan tax, a phrase first used by Michael Forsyth as a way of attacking the power, using the idea of 'tartan' to get across the idea that it would be an extra tax on Scots alone.[2] However, the phrase "tartan tax" would only correctly apply if the tax were varied upwards – no phrase has yet been suggested if the tax were varied downwards. To date, the Scottish Parliament has chosen not to utilise its tax varying powers.

Demands for greater tax varying powers[edit]

Though the present tax varying power have not been used, demands for extra powers for the Scottish parliament have included demands for fiscal autonomy which would give control over all taxes raised in Scotland to the Scottish Parliament.[3] Most recently, Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, indicated that her party would favour further devolution of fiscal policy decisions following the report of a policy panel.[4]

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