This is a tricky one.
Kezia Dugdale’s strategy – saying Scotland should use its new income tax powers to eliminate the effects of central government cuts on local councils – will certainly put the SNP on the spot.
The nationalists’ record on education is poor, and the promise to prioritise schools and colleges will put that record under the spotlight.
The SNP has not been kind to local councils, having kept budgets frozen since 2007. Nor has it been kind to the poor, with £1 billion of money granted to Scotland by Westminster for the relief of poverty being used to patch over the cuts in local authority budgets.
And the promise to grant a rebate to lower-earners suggests the SNP’s claim that Scotland’s new income tax powers aren’t flexible enough is just an excuse for refusing to take action.
But it is still an increase in income tax.
And the Liberal Democrats suggested it first.
But it is a start.
The Scottish government is coming under greater pressure to use Scotland’s new income tax powers after Labour proposed a 1p increase and combined with a system to give a rebate for low earners.
Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader, has followed the Liberal Democrats in calling for income tax in Scotland to be raised immediately to help cushion local councils from more than £350m in cuts to frontline services.
The measures increase the prospects of tax and education spending becoming dominant issues in this May’s Scottish elections, with Labour and the Lib Dems pledging to prioritise schools and colleges when spending the amount that the tax increase will raise annually, projected to be £475m-520m.
Dugdale will dismiss claims by the Scottish National party’s John Swinney, the Scottish finance secretary, that the first set of new tax powers due in force on 1 April are too inflexible as they require Holyrood to raise or reduce every income tax band by the same margin.
Holyrood will only be allowed to adjust tax bands and rates separately from April 2017. But Dugdale will argue that low earners can be protected from paying more tax if there was an across-the-board increase and then £50m was spent each year on a £100 annual rebate for those earning less than £20,000 a year.
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