by Kevin Williamson
This must-read article, tucked away inside yesterday’s Guardian, needs to go viral. I’d urge folk to paste the link anywhere you can, on social media sites, on progressive websites, and especially on the Comments pages of other newspapers. Not because the author is always right on everything he says but because no one else in the media is reporting on this scandal.
Large media corporations like News International, Newsquest, Trinity Mirror, DMGTG, Richard Desmond’s Daily Express group, etc, will rake in a fortune from the proposed change in UK tax legislation and are, understandably, keeping quiet. But alarm bells should be ringing throughout the land.
The Great Tax Robbery is underway but corporate greed in media boardrooms is distorting news values to the point where honest factual reporting of an incredibly important story – one that will affect everyone in the UK – is being smothered.
We’re continually told by media and politicians that we’re all in “austerity Britain” together. Yet via a commentary slot in The Guardian we now learn that the London government are giving the largest corporations and banks the biggest tax handout in history.
In a nutshell these super-rich corporations will no longer have to pay tax on profits made outside the UK. As Monbiot points out, “If these proposals go ahead, the UK will be only the second country in the world to allow money that has passed through tax havens to remain untaxed when it gets here. The other is Switzerland.” (See George Monbiot’s article for a fuller explanation).
What is so breath-taking about this proposal is that it will significantly reduce government income from taxes and thereby lead to an increase in the UK budget deficit and national debt. Yet to justify the cuts in public spending (ongoing for the next four years lest we forget) we were told cutting the budget deficit was the most important economic issue of the decade. These tax-avoidance measures are another indication that the Tory budget cuts were the big economic lie of our lifetime.
The upshot of this is that many banks and corporations, encouraged by their friends in the London government, will be on a headlong rush to switch their operations out of the UK and into dubious international tax havens and anywhere that taxation is lower than the UK. This will cost us jobs and more cuts in public services.
It’s interesting to compare the silence of the media lambs on this one to the screaming and yelping about the SNP’s Large Retailers Levy (or ‘Tesco Tax’) – which would have raised just £30m from the largest retailers. On the day the Levy proposal went before the Scottish Parliament the media gave prominent and entirely uncritical space to a dodgy survey, commissioned by ASDA of all people. “Shoppers fear ‘Tesco tax’” (The Scotsman). “Most Scots feel ‘Tesco Tax’ bad for nation” (The Press & Journal).
This ASDA survey found that 70% of Scots were against fair taxation of large corporate retailers. Run that past us again? Scots against fair taxation? That’ll be right. We can only assume that the question asked – which was never published – must have been along the lines of “Would you be happy to payer higher prices if supermarkets are unfairly taxed by the Scottish government?” Quite.
An unspoken rule of politics is in operation here. Large corporations must pay as little tax as possible. This is mantra, religion and not to be challenged. Even a modest proposal like the Large Retailer Levy rubs up against this neoliberal ideological orthodoxy, which is why it had to be stopped in its tracks before the idea of making large corporations pay their fair share caught on with the general public. Hence the backlash.
Alex Salmond is right to say he will bring the Levy back before the Scottish parliament if re-elected. The principle of extra taxation on the wealthiest is a fair one. But it will be a struggle. The corporations now pull the strings of media and unionist parties. They will fight dirty, they will bribe and blackmail, to resist any attempt to make them pay more tax. If the unionists take control of Holyrood in May then Scotland will return to government by corporate dictat.
It’s a disgrace for sure (although hardly a surprise) that Labour sided with the large corporations over the Levy. In the political melee that followed the Scottish Greens were justified in naming-and-shaming the corporate donors who bankroll the Labour Party.
Using information from the Electoral Commission, the Scottish Greens reminded people that, since 2003, the Labour Party received £10,942,808 from Lord Sainsbury; £99,056.50 from Tesco. The Liberal Democrats received also £35,684.50 from Tesco while the Conservatives had received £30,000 from Selfridges. Money talks. And buys votes it would seem.
These corporate lobbyists and donors have done their worst. Labour have been bought and sold for corporate gold. These days a Labour voter in Scotland who is not on the board of a corporation or a bank is a very confused bunny.
The tectonics of the political landscape are shifting once more. In the short term Scots need to ask ourselves at what point do we say enough is enough. Is it time to break free of the Tory madhouse, and look after our own people, instead of pampering the rich and powerful corporations who pull the strings in England? Or do we watch all the social democratic gains built up over the generations get flushed down the Westminster toilet.
But there’s more to it than purely reactive politics. We also need to ask ourselves some serious questions about the role of large corporations in a future Scotland. Banks, finance houses, large supermarkets, offshore oil companies, energy corporations, multinational retailers, global telecommunication giants? Are these monopolies, conglomerates and cartels delivering jobs and prosperity or are they acting as a brake on enterprise and on wealth creation? More to the point, could the concentration of corporate power be a threat to a future Scottish democracy?
One of the most significant aspects of the Tesco Tax fiasco was the split between CBI Scotland and the Federation of Small Businesses. This went largely uncommented upon but could be a harbinger of things to come. The SNP government and the Scottish Greens lined up with the FSB – which represent small-to-medium enterprises – while the Tories, LibDems and Labour all stood shoulder to shoulder with the the CBI and the large corporations. Corporate Britain versus enterprise Scotland anyone?
We know that the SNP and the broader independence movement has embraced peace and rejected militarism and war. We know that the SNP and the broader independence movement has rejected nuclear power in favour of renewable energy. We know too that on education and health a huge chasm is opening up between Scotland and England. But perhaps, as Britain continues to break apart, we are also seeing, in embryonic form, two differing economic visions of an independent Scotland beginning to emerge.