The trouble with the council tax is the sound your buzzer makes

The trouble with the council tax is the sound your buzzer makes. Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

The trouble with the council tax is that the top decile of the income distribution pay 2%, while…

No. The trouble with the council tax is the sound your buzzer makes.

The brilliant thing about council tax reform is that it is perfectly positioned, it can’t be attacked, we’ll win the election…

No. The trouble with the council tax is the sound your buzzer makes.

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. It could be a friend, or your family – but it could be the man from Scott and Co, the bailiff. You opened the door to him before and he stuck his foot in the gap when you tried to close it. You opened the door to him before and the thought of doing so again fills you with dread, so although maybe it’s your mum, or maybe it’s a friend, and although you need them now more than ever, you stay still, as still as you can, quiet as you can, shaking, t-shirt drenched in sweat, waiting for the buzzing to stop, the footsteps to recede.

It’s moments like that where you start thinking: I’m a child not a man, a coward, hiding from a doorbell; I’m a burden on this world, this world would be better without me and my cowardice and my shame and my sweat. Dangerous thoughts, for someone in your condition.

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. As you try to breathe quietly you remember, you shouldn’t even be paying council tax, but you missed one appointment and the buroo sanctioned you and the housing benefit say you have to prove you have no income. “If you have no income, how are you living?” “Overdraft.” She looks shocked at that, but what can she do about it? Rules are rules.

So bills start coming with fantasy figures in them: £100, £200, £1000. Money you can’t even imagine having spare. Soon, you stop answering the door.

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. In this moment there’s only the fear and the sweat. There’s no party, no movement, no nation. No left or right. No ballot boxes. Just Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

The pundits, the politicians and the strategists talk about the electoral maths, the newspaper headlines.

You don’t hear them. You’re just a coward, too ashamed and scared to answer the door to your own home. All you can hear is the buzzer. Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

The trouble with the council tax is the sound your buzzer makes.

Comments (32)

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  1. Davey Hughes says:

    It should be means tested and up to each individual in a property w⚓

  2. Ted says:

    Very true and deeply unpleasant it is too. No empathy from any of the people involved in the collection of this vile “tax” when your are down and poverty stricken. Apparently the SNP are exempt from any criticism of their failure to properly reform council tax, according to some quarters.

  3. John Tracey says:

    I am so so disappointed that tinkering took over from radical change in Scottish Government thinking. This at a time in history when their parliamentary control is at such an unprecedented level. My faith in the present incumbents is disappearing.

  4. chris says:

    its true the saying of born free taxed to death . I would like the government to make sure employers give a certain % increase on wages yearly to keep up with the 3% increase by councils that imo will be inevitable .
    No vote now for the snp from me . no vote for anyone from me anymore .
    It took long enough to get an answer from an snp candidate that when hearing of the possibility of a council raising the tax this year the candidate told me this wouldn’t happen but the threat of it has obviously made them think again .
    when you work hard everyday to cover the bills and feed yourself and family then to have this hanging over your head wondering if youll have any money left is soul destroying .

  5. Coinneach Albannaich says:

    Welcome to the United Kingdom in the 21st Century!

    I realise that it is a whole order of magnitude less serious, but those of us who are “gun telebhisean” meet here:

    Don’t open the door unless you know who’s on the other side.

  6. Mike says:

    For the first time the Scottish Government has acted like the establishment. They found an easy way to squeeze income and took it.

    For the first time they didn’t consider consequence.

    Make no mistake the council tax is not banded by means or between the haves and have nots and to try and claim you only go at those with means if you go at the top quartile banding is dishonest.

    For the first time in decades I find myself considering becoming one of the non voters as I no longer feel represented.

  7. Mike says:

    All tax should be based on income. If you have no income you should have no tax. Its that simple or it should be.

    1. John Page says:

      What if you are a non domiciled multi millionaire living in London with no UK source income who owns a 10,000 acre estate in the highlands?

      1. Crubag says:

        It’s a fair point, you could be asset rich but cash poor (and still using local services), should you still pay tax?

    2. Campbell says:

      No! Tax should not be based on income.

      Tax should be based on stored wealth, such as property and investments. Taxing income is unfairly punishing productive labour and discourages ingenuity and endeavour.

      The only justifiable tax is that on land. Even then tax is morally questionable. Who gave the state the right to use force against the citizens!? How has using force and aggression ever created a more peaceful world?

  8. Clive Scott says:

    Council tax is an efficient way of collecting for local services as it is tied to physical assets that cannot be moved. Whilst there are exceptions, it is generally true that the size and style of the house you live in is a reflection of personal wealth. The proposal is to increase the tax on the higher property bands. Seems perfectly pragmatic and sensible as a stop gap measure until independence is won and the Scottish government has control over all taxes and can design a completely integrated and coherent tax system from the ground up. The trouble with replacing a property based tax with an income one is that the better off and better advised will always find ways around hiding or disguising their true wealth just in the way that many large and successful businesses pay next to no corporation tax. Those posting here who claim to be losing faith in the SNP really should think for a moment about the alternatives. Tories? Liberals? Or even worse, the utterly corrupt Labour? Come on, get real. SNP X 2 in May as a stepping stone to an independent Scotland.

    1. Frank says:

      The first principle of any progressive tax system is that it should be based on your ability to pay, something I’m afraid the SNP used to advocate in 2007 and 2011. The SNP have been exposed this week as an establishment party – small C fiscal conservatives and bereft of independence, which they no longer seem passionate about, I don’t see any significant difference between the SNP or Labour and the Lib Dems. They have definitely lost my vote.

    2. Alex Beveridge says:

      Well said, Clive. I see the criticisms of your comments make no mention of the safeguards the Scottish Government have put in place to protect the most vulnerable in our society, with regards to the council tax.
      Firstly, the council tax reduction scheme has been extended to include low income families with children, bringing an extra 77,000 households into the safety net, not to mention the 140,000 children living in these properties.
      At the other end of the scale, many low income families living in band E to H properties already are in receipt of help through the council tax reduction scheme, but this is also being extended to the extent that if the household income is less than £25,000 p.a, then they will also qualify, benefiting an extra 54,000 households. Including many pensioner households.
      But of course the root of the problem is as you say, and that is we are not an independent nation, and do not have control of our most important taxes, and the decisions that we could then take to benefit all our people.
      Sure, the measures can be described as tinkering at the edges, but since it benefits the most needy in our society, then I for one welcome it. And as you say, what would the geniuses in the other political parties come up with?
      Well I’ll see shortly if this comes up on the doorstep during todays canvassing, although if past S.N.P baad stories are anything to go by, it won’t be mentioned.

      stories are anything to go by, people won’t

      1. Douglas says:

        I’ve had enough of the lame duck politics of the SNP, Alex.

        The idea that they cant’t do any more due to questions of sovereignty is an arrant lie in certain policy areas at least, and now that they have been put through the wash, it turns out the rinse that comes out is the same kind of Blue-Red colour – a kind of fudge – we are all so familiar and deeply frustrated with…

        Don’t expect real change to come from politicians embedded in a class-based political system who spend most of their social hours sipping wine with people as rich as they are, or richer….

        …I dinnay ken what Tam Shephard is doing in the SNP or Mhari Black, to name but two. The idea that the new recruits were going to steer the SNP to the Left has been exposed as sham.

        It is high time we ended the pro-indie, “no criticism of the SNP” alliance…

        …18 Sep 2014 to March 2016 was the phoney war, let’s get started on the real one.

        Because 25% of people in Scotland live in poverty and not one them in my mind should vote for the monarchist SNP who don’t have the cojones to fight for them, not to question the highly questionable question of their questionable inclination.

        Who speaks for the poor? I am with the poor of Scotland, and the SNP are like some kind of television production…scary people…and utter bullshitters…

      2. Mike says:

        Well said, Clive. I see the criticisms of your comments make no mention of the safeguards the Scottish Government have put in place to protect the most vulnerable in our society, with regards to the council tax.

        They are not going to catch everybody who needs to be caught by these safeguards. In fact the safeguards are highly selective.

        They will not safeguard the young couple or the family who live in 2 to 3 bedroom accommodation which just happens to be council taxed at above the band D level no matter how poorly paid they are.

        There is no getting around it no matter how many hairs you want to split. The Scottish Government has finally succumbed to the establishment and became that which most of us have opposed for decades. They forgot principle and went for the easy cash.

        It will be far harder for them to resist this track in the future if they are even going to bother trying after this.

    3. Douglas says:

      Clive Scott…so if we applied your logic about tax dodging to other laws, we would abolish laws against murder, rape and and child molesters…because there is always going to be somebody trying to get around the law, Clive, right?

      If there was a law on rhetorical bullshit, you would doubtless find a lawyer to get you out of jail too, Clive, though possibly you wouldn’t need one…

      …there is only one form of progressive tax, and that is a tax based on income. Anything else is a sham and disproportionately hits the poor.

      I live in Spain, but I have lived in three European countries, and this tax on breathing fresh air does not exist I have ever lived in.

      Thatcher invented it. You people are Thatcher with fuckin bells on…

    4. Ian Kirkwood says:

      A refinement of your thinking is to tax the land under each property with Annual Ground Rent/LVT. That leaves the improvements to land free of tax — because we need more houses. We need to tune into the fact that we all create the rental value of land as we go about our daily lives. It is privatised but we need it back — for oh so many reasons ( Adam Smith taught us that this stream of revenue produces no distortions on economic activity. Since LVT was one of the three recommendations of the Tax Commission, what was at work to ensure AGR formed no part in the reform? As commissioner Andy Wightman says this week, “We all wasted our time.” If an all-but-100% electoral mandate can produce such a piddling reform, then we must assume nothing more dramatic will be achieved in the next parliament either. How deflating!

    5. Ted says:

      Using property as a basis for Council Tax discriminates against private tenants. Council housing stock is at its lowest, families are refused mortgages for expensive houses, their only choice is private lets. The rents are higher than social housing, so private tenants then have to pay higher Council Tax as well. There is a housing crisis that is the stinking elephant in the room and it is being largely ignored. Ability to pay is ignored despite some thinking there are numerous secret millionaires hiding in Scotland.

  9. Mike says:


    You cannot consider alternatives when everybody starts to act the same way. What we are seeing now is the Scottish Government using a regressive taxation system to squeeze easy income in the exact same manner we’ve been attacking the opposition for doing.

    It is down to Government to make all forms of income taxable because really income tax is the only progressive way to tax. Take away the hiding places.

    We only have the hiding places because Government doesn’t have the will or want to go after those who can actually afford to pay taxation. Too much power too much influence.

    Easier to go after the vulnerable and unprotected.

    Council tax is no better than the poll tax both as regressive as the other especially as property in the UK is over priced and ownership is not true ownership if a mortgage is still being paid.

    No the Scottish Government for the first time has made a wrong step and its going to cost them.

    Stupid this close to the election.

  10. Douglas says:

    The Council Tax is an abomination, a charge for breathing fresh air…

    The SNP have shown their true colours on Council Tax, Land Reform and Culture. On all of these they have failed dismally.

    No wonder YELLOW is the colour of the SNP, because they are after all a bunch of YELLOW-BELLIES…

    And people are saying we should give them not just ONE vote but TWO?

    It’s hilarious…

  11. Scott Macdonald says:

    The open goal mandate for scrapping the council tax is one of our biggest wasted opportunities for economic justice since the onset of devolution.

    It is sadly short-termist thinking. No focus group would recommend land value taxes. Or a progressive income tax. But these redistributive measures, and as a consequence, the funding to invest elsewhere in the productive economy or infrastructure would change hundreds of thousands of lives for the better.

  12. Crubag says:

    I’d make other criticisms of the SNP’s pusillanimity – for example approving beaver as a native species, rather than letting landowners shoot them while we wait for an election.

    But on tax, I’d note that the SNP are becoming the establishment party for good and bad. They now depend on the civil service for financial advice and are likely to take an increasingly conservative approach as a result, unless there is outside pressure.

  13. kailyard rules says:

    Ditto to Clive and Alex above.

    The “ship jumpers” should maybe shift their allegiance to Tommy Sheridan, the man who organized anti bailiff direct action. Of course he was possibly traduced by these same nail biters.

    SNP x 2 and Forward.

    1. Douglas says:

      Or maybe you should cease to count on the vote of the Scottish indie left who single-handedly got you up from 30% to 45% of the vote September 18?

      DESPITE the friggin SNP and their completely and utterly useless White Paper…a laughing stock among policy advisers the length and breadth of Europe… the back of a napkin at Cannes has seen more eloquent prose, vision and detail…

      You guys don’t know what poverty is, you just don’t even begin to understand it….it’s really easy to understand the mentality of wealth, because when you some have money in your pocket, everybody finds it easy to want a wee bit more….

      But, poverty nobody understands it until they lived it. NOBODY.

      The SNP just betrayed about 50% of their electorate. You came from 18% or so in the late 90’s to 60% in the polls…what makes you think you might not end up back there…? Look at the Labour Party and the Lib Dems and the Tories….why would you guys be different…?

      ..och, I know, “Cause you’re Scottish and prrrrrrroud of it”…that always sufficed with you badge-wearing clowns of the SNP monarchy loving brigade…

    2. Douglas says:

      By the way, Kailyard, there are ships well worth jumping from…. the Marie Rosie, found drifting at sea after years on end, revealed to be an aimless, rudderless vessel, with a phantom crew and a flag nobody could recognize it was so faded…

      …though from where those of us in the lifeboats sat, it looks suspiciously like a faded Union Jack…

      1. kailyard rules says:

        I think you might mean the Marie Celeste.

        However, I’m not a member of the SNP,never have been, and I’m for a Scottish Republic. I’ve also experienced poverty in my life without aid of benefit. That story another time.

        I’m for political self determination and full Independence for Scotland and recognise that the SNP are the only viable political party to facilitate that journey forward. After this next election (and it looks a scoosh for SNP) the SNP will have a further five year mandate. Time within which to wax more radical. Now is not the huffy time for launching lifeboats. You can do hee-haw from a lifeboat. Except maybe a wee guessing game about flags. You can however row over to Tommy and tie up alongside. Rumour has it he has a chart to Utopia.

        1. Douglas says:

          Kailyard, let’s not have a competition about who is poorest, because poverty can be evaluated in a number of ways, one of which is cultural capital, and it is perfectly clear that neither you nor I are illiterates who are so poor they have disengaged from politics, which is the shocking case of far too many Scots…

          …as for the SNP, I refuse to vote for them. I’m not going to vote for a bunch of lightweights who are inept, careerists bunglers for the most part, they are the establishment in Scotland, and Nicola, who is great, is their human face…

          …you guys are the exponents of TARTAN TINA…why would I vote for a pack of Edinburgh lawyers who spend tax payers money supporting an Anglo culture in Scotland, the cultural colonization of Scotland? A bunch of lackeys in a kilt….

          I agree the Left in Scotland are in general hapless nostalgic dullards, but maybe you just dinnay bother voting. …seriously, maybe it is just better to devote your time to other things…I dunno, gardening, hill-walking…

          …anyway, a good friend’s son just got knocked down the other day, 20 years old, here in Madrid, almost certainly on his way to the next world. He wanted to be a musician and go to London and I was telling him he should go to Scotland instead…

          …ach, ye just get these days, and the SNP are a prile of careerist Anglofied toffs, they have no interest in changing the power structure of Scotland…stop kidding yersels…

          1. seastnan seastnan says:

            It’s guys like you that hold the rest of us back …. so full of those teenage ‘radical’ principles that get everybody nowhere.

  14. Robert James Peacock says:

    Love the way this has kickstarted a debate about the politics of the council tax, despite the piece being very clear – it’s not about the politics, IT’S THE SOUND YOUR BUZZER MAKES.

  15. arthur thomson says:

    The only people who pay what they should pay in income tax are those on PAYE. It is avoided to varying degrees by virtually everyone else. It is not a suitable basis for local taxation.

    The notion that the SNP is in the position to be radical is daft. They are only up against all sections of the British state and all its institutions after all.

    Why would anyone want them to over reach I ask myself?

  16. Chris Danes says:

    Superb article. That’s what it’s like. Lol, Scott and Co. The red letters sent out immediately. We need a progressive opposition in the Scottish Parliament. Land Tax, or LIT, disnae matter. Get this changed now.

    But, yeah, when your in that situation, the politics don’t matter, it’s the door buzzer.

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