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Taxes Aren't Optional for the Rest of Us - They Shouldn't be Optional for the Richest

08/04/2016 19:33 | Updated 08 April 2016

Different rules seem to apply to the richest 1% compared to the rest of us. The revelations from the Panama papers are rocking political parties around the world. Making sure that the top 1% pay their fair share like the rest of us has become a key issue in this election.

Individuals across political, economic, and cultural life of our nation have been and will be caught up in this debate. What matters most is whether parties have any real intention to take on the top 1% or whether they will wait for the dust to settle and allow business as usual to continue.

Only Labour has had anything to say on the biggest issue of the moment. The other parties haven't even been on the pitch.

I have set out how we'd make sure that taxpayers' money does not go to companies that do not pay their taxes. Companies make billions from taxpayers in contracts that supply our hospitals, run our public transport or build our schools. It surely isn't too much to expect that a condition of those deals is that if you don't pay your taxes you don't get taxpayers' money.

This Labour proposal came before the Scottish Parliament and Nicola Sturgeon voted against the idea. She still opposes it. One of SNP's largest donors, Brian Souter, runs Stagecoach, who get public money for running public transport all over the UK. Last month they lost an £11million tax avoidance case. Here's what HMRC had to say after the verdict: "This was clear tax avoidance. It was an attempt to manufacture losses to deny the public purse the tax due."

Again, Nicola Sturgeon promised "zero tolerance" of tax avoidance saying she wanted to "make examples of people". But when SNP MP Phil Boswell admitted using a tax avoidance scheme she backed him.

There may well political embarrassment for all parties in the revelations coming out of the Panama papers but past relationships cannot be a reason for inaction now.

People are losing trust in their political leaders who talk tough on making sure the rich pay their fair share and then baulk at taking real action.

Perhaps the most obvious example of SNP hypocrisy on the richest paying their fair share of tax has been around the 50p top rate of tax. Nicola Sturgeon made great virtue of her support for a higher top rate to boost her anti-austerity credentials in the TV debates last year. But when the power to set a higher top rate in Scotland was actually devolved to the Scottish Government she bottled it.

The reason for her u-turn is extraordinary. She says we can't ask the richest 1% to pay a fair share of taxes because they'll just try dodge paying it. It seems that in Nicola Sturgeon's world the only things that are inevitable are death and tax avoidance. It is the job of governments to make sure people pay, not to shrug their shoulders and accept that the richest will play by different rules.

Taxes aren't optional for the rest of us, They shouldn't be optional for the richest.

I simply don't understand the political cowardice of the SNP when it comes to asking the richest to pay. They have enjoyed unprecedented strength. Opinion poll after opinion poll shows huge support for taking on this issue. Even in Scotland's divided politics, eight out of 10 SNP supporters agree with Labour's policy on the top rate of tax.

Because she won't risk upsetting those at the top she has to accept £3billion more in cuts compared to Labour's plans.

Nicola Sturgeon seeks a majority. What she should be seeking is a mandate for real change.

People are angry. Politicians should beware getting on the wrong side of that anger.

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