Secret files released under the 30 year rule have confirmed that senior Tories plotted to “experiment” on Scotland by introducing the Community Charge, dubbed the 'Poll Tax' by many, there first.
Oliver Letwin – who was then part of Margaret Thatcher’s Policy Unit – wrote a letter in which he suggested using Scotland as an “experiment”, to avoid accusations of “being rash” by proposing it for England and Wales at the same time. The letter concludes “we therefore recommend that, if you are not willing to move to a pure residence charge in England and Wales immediately, you should introduce a mixture of taxes but should rather use the Scots as a trailblazer for the real thing.”
Meanwhile his colleague David Willetts – who was part of the same Policy Unit – wrote a memo stating “Scotland and Northern Ireland have their snouts well and truly in the public expenditure trough. The challenge is to find a politically acceptable way of putting them on the same diet as the English.”
Commenting, SNP Deputy Leader Stewart Hosie MP said: “These declassified files confirm that key Tory figures plotted in secret to use Scotland as a guinea pig for the Poll Tax, so that they could avoid accusation of ‘being rash’ by trying to bring in a similar system in England and Wales. These memos reveal the arrogant and contemptuous attitude towards Scotland that is the hallmark of the Tories."
Continuing Mr Hosie said: "Key figures who were responsible for inflicting the Poll Tax on Scotland are now senior members of the Tory-led Government that has inflicted modern disasters like the Bedroom Tax on Scotland. That continued failure to look after Scotland’s interests only underline why we need to be able to make our own choices on tax and welfare in Scotland, rather than leaving such decisions in the hands of Tories at Westminster who have shown they cannot be trusted to act in the interests of people in Scotland."
The papers also show that the Treasury and senior Downing Street aides made another bid to slash Scottish funding by having the Barnett Formula suspended. They show that David Willetts, now a senior Tory MP but then one of Mrs Thatcher's aides, accused Scotland and Northern Ireland of having "their snouts in the trough of public spending". However, Mrs Thatcher personally blocked attempts to cut the Scottish budget despite her then Chief Treasury of the secretary John McGregor suggesting the Scotland Office and MoD were "the two big areas" where spending could be cut.
SNP Deputy Leader Stewart Hosie added: "These revelations prove beyond doubt that the Tory obsession with slashing Scotland's budget goes back decades. As was then and remains the case today, Scotland more than pays its way – and for each of the past 32 years we have generated more tax per head than the UK as a whole. But in the aftermath of the referendum, the Tories have been quick to renew the threat to Scotland's budget. Along with their efforts to shoehorn the issue of English votes for English laws into discussion on more powers for Scotland, their renewed enthusiasm to inflict further spending cuts on the people of Scotland is blatantly obvious."
Concluding Mr Hosie said "Mrs Thatcher may be gone, but David Willetts remains a senior Tory MP today – and the release of this information serves as a stark reminder that as long as Westminster has powers over the Scottish budget, the threat to cut it will remain. This is precisely why Scotland must have control over our own finances - and more powers to strengthen and grow the Scottish economy, and tackle inequality."
Also commenting Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, Jonathan Ashworth, said: "Oliver Letwin was a key architect of the poll tax, so enthusiastic about it he pressed Margaret Thatcher to push ahead with its introduction. Over the years he has called for further privatisation of the NHS and for public expenditure at 35 per cent of GDP. Today he is David Cameron's policy chief at the heart of his Government. It seems that the Tory Party never changes."