Hypocrisy on stilts – Sturgeon slates Tory bid to put the brakes on parking at work charges
Sturgeon and Carlaw debate descends into personal insults.
By Bill Heaney
Thousands of people from West Dunbartonshire make the daily commute to work in Glasgow.
And although many of them take the train, a fair proportion drive up the A82 whether that’s from Helensburgh or Balloch or Dumbarton or Clydebank.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was asked at Holyrood on Thursday to explain to them why a car park tax imposed on them by a local authority whose politicians they do not elect and in whose region they do not live is a good example of local decision making?
Conservative depute leader Jackson Carlaw – one of Glasgow’s best known car dealers – was the person who asked the question.
The First Minister said she was surprised to hear this from the Tory benches since only a few months ago Nick Cook, a member of Edinburgh City Council, had asked the authority “to note the merits in principle of pursuing the power for Edinburgh to … introduce a Workplace Parking Levy.”
Jackson Carlaw was not put off by the nippy response.
He said: “Tory councillors noted the need for an economic assessment. The entire country has noted that the First Minister wants to impose a £500 car park tax on them with no assessment whatsoever.
“Do I support a back-of-the-fag-packet policy that threatens low-paid workers with a regressive tax? No, I do not. Does the First Minister not understand what that means to ordinary people across Scotland? It is equivalent to many people’s monthly rent.
“I assume from the First Minister’s answer that she is now the cheerleader in chief for people being punished for going to work and having no say, far less a vote, over that decision.”
Mr Carlaw said the SNP position on car park charges was “confused”.
On Wednesday, SNP minister Kate Forbes quoted Adam Smith, the Scottish economist, who said that taxation should be in proportion to people’s ability to pay.
He asked: “Can the First Minister explain how that entirely admirable principle, which so rightly inspired Kate Forbes, is even remotely met if a call centre worker earning less than £20,000 a year has to pay the same car park tax as a company director earning five times as much?”
The First Minister hit back: “As Jackson Carlaw well knows, the SNP Government would not impose anything on anybody.
“This is a discretionary power that councils in England already have, and councils can propose the levy on employers, not on employees. This is what the Tories used to believe: ‘We believe that decisions should be taken as locally as possible and that powers should lie with politicians elected as locally as possible’
“I am not sure when they changed their minds.
“I have been wondering whether there is a reason—other than naked hypocrisy—for the Tories’ position on the levy, and it might be something to do with this.”
She quoted how Tory councils across the country, including Argyll and Bute, which includes Helensburgh, Lomond and the Rosneath Peninsula, increased car parking charges and scrapped free parking.
Ms Sturgeon added: “The Tories on Argyll and Bute Council imposed an 800 per cent increase in car parking charges in Arrochar. There we have it: The Tories do not want to give powers to councils, because the Tories clearly do not trust Tory councils.”
Jackson Carlaw said SNP MSPs would vote for the vote for the car park tax – “Every Scottish Conservative council group leader has now said emphatically that they will not support a car park tax in their area, and every Scottish Conservative MSP will oppose the car park tax in their constituency or region.”
The First Minister said: “It is up to local councils to do the assessment and to make the case.”
Jackson Carlaw replied: “We will oppose the budget deal [brokered by the Green Party] when it comes before Parliament this afternoon. Frankly, so should SNP members, because it breaks their manifesto promises on the council tax and the basic rate of income tax.
“It risks precious tax revenue, which pays for our schools and hospitals, being lost to Scotland as people take their money elsewhere.
“Worst of all, the car park tax says to people across the country who are trying to do the right thing, who are trying to juggle school drop-offs with work, who are trying to keep Scotland going and who, in many cases, are working unsociable hours when there is no public transport provision, that they are to be punished.
“All week, SNP ministers have been desperately distancing themselves from the car park tax, and now even the First Minister will not say whether she backs it. It is a simple question: if they do not back it, why should we or anybody else?”
The First Minister said: “I back councils having the power to decide, because we do not just preach localism and empowering councils—we practise that principle.
“The Tories do not in principle oppose giving councils the power and that they oppose it only when the Scottish National Party proposes it?”
She drove the point home rather unkindly – “To coin a phrase, that is hypocrisy on stilts. I hope that Jackson Carlaw had more success when he sold second-hand cars than he is having in peddling his current line.”
Jackson Carlaw replied: “At least I had a real job.”