An unsurprising poll in the Scotsman today indicates that 75% of Scots support the continuing Council Tax freeze. Given rising inflation, VAT increases and a wage freeze for many, it is not surprising that the public favours tax cuts. This is reinforced by the fact that only 10% support a Local Income Tax at the rate necessary to replace the Council Tax.
Of course much of this polling depends on the questions you ask. I was doing a focus group with UNISON members last week and they equally, if by smaller numbers, favoured a tax cut. However, when asked the question if they favoured the charge increases most councils are implementing to plug the financial gap, the answer was no, because they identified the regressive nature of charges. Even fewer were in favour when the funding gap is identified and the consequences for further cuts in services.
All of this demonstrates one of the more dismal aspects of the election campaign, namely the unwillingness to explain the scale of the financial crisis in public spending and the consequences. It is not just the budget cuts, and they are bad enough, but they come at a time when demand for services is rising. Public finances face at least four years of cuts as part of the Con-Dem deficit reduction plan. In Scotland the downward pressure on resources could last for at least 10 years with some £40 billion of expenditure lost to public services. It could take at least a further 10 years before spending returns to 2009 levels.
The Tories claim to be telling it as it is, despite supporting a council Tax freeze and other tax cuts. However, even in the rhetoric not all candidates are on message. My local Tory MSP has sent me a mountain of paper in the last few months telling me that he is in favour of more teachers, police, better roads etc. He would be better off telling his colleagues Cameron and Osborne.