It’s unfortunate that the English language uses the same word – raise – to mean two different things in relation to taxation. The first meaning is simply the imposition and collection of taxes; the second is to increase the level of those taxes. The confusion between the two has inevitably coloured discussion about devolving taxation powers, and those who are opposed to the idea in principle are more than happy to exploit that linguistic confusion by encouraging the idea that devolving the power is equivalent to increasing the level of taxation.
In that context, it is in one sense encouraging that the leader of the Conservative group in the Assembly has taken to pledging that, in the inconceivable scenario that he is ever in power, his party will not use any of the new powers to increase the level of income tax. Such a clear pronouncement should help to clarify the difference between the two meanings of the one word.
I’m far from certain though that it is really sensible or credible of them to promise, apparently in relation to any and every proposed taxation power for Wales, that they will use the powers to cut taxes. It looks like a knee-jerk reaction. But it also reveals that they understand that they will never have to deliver on any promises they make.
I fear that the proportion of the population of Wales driven primarily by selfish motives when it comes to taxation is higher than many of us might wish to believe, but I’m fairly certain that it’s a long way short of a majority. The number of people who care at least as much about what the government does with taxes – health, education etc. - seems to me to be significantly higher. That’s what one would probably expect in a comparatively low income economy like Wales.An electoral strategy based on criticising the Welsh Government for the poor standards of services such as health and education whilst at the same time promising to reduce significantly the total amount of money available to spend on services is a strategy which will no doubt appeal to the Tories’ core voters, and may help to reinforce their vote. But it’s a strategy which they must surely realise will never take them anywhere close to electoral victory.