Yesterday, the noted GERS blogger, Richard Murphy (Professor of Practice in International Political Economy) appeared in the Scottish Parliament to give his tuppence (or thruppence if you don’t believe the data) worth.
As per usual, his simple, core points get to the heart of the matter:
“The amount that is known about Scottish taxation is very little indeed. Let’s put it bluntly. Inside GERS, 25 of the 26 income figures are estimates.”
Quoting the director of the Fraser of Allander Institute, Professor Graeme Roy (who was responsible for preparing the figures for a number of years):
“They (the GERS estimates) are prepared on the basis that Scotland is a mini-part of the UK, and the figures are simply an apportionment of the UK as a whole.”
Mr Murphy continues:
“Nobody would ever prepare the income statement for a region; a devolved country; whatever else, on the basis of samples or statistics, if you could actually collect the population data.”
“If the GERS statement was so good as a basis for estimating Scottish taxation income, then the UK would use that system as a whole, but I assure you, it doesn’t. It actually uses the data on the amount of tax collected.”
An excellent point. If the estimates are so good, why not use them on a UK-wide basis? The Poll Tax wasn’t effectively tested in Scotland to everyone’s satisfaction, and yet it was adopted across the whole of the UK after just a year of testing (and lasted less than a year from adoption).
If something is good and reliable, then it’s worth sharing or duplicating, isn’t it? Hmm.
He rounds up with some common sense:
“Scotland very definitely needs a bigger share of taxing powers, and at the moment you simply do not have the right information.”
“I tell my students, when I teach them about the quality of data they’re going to interpret, to actually look at whether it’s good information or not, and the phrase I use is CRAP.”
“CRAP is a technical term. It stands for ‘Completely Rubbish Approximations’. That’s what you (Scotland) get to assess your tax system at present.”
I can’t help but like the man’s logic. All he’s advocating is more useful data, or for the existing data we have to be as accurate and as useful as possible. Nothing more. If anyone is arguing with that, why are they arguing with that?
One last point. He notes in his blog that, “There was no dissent anywhere in the room.” Politicians do listen sometimes.
You can listen to him yourself via his blogpost here.