The macroeconomic consequences of Scottish fiscal autonomy: inverted haavelemo effects in a general equilibrium analysis of the tartan tax

McGregor, Peter G. and Swales, J. Kim and Yin, Ya Ping (2007) The macroeconomic consequences of Scottish fiscal autonomy: inverted haavelemo effects in a general equilibrium analysis of the tartan tax. In: Fiscal Issues in Scotland: Lessons from Home and Abroad, 2007-09-25, University of Strathclyde.

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In 1997 the Scottish people voted both for the creation of a legislative Parliament and to endow the Parliament with tax-varying powers. The establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 2000 heralded the most radical innovation in the regional fiscal system in modern U.K. history. This development has been the subject of considerable controversy, however, especially in respect of the decision to afford the Parliament the power to alter the basic rate of income tax by up to 3p in either direction. The fact that Scotland, at least according to official data, receives a substantial net fiscal transfer from the rest of the UK, and has traditionally had higher public expenditure per capita than England, leads most commentators to believe that the power to change the standard rate will, in practice, be restricted to the power to increase it (Blow et al, 1996; McGregor et al 1997). Accordingly, while the Parliament allows the use of the power to generate a balancedbudget contraction in expenditure, we focus here on the impact of a balanced-budget fiscal expansion. While Labour, SNP and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland all supported the introduction of a Parliament with tax-raising powers, the Conservatives labelled this scheme the “tartan tax” and claim that its use would be detrimental to Scotland, leading to a reduction in Scottish employment and to net out-migration. This political controversy, together with the national Labour Party’s desire to shed its reputation as a Party of high taxation, in part accounted for the Scottish Labour Party’s commitment not to exercise the tax-varying power during the lifetime of the first Scottish Parliament, despite the fact that others have meanwhile been vigorously arguing the case for full fiscal autonomy. In this paper we focus primarily on the consequences for the Scottish economy if the Parliament chooses to exercise the degree of fiscal autonomy that it already possesses. However, the factors that govern the likely macroeconomic impact of a balanced budget change also prove critical to the analysis of any region-specific tax or expenditure change, whether generated as a consequence of, for example, rigorous adherence to the Barnett formula (that, at least in principle, governs the allocation of government expenditure to the devolved authorities in the UK, et al 2003, 2007) or movement towards greater fiscal autonomy. Accordingly, we also identify the implications of our analysis for the wider debate on regional fiscal issues in general and greater fiscal autonomy in particular.