by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The Right Wing media are using a couple of tactics to limit the damage from the Paradise Papers.

The first method is the usual one of distraction. Not that there isn’t plenty of other scandalous political news around to divert attention, but the media still see it as their duty to focus on people like Bono, Lewis Hamilton and Gary Lineker (who, it must be said, is adamant that he has paid all his taxes and does not use tax avoidance schemes). By concentrating on high profile individuals from the sporting and entertainment business, the media are doing their best to divert any scrutiny of rich Tories like Lord Ashcroft or members of the Royal family, particularly the Queen who seems happy to invest in businesses which exploit the poverty her Government has inflicted on the people she considers to be her subjects.

This is all fairly standard from the media’s perspective.

The second tactic is to attempt to justify it, and this is the more insidious strategy. We hear, for example, that none of this is illegal which is true enough; we hear that it is common practice for many people and businesses to avoid paying tax, and this is also true. A third claim is that the outrage being expressed is motivated by jealousy, since anyone who earns a fortune would adopt the same tax avoidance strategies.

Now, all of these may indeed be true. A reluctance to pay tax is a human trait which is as old as the invention of taxation itself. However, that does not mean it is morally right to engage in tax avoidance on such a massive scale. The outrage is not so much that people are using legal methods to mitigate their tax obligations, but that such methods are legal in the first place. When the vast majority of people are facing tough times financially, some to extreme levels, then learning that the mega-rich are siphoning money out of the economy which could help pay for hospitals, schools, social security, emergency services and so on is what enrages people. This is not jealousy, it is righteous anger at the greed of those who are in a position to help society but instead prefer to act in a selfish manner when they already have so much money they can afford to put millions away in a tax haven.

The wealthy have always acted this way, but by seeking to excuse it on the grounds that everyone would do the same if they had the chance, the media are perpetuating the ethos of the “Me First!" culture which is so ingrained in our society. Now, of course, we would all like a bit more money in our pockets but there is another way of looking at taxation, especially for the better off in society. To begin with, is it not rather arrogant to believe that a pound in your pocket will do more good for society than a pound in the hands of a responsible Government? OK, you may stimulate the economy by spending that pound, but, once you reach a certain level of income, you are just as likely to save the money away for a rainy day rather than spend it. This doesn’t help anyone except yourself, whereas a responsible Government would use the money to fund public services which benefit everyone.

OK, that’s a bit moralistic, but hopefully it gets across the point that there is nothing inherently wrong with taxation as long as it is progressive and not punitive. Ideally, each individual should be left with sufficient income to fund a good standard of living and have the ability to save a portion of their income to cope with emergencies and their own retirement, but the main benefits to society come from the range of public services which are funded by the Government. We need teachers, schools and universities; we need doctors, nurses and hospitals; we need the Police, Fire and Ambulance Services to name but a few of the things a Government should provide.

What we also need is a change in attitude so that people take pride in paying their taxes. And, of course, we also need legislation to make tax avoidance of the sort revealed by the Paradise Papers illegal. Unfortunately, we aren’t going to see either of those things in the UK because greed and self-interest are what drives the people who run the country.

There is, of course, a solution for Scotland.