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Scottish election 2021: Fact-checking the leaders’ debate

By Reality Check team
BBC News

In their last televised debate of the 2021 Holyrood election campaign, the five leaders of Scotland’s larger political parties traded claims on tax, the pandemic and social care.

We’ve looked at some of them.

Nicola Sturgeon (SNP): ‘We reformed the tax system in the last parliament – we raised more revenue out of it’

This is correct but needs context.

From 2018, there has been a different regime for Scottish income tax payers, using newly devolved powers.

Lower earners pay a lower rate on a small tranche of their money, meaning they pay £21 per year less than someone on the same pay in the rest of the UK.

  • introduced additional tax bands
  • put up the main rates by 1%
  • raised the amount taxpayers pay on earnings above about £28,500 – and, even more steeply, to 41% above £43,663
image copyrightPA Media
image captionNicola Sturgeon, Scottish National Party leader

And this had been expected to raise, last financial year, £456m more than if Westminster’s tax bands and rates had been used.

But there has been slower growth in the Scottish tax base and in revenue than there would have been without devolved income tax.

And so, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) reports, the changes actually raised an extra £117m.

For the current financial year, however, the Scottish Fiscal Commission expects them to raise £494m more than if Westminster’s tax regime had been used.

Although, this assumes income-tax revenue in Scotland takes a proportionately smaller hit from Covid than in the rest of the UK, and, as with much current budgeting, is a very rough forecast with lots of uncertainty.

Douglas Ross (Conservative): ‘1.1 million people in Scotland are taxed more for doing the same job than the rest of the UK’

This is correct but needs context.

image copyrightPA Media
image captionDouglas Ross, Scottish Conservative leader
  • the 19% and 21% rates either side of the basic 20% rate
  • the 1% rise on the higher and top rates
  • 888,000 people now pay the 21% rate
  • 322,000 pay the 41% rate
  • 15,000 pay the 46% rate

That is a total of 1.2 million people paying more.

And the threshold for paying the higher rates is lower in Scotland than the rest of the UK.

More than half Scottish taxpayers have incomes below £27,393.

And they now pay £21 per year less than someone on the same pay in the rest of the UK, the IFS says.

image copyrightPA Media
image captionAnas Sarwar, Scottish Labour leader

Anas Sarwar (Labour): ‘A disproportionate number of people that earn over [£150,000] actually work in our public sector anyway, so they aren’t going anywhere.’

Mr Sarwar was asked if his planned 5% rise on the top rate of income tax would make people earning more than £150,000 a year leave Scotland.

About 15,000 people in Scotland earn more than £150,000.

So a “disproportionate” number would imply more than 3,150 people earning more than £150,000 worked in the public sector.

But we cannot find a breakdown of how many top earners work in the public or private sector.

Ms Sturgeon is the only minister who earns more than £150,000 – and one civil servant earns that much.

Public-sector chief executives have their basic pay capped at about £150,000 – but other compensation can take them well above that level.

Some doctors and surgeons may also earn more than £150,000.

Patrick Harvie (Greens): ‘We know that a great deal of the reason why we had a second wave was importation of new cases’

Mr Harvie was expressing caution about easing restrictions on international travel.

And a scientific report released in early December said many cases detected early in the second wave of Scotland’s epidemic could be traced back to travel abroad in July and August last year.

image captionPatrick Harvie, Scottish Greens co-leader

Between 17 July and 30 August, researchers studying the genomic history of the virus estimated, there had been 46 “import events” into Scotland, where the virus was “reseeded” into the population:

  • 28 from England
  • 13 from mainland Europe
  • four from Asia
  • one from Wales

Later in December, however, public health officials warned of the spread of a new variant of the virus, identified in Kent, which was more infectious.

image captionWillie Rennie, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader

Willie Rennie (Liberal Democrats): ‘We have got a 20% vacancy [rate] in social care’

All five leaders were asked about their plans for Scotland’s social-care sector, put under strain by the pandemic.

But we have been unable to find evidence to support Mr Rennie’s claim that 20% of job roles are unfilled.

In 2019, according to the Care Inspectorate and Scottish Social Services Council data, the rate of full-time vacancies for care services in Scotland was 6.2%, up from 5.5% in 2018.

Figures for 2020 are yet to be published.

We asked the Lib Dems where they got their figure from. An official told us it came from a GMB union report which – in turn – quoted an article from the Times which didn’t source the figure.

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