‘Flip flop’ Douglas Ross ridiculed for changing position on 45p tax rate

Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, attends a Scottish Conservative fringe event at the Conservative Party annual conference at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham
Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, attends a Scottish Conservative fringe event at the Conservative Party annual conference at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham

Douglas Ross has been ridiculed for "flip-flopping" after praising the Chancellor for abandoning his controversial plan to abolish the top rate of income tax in England.

The Scottish Tory leader said Kwasi Kwarteng had made the "right decision" to keep the 45p rate in place for higher earners south of the Border following a huge backlash against the move to scrap it.

Speaking at a Scottish Tory fringe meeting at the UK party conference in Birmingham, he praised the Chancellor for listening to his critics and argued the "best part" of the new UK Government's growth plan remained in place.

Mr Ross demanded Nicola Sturgeon match the penny cut in the basic rate of tax in England, from 20p to 19p, which means that anyone earning more than £14,732 per year in Scotland is on course to pay more tax from April.

But his intervention came after he defended the "bold" mini-Budget last week, including the abolition of the top rate of income tax, and urged the First Minister to follow suit in Scotland.

Scottish Labour mocked "flip-flop Douglas Ross" and Humza Yousaf, the SNP's Health Secretary, accused him of being a "charlatan".

The about-turn risked further undermining of his authority amid recent criticism of his performance from some senior Scottish Tories that has prompted speculation that he could be ousted.

Praising the Chancellor's change of heart, Mr Ross told the fringe meeting: "I think he has made the right decision. The best part of the Government’s growth plan will remain and the area that caused the most concern has gone.

"Politicians have to listen and respond – and that’s exactly what the Chancellor has done."

He argued the mini-Budget had to be examined "in the round", with huge support provided for reducing household energy bills, and argued there were "positive elements" that should be adopted by Ms Sturgeon in Scotland.

Although Scotland already has an income tax "starter rate" of 19 per cent, this only applies to a very small tranche of earnings between £12,571 and £14,732.

Scots paying more income tax

A Scot earning £50,000 per year already pays almost £1,500 per year more income tax than someone on the same salary living in England, but this gap is on course to swell to £1,863 next April unless Ms Sturgeon takes action.

Mr Ross said: "We need to hear from Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney what they are going to do about the current situation, where if nothing changes 2.4 million people will be paying more tax in Scotland to do the exact same job south of the Border."

He added: "I’ve said I want to see parity in the tax system across the United Kingdom, I’ve made that very clear.

"There are many issues that the Scottish Government could tackle right now to make Scotland a more attractive place for people to come to, to work, to set up and do business. They have the levers and the powers to do that right now and they are not using them."

The Treasury is to hand Ms Sturgeon hundreds of millions of pounds extra that she could use to pass on the cut. Scottish Parliament researchers calculated that Scottish workers are on course to pay £1.2 billion more income tax next year than if they lived in England.

The First Minister tweeted: "UK gov U-turns on top tax rate abolition because it's a 'distraction'. Morally wrong and hugely costly for millions is a better description.

"Utter ineptitude. Perhaps those who slammed @scotgov for not immediately following suit should also be reflecting this morning."

She later told STV News that the UK Government should reassess everything in the mini-Budget, adding: "I think they need to rethink the whole package."

Mr Yousaf tweeted: "What a charlatan, only days before Douglas Ross was demanding the Scottish Government back his Westminster colleagues and give a tax cut to the wealthiest."

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour's deputy leader, said: "It is welcome news that flip-flop Douglas Ross has finally admitted that the Tories' economic plan is a disaster for people across the UK. It’s just a shame he told so many people the opposite first."