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BBC NEWS | UK | Scotland | The poll tax in Scotland 20 years on

Source 2020: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/7976782.stm | 2020-02-12

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<meta name="OriginalPublicationDate" content="2009/04/01 11:52:20" />

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<meta name="Headline" content="The poll tax in Scotland 20 years on" />
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<meta name="Description" content="BBC Scotland's Westminster reporter David Porter reflects on the impact of the poll tax in Scotland 20 years after it was first introduced." />
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<a name="startcontent"></a><div class="ds"><span class="lu">Page last updated at </span>11:52 GMT, Wednesday, 1 April 2009 12:52 UK</div>




                        
    
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				<h1>
					The poll tax in Scotland 20 years on
				</h1>
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                        <!-- S BO -->

	<p >

	<b >BBC Scotland's Westminster reporter David Porter reflects on the impact of the poll tax in Scotland 20 years after it was first introduced and explores whether the policy hastened devolution.</b>

	</p>

	
<p/>


	
<hr/>


	
<p/>


	
<!-- S IIMA -->
	
		<table border="0" cellspacing="0" align="right" width="226" cellpadding="0">
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			<div>
				<img src="http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/45622000/jpg/_45622866_poll-tax-pack-millbank.jpg2.jpg" width="226" height="170" alt="Poll tax protestors" border="0" vspace="0" hspace="0">
				<div class="cap">More than 1.5m people refused to pay in the first year.</div>
			</div>
			</td></tr>
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<!-- E IIMA -->


	<p > '' We'll nae pay the poll tax'' was one of the unofficial anthems of those opposed to the Conservative party's radical plans to refinance local government. </p>

	

	<p >The community charge, to give it its official title, was a political fix seized on by Scottish Conservatives to head off hefty rate rises, which the Tories feared would hit their core supporters. </p>

	

	<p >Under the poll tax people were taxed, rather than the properties they lived in. Scottish Tories begged for it to be introduced north of the border first. </p>

	

	<p >The result was massive non-payment, the downfall of a prime minister and arguably the reawakening of the devolution movement. </p>

	

	<p >

	<b >'Winners and losers'</b>

	</p>

	

	<p >Sir Malcolm Rifkind, was Scottish Secretary when the poll tax was introduced. </p>

	

	<p >He said: "People who benefit from a tax change, they like it but they remain fairly silent. </p>

	

	<p >"It's the people who are losing out, or think they are going to lose out, who, quite understandably, make tremendous opposition and we should have anticipated that. So it was a big mistake." </p>

	

	<p >"Winners and losers" became the community charge's catchphrase. </p>

	
<p/>


	
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	<p >A total of 700,000 summary warrants for non-payment of poll tax were issued by end of first year alone. More than 1.5m people refused to pay. </p>

	

	<p >New political martyrs such as Tommy Sheridan were born as a result of the anti-poll tax movement in Scotland. </p>

	

	<p >He said: "Her (Margaret Thatcher's) policies required opposition so people like me had to get involved in opposing her policies. </p>

	

	<p >"We were fighting the Iron Lady, and those ordinary people melted down the Iron Lady and shifted her off to the political knacker's yard, where she belongs." </p>

	

	<p >

	<b >Constitutional change</b>

	</p>

	

	<p >There were also challenges for the established parties. </p>

	

	<p >The SNP backed non-payment, but Labour's then Scottish leader, Donald Dewar had to walk a political tight rope - opposing the tax, but advocating payment. </p>

	

	<p >He said at the time: "It is a serious step however, in my view, for a party committed to parliamentary government to urge defiance of the law." </p>

	

	<p >Unlike England, there was no real violence in Scotland, there was no the equivalent of the Trafalgar Square riots. </p>

	

	<p >And it was English unrest which eventually led to its abolition. </p>

	
<!-- S IIMA -->
	
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				<img src="http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/45622000/jpg/_45622867_poll-tax-pack-millbank.jpg3.jpg" width="226" height="170" alt="Tommy Sheridan" border="0" vspace="0" hspace="0">
				<div class="cap">"Political martyrs" like Tommy Sheridan were born out of the protests.</div>
			</div>
			</td></tr>
		</table>
		
	

	
<!-- E IIMA -->


	<p >But Professor James Mitchell of Strathclyde University believes anger at the poll tax hastened constitutional change in Scotland. </p>

	

	<p >He said: "The main legacy of the poll tax has been the Scottish Parliament. </p>

	

	<p >"Opposition to the poll tax became aligned with the case for a parliament. </p>

	

	<p >"The perception grew in Scotland that the Conservative government, with limited support north of the border, was imposing policies on Scotland - and the poll tax symbolised that better than anything else." </p>

	

	<p >And 20 years on there is further proof of how contentious local government finance can be. The SNP government at Holyrood has had to postpone its own plans for a local income tax to replace the council tax.
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