Thursday, 9 October 2014

Tax Breaks for Artists?

A very interesting headline on the front page of the Herald caught my eye this morning.

"Call for Irish-Style Tax Breaks For Artists"

Oh, yes!!

In the article, Douglas Connell, a leading tax lawyer and chairman of Museums Galleries Scotland (so presumably he should know what he's talking about) says artists should be given special tax exemptions in order to help boost cultural life in Scotland and bring significant economic benefits to Scotland.  This would be along the lines of those exemptions available already in Ireland. 'Artists Exemption' was introduced there in 1969 and is now governed by Section 195 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997.   Of course, you have to live in Ireland to get it - like this chap, Scottish writer Irvine Welsh.

Photograph: Murdo Macleod

Read the Herald article HERE. 

Mr Connell's argument is that the people involved in creative and artistic activities are on very modest incomes (tell me about) whilst contributing greatly to the artistic and cultural life of Scotland and boosting its economy.  'The Scottish Artists Incentive' would be structured, he suggests in a paper put forward to the Smith Commission, as either an additional deduction from the calculation of income tax, as is the case in Ireland, or it could take the form of a new rate of income tax to be applied to specific types of income.

Hallelulah.  I'll vote for that.

Keen readers of old political manifestos will remember that this was one of the key pledges contained in the SNP manifesto for the last election.  Well, it was key for me, and obviously a pledge which I had a vested interest in, one which would make a huge personal difference to me, my family, and to the lives of all of the people that I know in the creative industries.

Unfortunately, it didn't happen - despite having a majority in the Scottish Parliament, the SNP were unable to implement it.  According to Nicola Sturgeon, who handily called round to my house to talk about it, the problem was (and is) that Holyrood has no tax-raising powers to implement such initiatives, as these powers remain with Westminster.  The only way of implementing it was by a clunky and unworkable system of artists paying the tax, then being reimbursed in some form of a rebate or grant.  

However, how things change... 

There may have been a No vote at the Scottish Referendum, but in many ways, you wouldn't think it.  It didn't really matter how you voted, we certainly don't have the status quo any more, either in terms of the UK, or in terms of the set up of our political system.  I'm not sure how history will look at this year and the next few years, as a lot of it so far is a nebulous feeling-in-the-air of change, that's yet to shake down concretely into the next quantifiable stage - but it's certainly very interesting times to be living in and part of.  

Anyway, back to The Vow.  Now it's down to the nitty-gritty of the Smith Commission to flesh out the front page of the Daily Record (who would have thought...).  The Commission represents the opportunity to now put a whole lot of ideas on the table for all parties and no parties to discuss, including such forward-thinking tax solutions as this, ideal for small creative countries like Scotland whose great strength lies in the resourcefulness and creativity of its people.

Whether Scotland will be allowed to have such taxes rubber-stamped by the next Westminster government - and goodness knows what on earth the next government will look like, such are the strange grassroots political times that we live in - well, we'll have to wait and see.

It's a long, long time in politics between now and next May.  Watch this space.

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