Contention in Scotch Parliament for light taxation – Inequalities of taxation – Examples of overtaxation during the last thirty years – Loss on Government expenditure – The Union a financial loss to Scotland.
THE financial aspect of the Union of 1707 is certainly not the least important chapter in the series of events recorded in our pages. The proportion of taxation which the respective countries were to bear was keenly debated in the Scottish Parliament. Whether population or contribution to the revenue was to be the basis of representation was also discussed long and earnestly by our ancestors. The English Commissioners insisted that contribution to the revenue should form the basis of representation, and it was calculated that 30 Members of the House of Commons was Scotland’s proper quota. The Scotch contended for population, which would have given them 171 Members of the House of Commons. We all know that a compromise was made, and that 45 up to 1832 stood as the number of representatives from Scotland. Now, such an insignificant position was not accepted without what the Scotch Parliament thought to be an equivalent. Scotland had no national debt: the government of the country was simple and inexpensive, and the money needed for carrying on the Government was mainly derived from a tax upon the land. To fix this land tax in relation to England seemed to them to be the best way of securing a mild for Scotland. Her contribution to the taxes of the United Kingdom was to be one-fortieth that of England, and this was agreed to in Article 9 of the Treaty of Union. We are not aware that the letter of the law has been broken, but certainly the spirit of it has been departed from entirely. Instead of raising the land tax from time to time to meet the requirements of the revenue, new imposts were invented, of which Scotland, as will be seen hereafter, had to bear an unjust proportion. It will be seen by Article 10 that Scotland was to be exempt from Stamp Duties, also by Article 11 from window lights. Now the process by which the Scots were defrauded of the rights secured to them by the Treaty was simply to let the Acts from which they were exempt lapse, and then re-impose them in another form in the British Parliament, where Scotland’s voice was only 45 to England’s 513, and apply the new impost to the United Kingdom.
It will thus be seen that at the very beginning of the financial relations of the two countries, England was too much for Scotland, and then began that species of plunder which continues to this day. In the earlier years of the eighteenth century the poverty of the country yielded only a poor harvest, but the English tax-gatherers were diligent gleaners, and secured no inconsiderable revenue from Scotland. It is indeed doubtful if the present inequalities of taxation press more heavily upon the average citizen now than they did in former years. In no year since the Union has there been any generosity shown to Scotland, but the numerical power of the English in Parliament has been used unsparingly to plunder the smaller people. It was only, however, after the rise of the prosperity of Scotland, which began with the first years of the present [19th] century, and took its full flow since 1832, that the English Chancellor of the Exchequer reaped the full benefit of his attention to Scotland. We will take three decades as an illustration of the plundering we refer to – that is, from 1861 to 1891, thirty years in all. The first ten years – that is, from 1861 to 1871 – the average rate of taxation each year per head of population in Scotland was £2, 11s 5¼d, while the English taxation was only £2, 9s 4½d, a difference of 2s 0¾ against Scotland, which in a population of 3,069,404 amounts to £316,532. This, in ten years, comes to £3,165,320. From 1871 to 1881 the next decade, the taxation per head of population in Scotland was £2, 12s 6¼d, and in England £2, 2s 11¼, or 9s 7d more per head for Scotland than for England. This, in a population of 3,368,921, amount to £1,614,274, which in the ten years amounts to £16,142,740. When we come to the year 1881, the first of the last decade, we find that while Scotland contributed per head of population £2, 5s 9d, England’s share of the public burdens was only £2, 2s 4¼d, or 3s 4¾d less, which in a population of 3,745,485 amounts to £635,952, and in the ten years amounts to £6,359,950. The figures are instructive, for in these thirty years of Scotland’s prosperity she has been compelled to pay no less a sum than £25,668,010 more than she was bound to contribute according to the standard of England. The above figures have been made up by taking the first year of each decade as the average assessment. If each year of the thirty were taken separately there would likely be some little difference, but we believe the above large sum fairly represents Scotland’s loss during these years, and is not overstated.
When we have drawn the attention of some of our English friends to the unfair way in which Scotland is treated in the mode of taxation, the reply we have always received is that the same taxes are levied in England as in Scotland, and if Scotland yields more per head of population, then she must be richer and better able to do so. Now this is one of those plausible statements that will deceive the unwary. It happens, however, that there are means of controverting it from official sources. At a meeting of the Royal Statistical Society in London Mr Robert Gillies, of the Board of Trade Department, read extracts from a book he is about to publish on accumulation of capital in the United Kingdom in 1875-85. From this paper we find that the English per head of population held property worth £308, while the Scotch had only £243. It is clear then that on any principal of equity, Scotsmen ought to contribute less than Englishmen, yet what do we find. The average assessment in Scotland during those thirty years was £2, 9s 10½d per head of population, while England only contributed £2, 4s 10½d. By working out a sum in proportion – thus: If £243 yields £2, 9s 10½d, what ought £308 yield? £3, 3s 216/27d is the answer, and when we deduct the £2, 9s 10½d from this sum we find Scotsmen have paid 10s 45/54d more per head than the just share which in the average population of 3,368,921 amounts in the thirty years to no less a sum than Ninety-two millions, six hundred and eighty four thousand, thee hundred and nineteen pounds.*
While the above shows what Scotland has lost in over-taxation, let us now consider her loss from the seat of Government being removed out of the country. The partiality of all parties to England has told with severe effect upon us. We will take first the army and navy, to which Scotland contributes her full share, and in equity ought to reap her proportion of benefit. The military and naval arsenals being all located in England, the expenditure on these services is reduced to the smallest possible proportion in Scotland. The annual loss from military expenditure has been calculated at £500,000 a year, but to be modest, let us say £300,000. The same authority from which we quote estimates1 the loss in the naval services at £200,000 a year. Let us now consider the civil service, and here again Scotland is treated with injustice, being an annual loser of £500,000. Again, in the Customs and Inland Revenue Department the loss is £100,000 a year; while in the Post Office and telegraphic services the loss is £200,000. Let us put all these sums together and see what they amount to – £1,300,000 – and, if we take this as a fair average of the thirty years, we find that in that period of our prosperity we have been robbed of no less a sum than £39,000,000. If we add the figures of overtaxation, the enormous sum of £131,684,319 has been extracted from Scotland.**
We will not weary our readers with any more figures; what we have already given are startling enough. The loss of time and money in having to go to London for our Private Bills, the loss from appeals from our Courts to the House of Lords, contrary to the letter and spirit of the Treaty of Union, the loss from all our nobility and gentry living in London would swell the amount by millions. The only wonder is not that we are poorer than England, but that there is any money left in Scotland at all. We can only account for this by the amazing industry of our people and the genius they have applied in developing the resources of the country. It will not be amiss, however, is we point out that the dismal forebodings of our ancestors have been more than realised; the union with England has been a financial curse to Scotland. On reflection we do not think any other result was possible, the inequality of representation between the two countries was so great that nothing short of a miracle could have presented the one from being plundered by the other. He who holds the purse is master of the household, and the same rule applies to nations. England holds the purse; and to get any of it back is as painful an operation as the extraction of a tooth. Let us counsel our readers to take a note of the sums our country had been plundered of and consider what it implies. We speak of millions with a glib tongue, but we hardly realise what they mean. He who had made a fortune of £20,000 by a long life of industry is considered a fortunate man. See how many life fortunes the millions we have been plundered of amounts to. Many an honest family has been brought up, educated, and stared in life on £100 a year. How many families would these millions have kept? Thousands of lives have been lost around our shores for the want of Harbours of Refuge. Our own money would have surrounded our shores with them, but our fishermen must perish to swell the pride and bloated luxury of London. We will not dwell longer on this painful subject. The past cannot be recalled, but if we still tamely submit to be plundered we will deserve the derision and scorn of the English, and learn the truth of the Scotch proverb, ‘The simple man is the beggar’s brother.’2