23. February 2017 · Comments Off on Defamation · Categories: Announcements, Defamation, Legal affairs

In October 2016 I received a letter from a law firm alleging defamation in relation to two blogs written by me and published on this website.

I am publishing this blog in order to:-

  1. provide an update to a wide range of individuals and organisations who have been in touch since this case became public in early December 2016.
  2. draw to the attention of a wider public the issues around the current state of defamation law in Scotland

The Timeline

On 31 October 2016 I received a letter from Burness Paull LLP (BP) alleging that I had published two blogs that were “grossly defamatory” of its client. It alleged that the blogs were “littered with false and defamatory comments” and “for the sake of brevity”, the letter listed six examples.

That client is Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC (hereafter abbreviated to WHE).

WHE sought “a full and unequivocal retraction and apology” and was advised by BP that it is entitled to “substantial compensation from you for the damage caused directly by the blogs”. I was informed that WHE “estimates its losses to be in the region of £750,000” and that WHE would also require payment by myself of all of its legal costs.

The letter informed me that that, if I did not provide a “satisfactory reply” by 14 November 2016 our instructions are to issue a summons”

On 10 November 2016, I responded to this letter through my solicitor denying the claims of alleged defamation.

On 30 November 2016, BP replied and disputed my denials and intimated that its instructions were “now to proceed with a summons”.

My solicitor responded to this correspondence with further detail  on 14 December 2016.

On 15 December 2016, BP wrote to my solicitors to intimate that they had instructed a QC and were sending papers to him that day.

As of today, 24 February 2017, no Summons has been received by my solicitor.

Scottish Green Party Conjoined

Burns Paull LLP has also issued a legal letter on behalf of WHE to the Scottish Green Party intimating that it will also be conjoined in an action for allegedly communicating the defamation via a hyperlink on its website.

Defamation Law

The significance of today’s date is that, were these allegations to be made against me under English law, I would now be free since, a pursuer has one year in which to raise an action. The law in England and Wales was modernised by the Defamation Act 2013.

The law on defamation in Scotland is under review by the Scottish Law Commission and Scottish PEN are campaigning for reform. See also the UK wide Libel Reform Campaign.

Consequences for an MSP

In the event that an MSP becomes personally insolvent (through, for example, losing a £750,000 defamation case) and sequestration is awarded to the debtor, the MSP is disqualified from being a member of the Scottish Parliament under Sections 15 and 17 of the Scotland Act 1998 read with Section 427 of the Insolvency Act 1986. During a period of 6 months following sequestration, an MSP may not participate in proceedings of the Parliament. This disqualification ends in the event that that award of sequestration is recalled or reduced. If the award remains after 6 months (ie the MSP still owes the sum awarded but cannot pay and remains insolvent) then the MSP loses their seat and a vacancy arises.

My total assets are nowhere near £750,000.

I am saying nothing further on the matter for the moment and for legal reasons this blog is closed to comments.

Please also note that anyone repeating the alleged defamation through social media is liable to being pursued for the same alleged defamation.

 

27. January 2017 · Comments Off on Declaration of Interests, Income and Tax 2015 · Categories: Announcements, Freedom of Information, Governance

Since 2010, I have been (like a couple of my self-employed writer/activist colleagues George Monbiot and Alastair McIntosh) making an annual declaration of interests, income and tax. Previous declarations can be found at the foot of the About page.

Commentators, campaigners and advocacy groups should be open about their interests and income (this story from earlier in 2014 is a good example of why I believe this to be so). I also believe that we have too much secrecy in the UK on matters of income and wealth and that if everyone’s income was openly declared, there would be much less inequality. This is not an especially radical idea. In Norway, details of every citizen’s income, assets and the tax they pay are available to the public and published on this website.

As a member of the Scottish Green Party, I also feel obliged to comply with the policy resolution passed at the 2011 Conference on Tax Evasion and Avoidance which encourages corporations and individuals to not use tax havens and to publish their accounts on a country by country basis.

In 2016 I was elected as an MSP. I will continue to publish information in this format on an annual basis but will also include a transparency page on my MSP website to draw attention to wider transparency issues in relation to my public role.

2015 INCOME
I earn my living from writing, research, consultancy, public speaking, investigation, and subscriptions from the whoownsscotland website. My accounting year is the calendar year and so for my tax return of April 2016, it is 2015. For 2015, my income was as follows.

GROSS INCOME (1)     £ 42,323
LESS COSTS (2)           £ 11,130
TAXABLE INCOME (3)  £ 31,193

My total taxable income (including bank interest & dividends) for the Year Ending 5 April 2016 was £ 33,582 on which I am due to pay tax of £4121 and Class 4 NI contributions of £2082 = total of £6203 (see tax HMRC calculation here).

During 2015 all of my income was generated from within the UK. My main clients were NGOs, private companies, law firms, print & broadcast media and royalty payments on my books.

DECLARATION OF INTERESTS 1 JANUARY 2017
I own no land or property.
I have 483 shares in Standard Life (legally I have 2453 but 1970 are held on behalf of a minor)
I am on the Board of Directors of the Caledonia Centre for Social Development (Company No. 192099 & Scottish Charity No. SC 028485).
I am a member of the Scottish Green Party and a number of charitable bodies.
I do not make use of any tax havens or artificial accounting structures to conceal my income

Also see my Parliamentary Register of Interests

NOTES
(1) Gross Income is total of all income received. This includes re-imbursment for travel costs etc.
(2) Costs are all expenses such as computers, travel, stationery, telephone, research fees (for example, search fees paid to Registers of Scotland) and other expenses of employment.
(3) Taxable income is Gross Income less expenses and is the profit on which tax is calculated.

22. January 2016 · Comments Off on Declaration of Interests, Income and Tax 2014 · Categories: Announcements, Freedom of Information, Governance

Since 2010, I have been (like a couple of my self-employed writer/activist colleagues George Monbiot and Alastair McIntosh) making an annual declaration of interests, income and tax. Previous declarations can be found at the foot of the About page.

Commentators, campaigners and advocacy groups should be open about their interests and income (this story from earlier in 2014 is a good example of why I believe this to be so). I also believe that we have too much secrecy in the UK on matters of income and wealth and that if everyone’s income was openly declared, there would be much less inequality. This is not an especially radical idea. In Norway, details of every citizen’s income, assets and the tax they pay are available to the public and published on this website.

As a member of the Scottish Green Party, I also feel obliged to comply with the policy resolution passed at the 2011 Conference on Tax Evasion and Avoidance which encourages corporations and individuals to not use tax havens and to publish their accounts on a country by country basis.

2014 INCOME

I earn my living from writing, research, consultancy, public speaking, investigation, and subscriptions from the whoownsscotland website. For 2014, my income was as follows.

GROSS INCOME (1)     £ 38,047

LESS COSTS (2)           £ 8324

TAXABLE INCOME (3)  £ 29,722

My total taxable income (including bank interest & dividends) was £30,173 on which I am due to pay tax of £3947 and Class 4 NI contributions of £1958 = total of £5905 (see tax HMRC calculation here)

During 2014 all of my income was generated from within the UK. My main clients were NGOs, private companies, law firms, print & broadcast media and royalty payments on my books.

DECLARATION OF INTERESTS 1 JANUARY 2016

I own no land or property.

I have 483 shares in Standard Life.

I am on the Board of Directors of the Caledonia Centre for Social Development (Company No. 192099 & Scottish Charity No. SC 028485).

I am a member of the Scottish Green Party and a number of charitable bodies.

I do not make use of any tax havens or artificial accounting structures to conceal my income

NOTES

(1) Gross Income is the total of all income received. This includes re-imbursment for travel costs etc.

(2) Costs are all expenses such as computers, travel, stationery, telephone, research fees (for example, search fees paid to Registers of Scotland) and other expenses of employment.

(3) Taxable income is Gross Income minus expenses and is the profit figure on which tax is calculated.

Image: Aileen McLeod MSP speaking at conference on Scottish Land and Estates.

This month, the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Aileen McLeod MSP gave two significant speeches. The first was on 19th May to the Annual Meeting of Scottish Land and Estates, a representative body of 1,351 landowners who own 2.27 million hectares of Scotland. The second was on 22 May 2015 to Community Land Scotland, a representative body of over 40 community landowners who own around 200,000 hectares of land across Scotland.

The two speeches are available below. They mark an important development in Scottish Government thinking on land reform policy. Notable among the topics covered was a focus on wealth inequality and human rights. Expect to hear more about these two topics in relation to land policy across urban, rural and marines Scotland in the years to come.

Speech to SLE 19 May 2015 (pdf)

Speech to CLS 22 May 2015 (pdf)

The Scottish Government has announced the remit and membership of the Commission on Local Tax reform. I am very pleased to have been nominated as a member of the Commission on Local Tax Reform and look forward to meeting the other Commissioners on Monday at our first meeting.

The Commission will be co-chaired by Local Government Minister Marco Biagi and President of COSLA Councillor David O’Neill. The Commission will meet for first time on February 23 and will report to the Scottish Government and COSLA in the autumn.

Marco Biagi said:

“The Scottish Government believes the current council tax system is unfair and we are acting on our manifesto commitment, and the recommendations of the Local Government and Regeneration Committee, to look at alternative approaches to local taxation.

“The Commission on Local Tax Reform will consider progressive, workable and fair systems, taking into account domestic and international evidence on tax powers and wealth distribution, the autonomy and accountability of local government and the impact on individuals who pay the tax.

“The members bring a broad range of expertise and experience and I look forward to starting this important work.”

David O’Neill said: “A great deal of work lies ahead, but this Commission is a chance to take a step back and think about the best way to pay for the local services that communities rely on every day.

“Across Scotland people are looking for the debate to break new ground, and that’s why I am determined that this Commission will be listening to people and organisations from all parts of the country, and setting out what it would take to give our local communities a real say about what matters most to them, and the best way to pay for it.”

The Commission’s Remit is:

“To identify and examine alternative systems of local taxation that would deliver a fairer system of local taxation to support the funding of services delivered by local government. In doing so, the Commission will consider:

  • The impacts on individuals, households and inequalities in income and wealth;
  • The wider macro-economic, demographic and fiscal impacts, including housing market and land use;
  • The administrative and collection arrangements that apply, including the costs of transition and subsequent operation;
  • Potential timetables for transition, with due regard to the 2017 Local Government elections.
  • The impacts on supporting local democracy, including on the financial accountability and autonomy of Local Government;
  • The revenue raising capacity of the alternatives at both local authority and national levels.

In conducting its work, the Commission will engage with communities across Scotland to assess public perceptions of the emerging findings and to reflect this evidence in its final analysis and recommendations.

The Commission will be supported by an independent secretariat comprising staff seconded from COSLA and the Scottish Government.

The membership is as follows (the Scottish Conservative Party has declined to take part).

  • Councillor Susan Aitken, SNP Local Government Convenor and Leader of SNP Group, Glasgow City Council;
  • Councillor Catriona Bhatia, Leader of Liberal Democrat Group and Deputy Leader, Scottish Borders Council;
  • Marco Biagi MSP, Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment (Co-Chair);
  • Councillor Angus Campbell, Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Leader of the Independent Group at COSLA;
  • Councillor Rhondda Geekie, Leader Of East Dunbartonshire Council and Leader of Labour Group at COSLA;
  • Dr Angela O’Hagan, Research Fellow in the Institute for Society and Social Justice Research and Convenor of the Scottish Women’s Budget Group;
  • Isobel d’Inverno, Convenor of the Tax Committee of the Law Society of Scotland and Director of Corporate Tax at Brodies LLP;
  • Mary Kinnonmonth, Manager of Dundee Citizens Advice Bureau and Member of Citizens Advice Scotland Board of Directors;
  • Dr Jim McCormick, Scotland Advisor, Joseph Rowntree Foundation;
  • Councillor David O’Neill, President of COSLA (Co-Chair);
  • Don Peebles, Head of CIPFA Scotland;
  • Alex Rowley, MSP for Cowdenbeath and Shadow Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment;
  • Andy Wightman, Writer and Researcher, representing the Scottish Green Party.

 

I will be using this blog to explore in an open manner some of the issues to be resolved in devising an enduring and robust system of local taxation. The focus is very much on what to replace the Council Tax with but of course that replacement could involve not just a better system of domestic property taxation but the repatriation of non-domestic rating, sales taxes, local income taxes and other sources of local finance.

I am very clear that we need a new system of local government finance. Any new property tax should be designed in such a way as to endure over the long-term. It should be more reflective of land and/or property values, more transparent and be capable of contributing a greater proportion of autonomous local finance than is currently the case. Local finance and taxation is a vital part of rebuilding and strengthening local democracy.

Finally, this job is unpaid. On the face of it, this means that I will have to inevitably devote less time some of my other unpaid work on, for example, land reform. However, I plan to launch a crowd-funding appeal soon that will allow me to continue (and indeed increase) the time I can devote to that topic in what is a vital year ahead.

Later this afternoon I will publish a link to the Commission’s website. Meanwhile I welcome all views on the challenge that lies ahead.

The following Media Release was issued by the Scottish Land Revenue Group today

The £60bn Route to Scotland’s Economic Independence

Devolution of new financial powers to Holyrood could lay the foundations for an independent Scottish economy within the UK, according to a new Glasgow-based think-tank.

The Scottish Land Revenue Group (SLRG) estimates that Scotland’s government could expand the economy by £59.8bn over the 5 years up to the Holyrood election in 2021 if, as expected, it is given control of the Income Tax.

The forecast assumes that the government would use its powers to rebalance the tax system. The process would begin by zero-rating the Income Tax, scrapping the existing property taxes and replacing the revenue with a new charge on location rents.

The Income Tax now yields £11.5 bn. Studies commissioned by the SLRG show that replacing Income Tax with one charge on land rents would boost employment by 55,000 jobs.

According to Dr Roger Sandilands, emeritus professor of economics at Strathclyde University: “This is not a revenue-neutral policy. By switching the way revenue is raised, the losses caused by the Income Tax are turned into financial gains.

“This is an anti-austerity strategy,” Dr Sandilands stresses. “The tax shift means that government does not have to cut public services. Tax cuts would be self-funding. Under current policies, when taxes are cut, the money does not stay in people’s pockets. Ultimately, it flows into the land market. People have to pay more to buy or rent homes or commercial properties. By collecting that revenue in the form of location rents, government can maintain current spending on services like the NHS.

“So why switch the way revenue is raised? There are two benefits. First, without reducing people’s take-home pay, it becomes cheaper to hire people. Scotland would become a magnet for investors wanting to create enterprises within the UK. This reverses the drift to London and the South-east.

“Secondly, the so-called ‘deadweight losses’ caused by bad taxes would be reduced. There is a net gain to the economy. We estimate that, if Holyrood exercised its power to zero-rate the income tax, the Scottish economy would expand faster than the UK average. GDP would increase in a virtuous cycle of growth. The boom/bust property cycle would be damped down in Scotland, and our economy would leave the rest of the UK behind.”

These themes will be explored at an SLRG conference at The National Piping Centre in Glasgow on February 25. Speakers will discuss how communities can be rebuilt, trust restored in the institutions of governance, and investment in the economy can be increased without incurring government debt.

Conference Programme

Contact SLRG to book a place

Rewards from Eliminating Deadweight Taxes: The hidden potential of Scotland’s land and natural resource rents
by Professor Roger Sandilands.

A briefing by Andy Wightman on the Scottish Government’s proposals for a Land Reform Bill has been published. It is available from the Land Reform 2014-16 page on this website (menu item Hot Topics/Land Reform 2014-16). Further briefings and blogs on this subject will be published and collated on that page.

The consultation closes on 10 February 2015. Please make your views known to the Scottish Government.

SInce 2010, I have been ( like a couple of my self-employed writer/activist colleagues George Monbiot and Alastair McIntosh) making an annual declaration of interests, income and tax. Previous declarations can be found at the foot of the About page.

Commentators, campaigners and advocacy groups should be open about their interests and income (this story from earlier in 2014 is a good example of why I believe this to be so). I also believe that we have too much secrecy in the UK on matters of income and wealth and that if everyone’s income was openly declared, there would be much less inequality. This is not an especially radical idea. In Norway, details of every citizen’s income, assets and the tax they pay are available to the public and published on this website.

As a member of the Scottish Green Party, I also feel obliged to comply with the policy resolution passed at the 2011 Conference on Tax Evasion and Avoidance which encourages corporations and individuals to not use tax havens and to publish their accounts on a country by country basis.

2013 INCOME

I ear my living from writing, research, consultancy, public speaking, investigation, and subscriptions from the whoownsscotland website. For 2013, my income was as follows.

GROSS INCOME (1)     £ 32,485

LESS COSTS (2)           £ 8,228

TAXABLE INCOME (3)  £ 24,257

My total taxable income was £25,021 on which I am due to pay tax of £2,963.40 and Class 4 NI contributions of £1,485,18 = total of £4448.58 (see tax HMRC calculation here)

During 2013 all of my income was generated from within the UK. My main clients were NGOs, renewable energy companies, civic bodies, one political party (the Scottish Green Party), print & broadcast media and royalty payments on my books.

DECLARATION OF INTERESTS 1 JANUARY 2015

I own no land or property.

I have 483 shares in Standard Life.

I am on the Board of Directors of the Caledonia Centre for Social Development (Company No. 192099 & Scottish Charity No. SC 028485).

I am currently advising the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee.

I am a member of the Scottish Green Party and a number of charitable bodies.

I currently provide ad-hoc unpaid advice to four political parties – the Scottish Green Party, the Scottish Labour Party, the Scottish Conservative Party and the Scottish National Party.

I do not make use of any tax havens or artificial accounting structures to conceal my income

NOTES

(1) Gross Income is the total of all income received. This includes re-imbursment for travel costs etc.

(2) Costs are all expenses such as computers, travel, stationery, telephone, research fees (for example, search fees paid to Registers of Scotland) and other expenses of employment.

(3) Taxable income is Gross Income minus expenses and is the profit figure on which tax is calculated.

I have not had the time to submit any very full-some submission to the Smith Commission on further devolution but I did send the following email today. I would also commend readers to the submission by the Scottish Trades Union Congress which is particularly sharp on the kinds of tools needed to develop a prosperous and fair society in Scotland.

Dear Lord Smith,

There are two specific powers which I would like to see form part of a further suite of devolved powers to the Scottish Parliament.
The Crown Estate
I have argued on many occasions that the Crown Estate Commissioners should have no role in Scotland. Evidence presented to the UK Treasury Committee, Scotland Bill Committee and Scottish Affairs Committee can be found here at the foot of the page.
The Crown Estate is a public estate and it’s administration and management should (like all other public land in Scotland) be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.
This can be achieved by repealing Section 2(3) of Schedule 5 (Part 1) of the Scotland Act 1998.
Honours and Dignities
To promote a more equal Scotland it is no longer appropriate in my view that there be an official order of precedence in Scotland. I would like to see the abolition of almost all honours and dignities. Others may take a different view. To enable such a debate to take place, the system of honours and dignities should be devolved.
This can be achieved by repealing Section 2(2) of Schedule 5 (Part 1) of the Scotland Act 1998.
Thank you.
best wishes
Andy Wightman