In August 2016, Oxfam Scotland launched a campaign calling on senior politicians in Scotland to back fairness and transparency in our tax system. In particular, we were concerned by reports alleging that a Scottish legal mechanism known as “Scottish Limited Partnerships” (SLPs) was being misused by tax dodgers. Oxfam cares about tax dodging because we know it is the poorest people – in Scotland and globally – who lose out when governments are denied vital revenue.
We asked people across Scotland to write to the Secretary of State for Scotland and the leaders of the five parties represented in the Scottish Parliament, asking them to publicly unite in supporting action to close any loopholes in the law. There was a great response from our supporters: over 2,100 people contacted politicians to demand action. All five party leaders in Holyrood have supported our campaign. We now hope that the UK Government will introduce the necessary legislation to ensure that SLPs can
no longer be misused to avoid tax.
The party leaders were asked to support the following statement:
“I agree that tax avoidance, wherever it happens, is wrong. It denies Governments – at Scottish and UK levels, as well as within developing countries – vital revenue which could be used to tackle poverty and fund schools and hospitals. I will work with other parties to ensure Scotland isn’t unintentionally helping tax dodgers and that we prevent any perception that this is the case. I will support efforts to immediately close tax and other loopholes which allow ‘Scottish Limited Partnerships’ to be abused in order to protect Scotland’s reputation for
professionalism, fairness and transparency.”
Here are the responses to Oxfam’s campaign from the leaders of the five parties represented in the Scottish Parliament, in full:
Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister of Scotland
“Thank you for your letter of 19 August, highlighting concerns about the misuse of Scottish Limited Partnerships and seeking my support for a statement on tax avoidance. As you will be aware, this issue was discussed during First Minister’s Question Time in the Scottish Parliament on 8 September.
I welcome the recognition in your letter of the strong stance that the Scottish government has taken on tax avoidance. We are determined to act decisively on avoidance wherever we have powers to do so.
As part of that, we have taken a simple, clear but robust approach to tackling artificial tax avoidance. The Scottish General Anti-Avoidance Rule (GAAR) allows Revenue Scotland to take action against tax avoidance arrangements which are considered to be artificial, even if they otherwise operate within the letter of the law. The rule is significantly wider than the corresponding UK GAAR which is based on a narrower test of ‘abuse’ rather than ‘artificiality’. A number of targeted rules have also been included in the legislation already passed on devolved taxes, reducing
the scope for avoidance activity.
On the specific issue of Scottish Limited Partnerships I am clear that whilst we must be careful to preserve the many benefits that these offer to legitimate businesses, it is equally important to ensure that Scotland is not seen as a safe haven for those who wish to pursue criminal activity. As you note in your letter, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution has accordingly written to Greg Clark MP to highlight the Scottish Government’s concerns and seek his commitment and support to closing off any loopholes which may provide opportunities for criminal activity.
Whilst the regulation of company formation is a matter reserved to the UK Government, the Scottish government will continue to press for action in this area.
On that basis, I would be very happy to add my name in support of the statement set out in your letter.
Ruth Davidson MSP, Leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party
“Thank you for your letter regarding the misuse of Scottish Limited Partnerships (SLPs). The Scottish Conservatives support your statement against the tax avoidance and the misuse of SLPs.
As you know, I have spoken out against tax avoidance and supported the UK Government’s efforts to clamp down on those who seek to exploit loopholes for their own financial benefit.
While it is important to note that Scottish Limited Partnerships are legal, I have been concerned by reports linking SLPs to criminal activities.
Tax dodges leave people with a simmering indignation and a feeling the system seems rigged against them. That is why I support measures to look at closing loopholes, including the case you raise with Scottish Limited Partnerships.
Thank you once again for taking the time to write to me. The party is happy to further engage with you [Oxfam] on the matter.
Kezia Dugdale MSP, Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
“Thank you for your email.
The Scottish Labour Party stands very firmly against tax avoidance, and this was a part of our manifesto during the recent Scottish Parliament elections.
I am very happy to add my name to the statement below, and support the work to seek a review of the use of SLPs so they cease to be able to be misused for criminal purposes.
We want to see an end to tax dodging in all sectors of society, and would ban companies who practice aggressive tax avoidance from winning public contracts. These companies get billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money – to supply our hospitals, run our buses and build our schools. A condition of those deals should be if they don’t pay their taxes, they don’t get taxpayers’ money.
We believe that Government should set an example on good work, and so we would legislate to ensure that government contracts are only awarded to companies who treat their workers fairly, don’t participate in blacklisting or other discriminatory practices, pay their workers at least the real living wage and pay their fair share of tax.
We want to use the procurement process to tackle aggressive tax avoidance. By joining up procurement with local supply chains, including our manufacturing base, we can boost employment and investment in the Scottish economy.
Patrick Harvie MSP, Co-Convenor of the Scottish Green Party
“Thank you for writing to me about tax avoidance and the recent coverage exposing the use of Scottish Limited Partnerships (SLPs) by global tax dodgers.
I wholeheartedly support Oxfam Scotland’s campaign and I am proud to add my name to the pledge to take united action with the leaders of Scotland’s other political parties on this scandalous situation. Last week, I asked the First Minister if she too supported the aims of Oxfam’s campaign and was glad to hear her assurance that the Scottish Government is in full agreement to close the legal loopholes that have
made Scotland appealing to what I have called “corporate kleptomaniacs.”
The Scottish Greens have long been calling for action corporate tax avoidance. My fellow Green MSP, Andy Wightman, has been an outspoken campaigner for tax reform and the need for greater transparency on SLPs and on those who gain from playing the system (read more here). The Scottish Greens are committed to ending tax avoidance, estimated to be worth a staggering £120 billion in 2014,
and putting in place a tighter tax system. The money recovered could then be reinvested to fund vital public services and provide greater support for the most vulnerable in our society. I have previously questioned the Scottish Government about its commitment to tax reform, and you can read more here and here.
I was greatly disappointed to see a SNP MP’s recent amendment to place stricter controls on SLPs voted down at Westminster, and will continue to continue to demand action from both the Scottish and UK Governments on closing the loopholes that allow tax dodgers to make unfair gains. Even within devolved powers, there is much we can do to stigmatise tax avoidance, and to bar those who indulge in it from taxpayer-funded support. I believe that Scotland can be bold and creative in designing a fair tax system and tackling tax
Willie Rennie MSP, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats
“The Panama Papers revealed tax avoidance on an industrial scale. Cracking down on those people and companies who choose to hide their wealth to avoid paying tax, here or oversees, is absolutely the right thing to do. This is money that should be going into public services such as our schools and hospitals.
We need to ensure people can have faith in the system and that it works in our globalised world. Serious concerns have been raised about Scottish Limited Partnerships (SLPs) amid reports that they are being marketed as tax avoidance vehicles and as lacking in transparency. The English and Scottish Law Commissions have long recommended reform of SLPs. The raising of red flags means we need an urgent review of how they are regulated and operating in practice.
Elsewhere, Scottish Liberal Democrats continue to press for greater transparency and accountability. For example, we would end government support for tax-dodging firms and give Parliament the chance to ensure those companies receiving big grants pay their fair share. We also need the rules to firmly outlaw structures that are designed purely or largely to avoid tax and stronger penalties for repeatedly participating in aggressive avoidance schemes.
We can’t afford for Scotland’s reputation as a place to do business to be tarnished. We need to clamp down on evasion, avoidance and fraud, wherever it occurs. The UK and Scottish Governments need to work together to boost transparency and ensure SLPs cannot be abused.
I would like to add my name in support of the Oxfam statement.”