In his first Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson said that Scotland has “the highest taxes anywhere in Europe”.
He was responding to criticism from the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford.
So is he correct? Let’s take a look.
We’re assuming that Mr Johnson cannot be referring to corporation tax, national insurance, VAT, capital gains tax, inheritance tax or motoring taxes, as these are set by Westminster.
But the Scottish Government does have powers to adjust the income tax rates and thresholds set in Westminster — so perhaps this is what the Prime Minister had in mind.
There are various ways we can rank countries in terms of income tax. One option is to look at what the very highest earners pay.
Using calculations by the US think tank, the Tax Foundation, that means Scotland ranks 16th out of 27 European countries on this measure.
Another significant factor is at what point these top rates kick in. The lower the top-rate threshold, the more tax individuals pay.
Here again, it’s hard to see how Scotland could have the highest taxes in Europe. As in the rest of the UK, Scots only start paying that top rate of tax on earnings over £150,000 a year. There are 18 EU member states where the top rate threshold is lower. In other words, Scotland ranks 19th in Europe by this metric.
Remember when reading this chart that tax systems where people pay more to the government are on the left, while the systems where earners pay less tax are on the right:
A slip of the tongue?
We asked Downing Street what Mr Johnson was referring to. They pointed us to the Scotland Office, who in turn directed us back to No10. We’ve yet to get an official response from either on the question — we’ll update this article if we do.
It’s notable that the Prime Minister’s claim is rather similar to one that the Scottish Conservatives made in the 2017 election. But rather than asserting that Scotland had the highest taxes in Europe, Mr Johnson’s Holyrood colleagues said that Scotland was the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom.
This is a rather more plausible proposition, although as the BBC’s Reality Check found at the time, hardly a slam-dunk either. They concluded that 2017 “changes to thresholds mean 370,000 Scots pay more income tax than those earning the same amount south of the border”, but that crucially “council tax is generally lower in Scotland, and the SNP say the country has a more generous benefits system.”
Boris Johnson said Scotland has the highest taxes in Europe. The Scottish Government has power to control a limited number of taxes, most notably income tax. No10 haven’t told us what he was referring to, but if it was income tax, it’s hard to see how he can support this claim. Looking at taxes on high earners, Scotland ranks about middle of the pack when it comes to European countries.
The comment might have been a misremembering of an earlier claim from 2017 that Scotland has the highest tax burden of anywhere in the UK. But even that is not a slam-dunk – personal income tax is slightly higher north of the border, but council tax is generally lower in Scotland than in the rest of Britain.