A Tax Too Far? The Impact of the Poll Tax in Urban Scotland

McCormick, James Patrick (1993) A Tax Too Far? The Impact of the Poll Tax in Urban Scotland. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis identifies the rationale for the poll tax, introduced in Scotland in 1989 as the replacement for domestic rates. It explains the tax as a radical event in the relationship between the state and civil society. As a dynamic and politically sensitive research subject, a number of methods were used to update the analysis and to gain alternative insights beyond the ideas made familiar in the mainstream media debates. These included analysis of local newspaper coverage and election literature, conducting a postal questionnaire and convening group discussions in four Districts in central Scotland. The importance of an emphasis on local politics in these places is tested during the thesis. The shape of the reaction both to the rates revaluation of 1985 and to the poll tax is considered by drawing upon a 'bargaining power" theory. This highlights the uneven influence over the policy-making process between people in different places and between Scotland and England (at least in how they have been represented in recent political discourses). 'Voice' and 'exit' strategies are proposed as means of negotiating the tax. These include using the local electoral process to send signals to government and exit by non-payment. This second point is pursued in a discussion of interactions within civil society (how people react to each other as local taxpayers and service users). This leads into a conceptual analysis of the significance of the poll tax in encouraging opting out from established welfare systems. A number of conclusions are reached which are neither obvious nor were emphasised in the literature. A typical judgment on the brief lifetime of the poll tax would point to how a simple tax philosophy became deeply unpopular, split the governing Conservative Party, was thoroughly rejected at the ballot box and lead to the resignation of the Prime Minister. Yet, in Scotland at least, the poll tax response was characterised largely by continuity of electoral behaviour. Because of the distinctive political pattern of the new tax burden, existing divisions were exaggerated rather than challenged. The poll tax was often explained as an attempt to make policy rooted in rational economic theory. Some argued that the apparent direction of political - cultural change (towards decentred identities for example) meant that the time for such a reform had arrived. However, this research finds that the policy process failed to understand the balance between the economic and non-economic influences on the public as local electors. The poll tax was based on a particular reading of the 'new times' (one informed by the Thatcher project). Although support for the tax is identified in the research, its eventual defeat underlined the limits of that project and the limits to radical political change.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: Ronan Paddison
Keywords: Political science, Economics
Date of Award: 1993
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1993-75587
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2019 19:22
Last Modified: 19 Nov 2019 19:22
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/75587

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