When I taught medieval history and political thought, one of the principles we explored was the claim to consent to tax levied by the monarch – the Roman Law principle of ‘What touches all must be agreed by all’. This is what led to the development of representative government and eventually parliaments as we know them. War simply could not be paid for without getting on-side those who funded it, and, indeed, agreeing to the tax-payers’ own demands. The Hundred Years War was crucially important in this way for English constitutional history.
On St Andrew’s Day, we heard of the Scotland Bill, which will devolve tax-raising and debt-incurring powers to Holyrood. The representative government is already there (up to a point), and now the tax-raising is offered. It seems kind of back-to-front to me, but I do welcome the accountability that it may bring.
Will it force those elected to think more carefully about how they spend our money? Will they go for real commitment to the common good, or popularity stakes? Will Scotland become a high-tax big-government place or a tax haven?