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Non-taxing times

There aren't many substitutes for lived experience. Book learning is more than useful mainly because it fills one's head with questions as well as knowledge.

Being a member of a numerical majority can breed certain unconscious complacencies. Plural. I had no influence over being born white and male. But carry total responsibility for what I then do.

It's not often I will quote a Labour MP with commendation. But a comment article in one of today's papers by such a person caused me to realise that my reaction to recent events was an example of unconscious bias in my thinking.

The UK Prime Minister has announced his economic response to the pandemic. It can be criticised on so many fronts. And my take on it, as with many commentators, was largely economic. It's tiny compared to the need. It's not new money. It provides little or nothing for Scotland and Wales. All true.

Investing in infrastructure is suggested as a way of building a way out of the economic crisis that is the bedfellow we'll be sleeping with long after the virus is under control. And I just hadn't twigged that with only 10% of the new jobs which may be created likely to be taken up by women, their plan is also a gender issue. The figure comes from the Labour MP's article. But having had it brought it to my attention, even if I could find a different figure from somewhere else, the principle it captures seems absolutely correct.

Now in Scotland, I suppose part of my gender blindness on this issue lies with my mentally having outsourced consideration of such issues to others. I don't mean Parliamentary colleagues. Almost anything that moves in policy and legislative terms in our Parliament comes accompanied by an "impact assessment". Within that, is a consideration of gender impacts. So when I read the material that hits my desk, it's generally a quick glance to note that the professionals have done the assessment and come up with "nothing to see here".

It raises the more general issue of how I, and fellow Parliamentarians, should respond to the lived experience of people who are discriminated against in our society because their experience is individual.

On gender, my spouse was not allowed to enter her employer's pension scheme until 1975 when it became a legal requirement after the 1970 Equal Pay Act. She carries that discrimination with her 45 years later in the reduction in her company pension payment every single month when compared with a man who started the same day and earned the same salary as she did throughout her working career. In our case, that hasn't tipped us into penury. But the many women affected by the UK Government's deferring of their right to the state pension, will not be so lucky.

So even with a particular gender issue being part of my life, I clearly am still not applying that sensitivity on a wide enough basis.

Now writing this down here is a form of catharsis, a mea cupla, and an attempt to refocus my own consideration of such issues in future.

I regularly meet people who are discriminated against not for what they do but for what or who they are. Be they a member of an ethnic minority, being discriminated against because of their religion, gay, trans, or whatever, my door is open. It doesn't mean I necessarily possess the key to solving all the problems brought to me. But it can increase my sensitivity to such issues for later when I may have the opportunity to help move issues closer to equity of treatment.

There are, however, some discriminations I actively encourage.

Recently the Clydesdale Bank group bought over Virgin Money. I have become aware that they have been writing to account holders about the implications of the proposed re-branding of their branches to "Virgin".

Now I certainly regard my personal reaction to the discarding of a traditional name as essentially an emotional one. In the North East we recall that "our" bank used to be the Clydesdale & North of Scotland Bank. Some years back, in the name of simplification, it became just "Clydesdale".

But it appears that the Virgin brand is going to be "rented" by Clydesdale for reasons that escape me.

Richard Branson probably owns the "Virgin" brand. I have to express that as merely a preliminary conclusion on my part and suggest it is highly likely that he does. He certainly created the brand in the 1970s.

His Wikipedia entry states that; "In 2013, Branson described himself as a 'tax exile', having saved millions in tax by ending his mainland British residency and living in the British Virgin Islands".

The existence of offshore tax havens to which profits created here are exported at a very considerable cost to our taxpayers is morally and practically repugnant to me.

A brief attempt to look at Virgin's UK existence via the records at Companies House did not assist me very much.

Virgin Limited, company number 01946167, was incorporated on 10 September 1985. The nature of business recorded there is "99999 - Dormant Company". The most recent accounts cover the period to the end of 2018 and show that its current assets are two pounds.

Virgin Management Limited, registration number 1568894, next on the list, is shown as dissolved. It is linked to VGF Advisors (UK) LLP, Company number OC330228, which is also shown as dissolved.

I'll skip down the list of "Virgin" companies shown by Companies House to Virgin Money PLC, registration number 06952311. No records relating to its activities have been lodged for public view. It seems to be associated with Eagle Place Covered Bonds LLP, company number OC412988. Clydesdale Bank Plc displaced Virgin Money Plc as a "person with significant control" of this company on 21 October 2019.

I won't take you through the accounts for this company except to show two specific quotes from its annual report to the end of 2018.

"On 9 April 2018 the LLP acquired a £1,050 million beneficial interest in a mortgage loan portfolio originated by Virgin Money ..."
and
"The LLP made a profit of £2,700 in the current year ..."

All of this is perfectly legal and my extracts are very far from showing a complete picture of the business activity or tax position of Virgin or Richard Branson. I am not an expert in either company tax law or company accounts.

But I reserve the right to discriminate against individuals who are self-described tax exiles.

My active discriminations are based on what people do, not who or what they are.

Who we do business with is a matter for each of us. In many instances, there is little option but to give our custom to companies that might be thought to export their profits to low-tax or no-tax regimes. But when there are alternative options and we are in possession of knowledge from reputable sources that can inform us, we should make moral choices.

I will try to discriminate against tax exporters.

But be more sensitive where it matters.

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