Who are Scotland's "squeezed middle", and what, precisely, are they supposed to be in the "middle" of? The right wing press have begun to do their collective dingers about Nicola Sturgeon's hints yesterday, that George Osborne's decision to hike the threshold for paying the higher rate of tax looks unlikely to apply in Scotland once the Scotland Bill powers are enacted.
In the current tax year, individuals across the UK pay 40% tax on earnings over £42,385. Come 2017/18, the chancellor intends to shift the threshold for the higher rate to £45,000. The First Minister has said cutting income taxes for "those on the highest incomes at a time when support for the disabled is being cut and at a time when our public services are under pressure, is in my view the wrong choice.”
For Alan Roden, and the Scottish Daily Mail, this is an outrage and a scandal. "Middle Scotland will pay highest tax in UK" their headline this morning screams, a "family tax grab". Mr Roden goes on to flesh out his indictment of this supposed Scottish Government larceny.
"Nicola Sturgeon yesterday confirmed that Scotland's squeezed middle will be punished with the UK's highest taxes to pay for the SNP's vote-winning policies. The First Minister said George Osborne's tax give away for nurses, teachers and police is "not a choice I am going to make."
With the paper's characteristic combination of sentimentality and nastiness, this opening paragraph summons up a ghoulish mental picture of the SNP government, persecuting the ordinary bobby, picking the pocket of self-sacrificing and industrious ward sisters, and shellacking that lovely, soft-voiced primary school teacher you cherished as a youngster. It implies that fairly ordinary workers, earning fairly ordinary pay cheques, will be "punished" if John Swinney decides not to make the richest sections of this country even richer. Even a little rummaging shows that this a breathtaking distortion, a falsehood, a flat out, old-fashioned lie.
First, start with the basics. The latest official figures suggest that the median annual earnings of a Scottish worker before tax is £27,045 - a mighty £15,370 short of any liability to pay the higher rate of income tax. Most Scottish workers need a pair of binoculars to see the upper rate of tax, never mind to benefit from Mr Osborne's unnecessary cuts. And what do you know? Precisely the same thing goes for each of the professions Mr Roden mentions in his forked-tongued news report. Nurses, teachers, police officers - the overwhelming majority of these public sector workers won't gain a single penny from Osborne's upper rate hike and won't lose a single penny if John Swinney refuses to play copy cat.
First, take nurses. The NHS in Scotland helpfully publishes workforce information, including data on the salary bands of its staff. Even more helpfully, they break down the data for nursing staff and midwives. So what does it tell us? At the end of December 2015, the NHS employed 59,287 nursing and midwifery staff. These staff are paid on nationally negotiated pay scales, running from £15,385 at the bottom of band 1 to £100,431 per annum at the top of band 9, depending on their seniority.
But the overwhelming majority of nursing and midwifery staff are employed on contracts of band 7 of lower. And - yes, you've guessed it - the highest point in band 7 for nursing staff in Scotland is a salary of £41,373 - still just over £1,000 short of paying the higher rate of income tax at its current level. In fact, according to official stats, at most, only 2% of Scottish nursing staff are in a position to benefit from Mr Osborne's upper rate tax cut. 58,111 staff are employed at band 7 or lower compared to just 1,176 above that, while the overwhelming majority of nurses and midwives (36,570) are employed on salary bands 5 (£21k - £28k) and 6 (£25k - £35k). Point to me, I think, Mr Roden.
So what about the teachers Nicola Sturgeon is supposedly "punishing"? Oopsie daisy. Same problem. Scottish teachers have their own nationally negotiated bands of pay, running from £22,416 for probationers, up to £35,763 at band six. Different rates apply for principal teachers, and for the higher ups in the head-teachers' offices, some of whom would benefit from the chancellor's upper-rate tax cut. But the overwhelming majority of Scotland's 48,000 teachers? Not a sausage. Even without a hike, they're still earning £6,622 a year shy of the current threshold to pay 40% income tax.
And police officers? Surely Mr Roden must have called at least one of these right? Surely the bollocks cannot be entirely unmitigated? Alas, alas. First, look at Police Scotland's pay and grading rules. Police constables take home £23,493 on their first year on the job, increasing to £36,885 over long service. There are no higher rate tax payers here. But what if you are promoted to sergeant? Then your pay jumps from £36,885 to £41,451 per year. Even on the current threshold of £42,385, police sergeants still wouldn't be paying a single penny of the higher rate of tax. By contrast, the Chief Constable (salary, £212,280), and his higher ranking subordinates would have to contribute more if Osborne's cuts are not implemented north of the border.
But just like nursing staff, and just like teachers, the overwhelming majority of police officers are not employed in senior positions, earning fatter pay cheques. The most recent statistics suggest that over 90% of Scottish police officers serve and are paid at constable or sergeant level who will not pay a penny more income tax, even if Osborne's tax plans are not implemented by the Scottish government. English police forces show a similar breakdown, by the by, with 93% of officers holding commissions as sergeants and constables.
So let's summarise. Reality, according to Alan Roden, is that George Osborne's tax cuts for the top 10% - 15% of highest earners represented a "tax give away for nurses, teachers and police" and that "Scotland's squeezed middle will be punished" by the SNP if a matching cut is not made to Scottish rates of income tax. Reality, according to the evidence, suggests that 90% of police officers would not be worse off, 98% of nurses would not be worse off, and the overwhelming majority of Scottish teachers would not be worse off, if the higher rate of tax was simply maintained at its current rate. Misinformation doesn't cover it.
So where do we find this fabled "middle Scotland"? If the Daily Mail's analysis today is anything to go with, wedged deep, deep in the midst of naked self-interest, rampant delusions, lies about our economy and and a fog of utterly misplaced self-pity.