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Last Updated: Monday, 1 December, 2003, 08:36 GMT
Rifkind brands poll tax 'a mistake'
Sir Malcolm Rifkind
Sir Malcolm lost his Westminster seat in 1997
Former Scottish Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind has called the poll tax "a great political mistake".

Sir Malcolm, who was Conservative MP for Edinburgh Pentlands for 24 years, said the Community Charge was impossible to implement.

He also said the popular perception of the legislation was that everyone would pay the same, regardless of income.

He told BBC Scotland's Lesley Riddoch show that the government's presentation of the policy was flawed.

Mass non-payment

In a programme looking back at the political changes of the past 25 years, to be broadcast on Monday, Sir Malcolm said: "There is no doubt that the poll tax was a great political mistake. It was a mistake for a number of reasons.

"While people have admitted there was a tremendous movement of population in London, I think most people did not realise that there was a comparable movement of population in Manchester, in Birmingham, in Glasgow, in Edinburgh and in Newcastle.

"If people did not want to pay then it was almost impossible to trace them and implement the system."

The poll tax was introduced in Scotland on 1 April, 1989 and then south of the border a year later.

It led to a mass non-payment campaign in Scotland and riots in London before finally being abolished in 1993.

It came across as if the duke and the dustman were paying exactly the same
Sir Malcolm Rifkind

Sir Malcolm was Scottish secretary from 1986 to 1990.

He said: "I think the second political mistake that was made was that it came across as if the duke and the dustman were paying exactly the same."

"Now of course that was not true because one third of the population got major rebates and in many cases hardly paid anything at all because of their level of income.

"But that was not the way it was politically seen and that inevitably did a great deal of damage to the whole concept of the community charge."

Asked if he had attempted to convey the strength of feeling in Scotland at cabinet level, Sir Malcolm said: "Do remember that the reason the Community Charge or poll tax started in Scotland a year earlier was not because the 'rotten English' or 'nasty Mrs Thatcher' insisted upon it? Quite the opposite.

Political fray

"Scotland was seething with indignation at the ratings revaluation and with the unfairness of elderly single pensioners having to pay the same rates as a family of working adults living next door.

"For Scottish opinion at that time said: 'Look, if we can have a new system called the Community Charge or poll tax which can come into effect in Scotland now, we are damned if we are going to wait another year just because the English aren't ready.' That was the feeling at the time."

Sir Malcolm, who was a cabinet minister from 1982 to 1997, also told the programme he had no desire to return to the political fray as an MSP.

But he said he was confident the Conservatives would become the main opposition in Scotland "in the next five years".


SEE ALSO:
Tories 'can play unity card'
02 Oct 03  |  Politics
Rifkind fails in comeback bid
03 Sep 03  |  Politics


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