Holyrood 2016: Brewing up arguments to win over voters

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Media captionVoters in Scotland remain divided over taxation, according to a poll for BBC Scotland

So there I was, touring a brewery. Ok, ok, stop sniggering at the back. And, before you ask, I wasn't there to organise anything - other than some reaction to our opinion poll on priorities for the Scottish election.

Some journalists say they dislike conducting vox pop interviews. Myself, I love them. They are frequently a salutary reminder of what really matters to voters and, more significantly, what does not.

I have carried out vox pops in umpteen locations across Scotland, with varying success. I still bear the scars of trying to ask folk in Stornoway about religion - and folk in Thurso about nuclear energy.

Is tax the big issue?

But, more often than not, the experience is highly positive. It was thus during the referendum, in particular. I recall an occasion in Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street when one kind lady opted to drum up trade for me by inviting pedestrians to stop and listen.

I had a similar experience in the City Square in the great and noble city of Dundee. They formed a polite queue to offer their views on the telly.

The referendum, of course, energised politics like never before and, possibly, since. However, in the Edinburgh Beer Factory, I found more than a touch of that energy had returned to the debate. The topic? Tax.

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Image caption The BBC polling put a series of questions about tax to voters

There was drollery, naturally. What tax measure did they favour in a brewery? Complete abolition of the tax on beer, of course.

But there was thoroughly engaged argument too. They had thought, seriously and in detail, about the sundry offers on tax. I encountered talk, avid talk, about the possible penny increase on all rates, proposed by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

I heard reflected back to me the argument that folk in Scotland should not pay more at all than folk in England: that position courtesy of the Conservatives.

I heard discussion of the SNP position, the reversal of the Chancellor's effective cut for higher earners, achieved by altering the threshold for Scotland. And of the Labour plan to increase the very top rate from 45p to 50p.

There was a complete absence of zealotry. A delightful lack of minds firmly made up. These were big decisions, to be taken carefully.

Production only started at this small craft brewery last summer. They are all keenly aware that their success rests with the state of their market, mainly Scotland initially, with ambitions elsewhere.

That means the state of the economy really counts. That means tax and spending really matter. The choices to be taken at this election are critically important.

See the main articles on this site for details of the poll. But I was struck by two characteristics among my informal brewery focus group.

  1. They had thought about and were concerned with the broader impact of tax plans, not just the levies they would face themselves. They were thinking socially and economically, not just personally.
  2. There was a common desire to see real results for any increased tax.

They wanted product, discernible product. That view was expressed more than once - and tended to draw nods of assent.

  • On Tuesday, there will be more from the poll, including your views on health, education, fracking, sectarianism and the constitution.

BBC Scotland Holyrood election 2016 poll

Eight questions on tax, council tax and welfare (plus mean score)

  1. Increase the top rate of income tax for those earning more than £150,000 a year from 45p to 50p - 7.3
  2. Increase the level of free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds from fifteen to thirty hours a week in order to help parents go back to work - 7.3
  3. Keep the rate of income tax for people in Scotland at the same level as for people in England - 6.5
  4. Give those who care for people with disabilities in Scotland more in benefits than those elsewhere in the UK - 6.4
  5. Increase all rates of income tax in Scotland by 1p in the pound and spend the money raised on schools and colleges - 6.2
  6. Increase council tax for those living in more expensive homes in Scotland - 6.2
  7. Keep the income level at which people in Scotland begin to pay the higher 40p rate of income at £42,385 even if people in the rest of the UK only start paying the 40p rate on higher incomes - 5.3
  8. Increase all rates of council tax by up to three per cent and spend the money raised on schools - 5.1

All figures are mean scores based on answers provided between one and 10. One means the policy should never be put in place, and 10 means that it is very important and should be put in place quickly.

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