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The Commission on Local Tax Reform was set up by the Scottish government in February 2015 to consider reform of local government taxation. In this article, submitted as written evidence to the Commission, I make the case for a land value tax (LVT). 1. Local tax should be based on… The value of the land you own. This is for reasons first set out by Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations (WN) Book V. I am pleased that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance referred to this in his speech introducing Land and Buildings Transactions Tax (LBTT). A land value tax is the best of all taxes for three reasons. Land doesn’t move and can’t be hidden. Land tax best satisfies Smith’s canons of taxation (proportionate to benefits received; certain; convenient; non-distorting – see Wealth of Nations, Book V.ii.b) It taxes ground-rents, which Smith calls ‘a still more proper subject of taxation than the rent of houses’, because ‘no discouragement will thereby be given to any sort of industry’.

The European Union has expanded considerably since its inception as the European Economic Community in 1957. At that time it had just 6 members: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands. Today it has 28 members, including 15 that have joined since 2000: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia in 2004; Bulgaria and Romania in 2007; and Croatia in 2013. One of the criticisms to which the EU has been subjected, at least in the UK (and I presume other Western European countries as well), is that Eastern European countries should not have been admitted when the disparities of income between the economies of Western and Eastern Europe were still so great. The reason being that free movement of labour between member states (one the EU’s four freedoms) permitted large-scale migration from East to West, which is alleged to have had impacts such as bidding down the wages of low-skilled workers, and increasing crime.

The gathering heard from the historian David Marquand whose latest book Mammon’s Kingdom explores the history and values of the public realm and its relationship to democracy. The public realm is an elusive term, noted Marquand, which denotes a sphere of human life that is not the market, but not the private realm of family and friendship either. It is the belief that we are mutually inter-dependent, with perhaps the best definition given by John Donne when he noted that ‘No man is an island, entire of himself’. The public realm includes the public sector, but is not reducible to it. It is also the realm of our rights and responsibilities, which includes universal human rights, but also certain British …

Anthony Barnett, founder of openDemocracy, opened the discussion on digital freedoms on an optimistic note by predicting that the UK will have a codified constitution in the next 25 years and can therefore become the first major democracy to harness the participatory potential of the web to found a new constitutional settlement. He laid out three pressing issues for democracy in the digital age: i) What does it mean to be a person? ii) How do we address the corporate power of tech companies? iii) How do we define what we have in common? There is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to legal protections against state surveillance, suggested Carly Nyst of Privacy International. We have an …

We are in a curious and uncertain period for the British state, its antiquated constitution and ways of doing politics. A number of serious challenges are on the horizon and it is unclear how much longer the political framework of the Westminster system can remain intact. The traditional attitude of the British elite has been to ‘muddle through’, introducing reform in a piecemeal manner in response to popular demands for change, while doing its best to preserve the core features of a monarchical system based on executive dominance of a ‘sovereign’ parliament via royally acquired prerogatives and patronage. A huge gulf exists between the empowered governance made possible by digital technology and the antiquated reality of the Westminster system. In …

Within hours of the general election Whitehall started making new MPs irrelevant. Even before the new parliament has heard the Queen’s Speech, Whitehall has begun to treat the legitimate and elected part of our political settlement with contempt by abolishing an effective part of parliamentary scrutiny, the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee. New MPs will of course know of the battle between parties, but there is also an historic, never ending democratic battle – regardless of party – between the executive (government) and legislature (parliament). It is an uneven battle which – while not covered in new MPs’  induction packs – those who think beyond the tribal will soon become familiar with. It often transcends partisanship since all parties who …

Adam Wagner (One Crown Row Ltd and founder of RightsInfo.org) gave a very timely seminar on Tuesday May 12 for the Oxford Human Rights Hub and the Oxford Martin School Human Rights for Future Generations Programme on the future of human rights in the UK under the new the Conservative majority government. The seminar asked two crucial questions: what will they do? And what can human rights activists do? What Will They Do? The Conservative Manifesto argues that the Human Rights Act, 1998 (HRA) should be scrapped and replaced with a British Bill of Rights based on “common sense,” but that is still consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). However, besides addressing some of the recent controversies …

Do you expect the machine to solve the problems? In this wide-ranging interview with the Director of the Open Rights Group members of Open Democracy discuss bulk collection, state bureaucracies, the pre-crime era and trust. Rosemary Bechler (RB): Few of us understood the full import of what Ken Macdonald QC, former Director of Public Prosecutions, was saying at the Convention of Modern Liberty in 2009 when he referred to the then just published paper by Sir David Omand on the effect of modern data mining and processing techniques on intelligence work. Omand had stated that public trust in the organs of the state was going to be crucial, because from then on, ”Finding out other people’s secrets is going to mean breaking …