When working within social science in Scotland, it is perhaps particularly noticeable that opinions on relations with – and feelings towards – the UK tend to pop up quite regularly and, just about everywhere. Coming – as I do – from a nation (Sweden) whose history is shaped by the secessions of just about every neighbouring country, this intrigues me. In my mother tongue, it is not uncommon for people to speak of “England” when they mean the “UK.” This is especially common among Swedes who are above a certain age.
I have been asked “How’s life in England?” many times. At first, this was frustrating then comical; Paisley most certainly is not England. It’s thrilling to think that about one hundred years ago, the same could be said about Norway. Nowadays, we mainly remember such things when the Nobel Peace Prize is announced from Oslo; a gesture of peace and brotherhood towards the western half of the Kingdom. Is that the direction Scotland is going?
As a PhD student in my final year, it was hardly my first thought to apply for an internship. This is also a cultural thing: In Sweden, PhD positions are longer (median time from start to viva is about 5.5 years) and relatively well-paid. As full-time employees, doctoral students enjoy a range of labour rights that a Scottish PhD researcher could only dream of. Internships are not common, and those that do exist are often in STEM, or tied to EU programmes. However, due to my positive experience with the Scottish Graduate School of Social Sciences, I at least shuffled through the opportunities. The PhD internships on offer were very clearly substantial tasks at a not insignificant level of competence. Encouraged, I applied for one on Scottish tax.
The devolution of taxation powers is one of the most interesting rights granted to the Scottish Government within the devolved Scottish parliament; they had not been in place for 300 years. As a result of the partially reinstated (and increasing) control of taxation, the level of financial support provided to welfare programmes and, the allocation of budgetary priorities can be substantially altered without recourse to Westminster. Now, more than a third of the Scottish budget is raised in Scotland rather than coming from the UK centrally.
The Scotland Act 2016 granted several substantial powers in this area. The Scottish Exchequer, created in 2010, investigates the future of tax in Scotland and, how to structure it in a manner that fits stakeholders and citizens. Recently, the exchequer has collected data from stakeholders across Scotland on how to structure taxation in the future; how do they like the current situation and what they would change. This is where I come in, as a lead on analysis and report production.
I will be back sometime in the early spring with fresh results, perhaps some novel insights that will help in thinking through some nuances of my research work and, a summary for this blog.