Delegates adopt state school tax changes by just nine votes after fierce debate
THE 2016 SNP conference has voted by the slimmest of margins to grant state schools charitable status, a move designed to equalise their tax status with private schools.
‘Resolution 19: Charitable status for state schools’, to remove all Scottish state schools from any tax liabilities was passed by 464 votes to 455, a margin of just nine votes, after a heated debate over class privilege in the Scottish education system.
The resolution represents the latest attempt by party members to close the gap between private and state schools, with previous attempts to debate the charitable status of private schools being blocked by the SNP committee in charge of conference agendas.
Moving the motion from Newington and Southside SNP branch, Graham Sutherland said: “Many of society’s wealthiest people in society decide to opt-out of state education. By sending their children to private school, they benefit from around £90m of tax breaks.
He said this promoted “educational segregation and class privilege” resulting in “educational inequality” and child poverty.
Sutherland faced opposition over the motion both by delegates who wanted to remit it back for further discussion, because they agreed with the principal of challenging the privileged status of private schools but disagreed action should take the form of removing state education from all tax liabilities, and also from delegates who wanted to oppose the motion outright.
Previous resolutions to scrap the charitable status of private schools have not made it past the SNP standing orders and agenda committee (Soac).
Making a passionate plea for conference to oppose the motion, David Whiton said: “I believe that the motion is ideologically flawed and needs to be rejected.
“Why? Firstly being charitable is often defined by the ability to give goods, care and time to the unfortunate either directly or by means of a charitable trust.
“Conference we should not accept the ideology of any Scottish state school being classed as ‘unfortunate’, in need of any charitable status.”
He urged the SNP leadership to take a more direct route to solve the problem and simply end the practice of allowing private schools charitable status.
He said: “I am aware that our party doesn't want to be seen to be taking away anything from any part of our society that is already in place and has been for a length of time. But this is the time to be strong. As the logo says on our party image says, stronger for Scotland, let's practice what we preach.
“Private schools should not be allowed to cloak themselves in the guise of charity even though Halloween is pretty close. To dodge business rates to the tune of around £10 (sic) million a year. We should not encourage state schools to put on their cloaks.”
In conclusion, he said that the resolution was “erse afore elbow”, meaning back to front.
Speaking against moves to oppose or remit back the motion, Sutherland said that he sympathised with Whiton’s criticisms, but that previous resolutions to scrap the charitable status of private schools had not made it past the SNP standing orders and agenda committee (Soac), and that remitting motions back, in his experience as an SNP member, effectively killed them.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called on Scots voters to judge the performance of her government on its ability to reduce the difference in educational achievement between the wealthiest and poorest children.
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