Salmond rejects tax avoidance boycott
First Minister Alex Salmond has refused to back calls for a boycott of Amazon after reports the company is engaging in large-scale tax avoidance.
During First Minister’s Questions on Thursday afternoon, Scottish Green MSP Patrick Harvie cited concern over “further revelations about the scale of the scandal of tax avoidance in the United Kingdom”.
Harvie asked whether Salmond would “join in the many and growing calls for a boycott of Amazon until it starts paying its fair share”.
Margaret Hodge MP, chair of Westminster’s public accounts committee, is among those calling for a consumer boycott of the corporation.
But the First Minister told the Scottish Parliament: “I will not join a call for a boycott. That would have an impact on Scottish workers and Scottish jobs, as Patrick Harvie should know. However, what I will say is that I deprecate aggressive tax avoidance.”
Amazon paid only £4.2m in corporation tax in the United Kingdom last year, despite massive revenue of around £4.3bn. It achieves this legally, and controversially, by routing European customers’ payments through a subsidiary in the tax haven of Luxembourg.
The multinational has also received at least £10.6m in financial support from the Scottish Government through RSA and training awards and the SE Scottish Property Support Scheme, which Harvie has decried as “corporate welfare”.
Harvie said that the Scottish Government has “effectively [paid Amazon] back more than double what they paid in corporation tax across the whole UK”.
He added that he would “continue to push for a change of attitude from the Scottish Government”, telling journalists: “I fully support those calling for a boycott of Amazon until it starts properly paying up. It’s a shame that the First Minister doesn’t take the same view.”
Salmond stressed that his government “intends to take the toughest possible line on aggressive tax avoidance”, and highlighted that his government’s planned anti-avoidance measures had been praised by Michael Clancy, the director of law reform at the Law Society of Scotland.
Compared to Westminster’s Finance Act 2013, Clancy said that the provisions of the Revenue Scotland and Tax Powers Bill – introduced to deal with tax powers that are to be transferred to Holyrood in April 2015 – was “much better […] less complex and should prove to be more effective”.
Salmond told Holyrood: “I think that we have reason for hope and demonstration that what we are introducing with the new responsibilities that we are getting will provide a template for a tax system in an independent Scotland that will secure and protect us against the sort of unacceptable, aggressive tax avoidance that is widespread in the UK tax system.”