The unusually high turnout of voters for the referendum, praised by all politicians and commentators, seemingly backfired last week for some of them in an unexpected way, as a couple of local councils announced their plans to use the voters’ register to reclaim unpaid taxes, sometimes going back to the infamous Poll Tax. The First Minister’s intervention to stop these plans has been hailed by some, and dubbed “the tax dodgers’ charter” by others. Both sides have presented their arguments, and we can expect a prolonged and sometimes heated debate on the matter.
Taxation is always a hot topic, because – unlike many others in political debate – it translates directly into the amount of money left in our pockets. Understandably, almost everybody thinks that they pay too much and they would like to pay less. But only a relatively tiny minority has the means to arrange their finances in such a way that they pay much less than they should. Most of us have to trundle along hoping that the government will lower taxation sooner rather than later. Something similar happens regarding our wages; I don’t know many people who are pleased with theirs. Everybody would like to earn more, and most of us believe that we deserve more. Some dare to ask for a salary rise, but many don’t, either out of fear of losing their job by doing so, or because of the remote chance of succeeding – or both. Consequently some people help themselves to stuff in their workplace as a sort of compensation for their paltry wage.
In today’s gospel Jesus tells the parable about a vineyard built by its owner and leased to tenants. The latter refuse to respect their agreement: instead they embark on confrontation and eventually they plan to take over the vineyard for themselves. Jesus uses this parable to illustrate the mistaken approach of those who considered themselves guardians of the Jewish religion. But this parable also presents the concept of the right and due tenancy (or taxation in wider terms) as a valid one. In the gospel there are a few instances where Jesus’ law-abiding attitude is clearly shown, though at the same time he avoids being dragged into political discussion about taxation.
Last week I visited a local surgery to make an appointment. Within a couple of minutes it was made for me by a very nice and helpful receptionist. Two days later I returned to the surgery to meet a GP. She was very professional, helpful and nice, apparently taking my case seriously. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one gaining such an impression. All this was possible because they were the right people for their jobs, and they surely deserve our respect. They also deserve their salaries. And they are paid out of our taxes. It’s the same story about those emptying our bins regularly, sweeping roads and pavements, keeping the street lights on… The list is indeed very long. All those people and all those services they provide – that we often take for granted – are the reason for us to pay our taxes. I try to show them my respect and appreciation when I meet them; but my money must go where my mouth is.