FAR FROM the Madding Crowd is a small bookshop in Linlithgow. But one of some distinction. It runs West Lothian's only literary Festival, organised several school book weeks (and our First Minister's aim is to get young people reading), organised a free schools' festival for over 1500 children and won the Scottish Independent Bookseller of the Year. It is a community bookshop – bustling and dynamic. So it deserves a reward, does it not for its endeavours? That reward from the Scottish government is a simple one – a Business rates increase from £5,400 to £10,500 per annum.
Well perhaps times are tough. We must all tighten our belts. But hang on a minute - Amazon (across the UK) will be receiving a rebate of some £140,000 per annum on the same revaluation! Perhaps the more than £10 million of direct government subsidy poured into it was not enough? The High Street hangs grimly on. So let us use a revaluation to kill it off.
Of course government bleats ‘it's complicated’. It isn’t really. It is terribly simple. If you charge a High Street bookshop (this example is from Waterstones in Bedford) rates of £850 a square metre and if you charge an Amazon depot just down the road £52.50 then you soon don’t have a bookshop. It is called market rigging. The answer too is terribly simply. Warehouses for online retailers should pay exactly the same rates as their High Street equivalents. They are shops by another name using the idiocies of government to dodge tax. I see no problem. I see no complication. It just requires political will.
But back to Linlithgow and Far from the Madding Crowd. Sally and her shop have another badge of distinction. They are in the constituency of the Culture Minister, Fiona Hyslop. Surely she would be interested in the pressures on a community business at the heart of culture? Well sadly not. A letter came from her office advising the shop of the appeals procedure (a three year process). No transitional relief is available for cultural businesses as it is for hospitality, no support and seemingly no interest from the woman who is meant to be an ambassador for Scottish culture.
And why should I be so interested in a small shop in a small town? Because my business as a publisher too depends on these small shops, depends on people who care, depends on communities living and thriving. As they have died so Scottish publishing has slowly bled and shrank.
There are of course those on the right who fear special pleading and special interest. To them I say this is exactly what I oppose. Sally pays her taxes in the UK (unlike Amazon). Unlike Amazon her staff do not have to camp outside a Dunfermline warehouse in the winter due to appalling and repeatedly exposed working practises. It is not to seek subsidy I write but to oppose it, both the subsidy and the slavish subservience to the international conglomerate which passes for business policy in this government. It is subverting capitalism, entrepreneurialism, community – not I.
Is there any political party that will fight against the iniquity of this revaluation, the fiscal illiteracy of corrupt subsidy, and for Scottish enterprise and Scottish people? Without change what awaits for Sally and her staff – a trip across the water to push a trolley round a warehouse on a zero hours minimum wage contract? Welcome to the new third world. It seems to be what the Scottish Government wishes? Is it what you wish?