SNP are accused of bullying over withdrawal of sensitive tax report
had already been released to the media under embargo, meaning its contents were still widely reported.
The Tories accused the SNP of trying to “bully” the watchdog, a charge furiously denied by Nicola Sturgeon’s official spokesman.
The dispute centres on an NAO estimate of how many Scots taxpayers pay more than their English counterparts because of the different tax regime north of the Border.
In Scotland, people start paying the 40p higher rate tax when they earn £43,000, but in England and Wales the 40p rate doesn’t kick in until people earn £45,000.
Drawing on HMRC data, the SNP Government says around 366,000 people in Scotland pay more. However, using unpublished HMRC and other economic statistics, the NAO estimated 507,000 of Scotland’s 2.6 milion taxpayers pay more than they would in England.
The new estimate suggests that, rather than one in seven Scots taxpayers getting higher bills, it is almost one in five.
The difference is sensitive as it would mean the SNP tax policy had created more losers than first thought, and so it may be harder to raise income tax again next year, as most Holyrood parties would like.
The NAO admitted “holding off” on publication because of a dispute over the “sensitive” number.
Tory MSP Murdo Fraser accused the SNP of “trying to bully anyone who they disagree with”. He added: “It is clear they have pressurised the NAO into this climb-down, simply because the SNP didn’t like what they were hearing.
A spokesperson for SNP Finance Secretary Derek Mackay said: “Mr Fraser’s claims are complete and utter nonsense, and the Tories should apologise for impugning the integrity of civil servants.”
An NAO spokesperson said the report would be published “when we have determined the most accurate estimate of the number of higher-rate taxpayers in Scotland. The decision not to publish the report was solely an NAO decision.”
Publication of the report expected by Christmas.
Carl Sargeant was found dead at home.