First Minister Alex Salmond has apologised to the Scottish Parliament for not informing MSPs that the “tartan tax” had lapsed more than three years ago.
He admitted that it would have been “right and proper” to tell opposition parties that the Scottish Variable Rate (SVR) could not be used and insisted “lessons had been learned”.
The MSP for Gordon spoke out during first minister’s questions yesterday after Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat politicians rounded on him.
Mr Salmond’s apology came the day after Finance Secretary John Swinney admitted he had handled the issue badly and made “mistakes”.
An opposition party motion – which was backed by 76 votes to 46 – said Mr Swinney had “misled” parliament last week during a budget debate by suggesting that the tax was still “capable of use”.
Labour leader Iain Gray said it was “undemocratic” for the government to allow SVR, which was supported by one-and-a-half million people in a referendum to establish the parliament, to lapse without debate.
The decision means an incoming administration would have to wait until 2013 to use the power which allows Scottish ministers to alter income tax by up to 3p in the pound.
Mr Salmond said: “I believe John Swinney was right to apologise to the parliament for not bringing these matters for parliamentary decision. I join in that apology.”
Mr Salmond insisted, however, the SVR was “not in a workable condition” when the SNP came to power in 2007. He added that not paying HM Revenue and Customs money to upgrade an IT system so it could collect a tax the SNP never intended to use had been the right decision.
Conservative leader Annabel Goldie said Mr Salmond’s apology was “less than convincing” and accused him of having “orchestrated a cover-up”.
Labour leader Iain Gray branded the SNP administration an “incompetent shambles”.
Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott said: “The parliament passed a motion yesterday that said it had been misled and the government had abused its power. Although the first minister has now joined his finance secretary in apologising for three-and-a-half years of deception, they both need to apologise for misleading parliament.”
The Lib Dems and Labour have called for former Holyrood presiding officers Sir David Steel and George Reid to carry out an investigation into whether Mr Swinney broke the ministerial code.
All three main opposition parties have urged ministers to disclose all correspondence and documents on the matter and want Holyrood’s finance committee to launch an investigation.