Nicola Sturgeon has opened the door to raising the top rate of income tax to 50p within the next five years.
During the first televised debate of the Holyrood election campaign, the First Minister signalled she would hike taxes for the highest earners should the opportunity arise.
Under pressure from Labour’s Kezia Dugdale and Willie Rennie of the Liberal Democrats to put 1p on income tax and Ruth Davidson of the Conservatives not to make Scots pay more than the rest of the UK, the SNP leader suggested she would consider a rise every single year.
She said: “I’ve said we won’t do it in the first year we have powers, I haven’t ruled it out for the rest of the parliament.
“And the reason for that is I have got independent civil service analysis saying it might lose us £30 million.
“Why is that the case, because under devolution, unlike under independence, yes we will get the power to set the tax rate but we don’t get the power to set the rules of avoidance.”
Asked by BBC host Glenn Campbell if she would like to raise the rate, she added: “I think there should be a 50p top rate of tax but you don’t set tax rates if it going to lose you money. I don’t want to turn around in two years’ time and say we’ve got less money to spend on our health service.”
Ms Davidson slammed the proposal after the debate.
She said: “I think there’s a real argument we need more Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament fighting to protect the pay packets of workers in this country.”
Labour argued increasing the top rate of tax from 45p to 50p, which was SNP policy at last year’s general election, would generate a minimum of £65 million which it would invest in education.
Ian Murray, the party’s sole Scottish MP, said of Ms Sturgeon’s tax stance: “She’s for it on Monday, against it on Tuesday and tonight she’s not sure.”
Mr Rennie argued that asking people to pay more across the board would mean better educational opportunities and a greater skills base in the economy.
He said: “Scottish education used to be one of the best int eh world but now it’s slipping down the rankings.
“We need that investment to make that transformational change.”
The party leaders were split on the issue of fracking, with Ms Dugdale, Mr Rennie and Patrick Harvie of the Greens all in favour of a ban, despite the Lib Dem leader watching his party vote for a proposal to lift the SNP’s current moratorium.
Both Ms Davidson and Ukip’s David Coburn want the controversial gas extraction process used in Scotland to add to the energy mix and bring down people’s household bills.
The Scottish Tory leader also came under pressure over her party’s welfare changes and the impact they will have on disabled people.
George Osborne was forced to U-turn on plans to cut £4 billion from Personal Independence Payments after a budget backlash.
Ms Davidson insisted she still had full confidence in the Chancellor.