Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

Calman dynamises devolution debate

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The Calman Commissi0n has produced its final report in its cross-party review of the ten years of devolution in Scotland since 1998 and has come up with a package of proposals heralded by The Scotsman as ‘a far more radical package of changes than had been expected on the future of devolution for Scotland’.

Amongst the proposals for further reform contained in a series of 63 Recommendations are proposals to transform Scotland’s finances, including giving the Scottish Parliament the right to reduce income tax rates by 10p (with consequent knock-on effects on its grant from the Treasury under the so-called Barnett formula); to control over £9 billion in domestic taxes such as stamp duty, landfill taxes, air passenger duty and aggregates levy (around 35% of its current direct grant from the Treasury); and greater freedom to borrow money. Providing greater control of finances is intended by the Commission to secure greater accountability for the Parliament. The Report also recommends that a series of new powers are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, including over control of drink-driving alcohol levels, speed limits, elections, airguns and nature conservation.

The report did, however, make no recommendations in the area of oil and gas revenues.

The report was welcomed by all the major unionist political parties, and privately by the SNP, either as ‘putting Scotland on the road to independence’ or as ‘a blueprint for a renewal of the relationship between the people of Scotland and the government’, depending on perspective, although the SNP had distanced itself from the work of the Commission, seeing it as a rival to its own plans for a ‘Conversation’ leading up to a referendum on independence. The report was endorsed by Gordon Brown, who had established the Commission, as providing ‘imaginative and bold’ proposals while the Chancellor, whose support would be required in respect of the changes to taxation, is believed to back the plans. Labour believes that many of the Recommendations can be put in place over the next ten months, possibly prior to a General Election, although both Labour and Conservative have already committed themselves to the major changes suggested by the Commission.

Whether or not the changes are actually as radical as has been claimed, they certainly are more far-reaching than the Commission had been envisaged as proposing. In the current political climate, they are brave and, in their attempt to restore the electorate’s faith in the elected political elites, they deserve (and should command) respect. Politically, they also provide a new charge to the devolution debate and the debate as to how they are implemented, and how quickly, will be an acid test north of the border for a unionist government looking to get back to politics.

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Written by Calvin

16/06/2009 at 11:03 am

Posted in Politics

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