By a Newsnet reporter
Labour’s proposals for further devolution have been dealt a blow after facing searing criticism from a host of prominent academics writing for the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
Academics, including Professor John Curtice and Dr Nicola McEwen, have expressed doubt over the extent of the proposals and their attractiveness to voters Labour is hoping to lure away from the Yes campaign.
In his contribution, Professor Curtice pointed out that the plans would “fall well short” of the powers that the majority of people in Scotland would like and highlighted the internal tension within the party that has led to such weak proposals. Dr Nicola McEwen also criticised the proposals as “a difficult sell” in the face of Westminster’s austerity agenda and welfare cuts and slammed the plans as “surprisingly lacking in detail”.
The comments follow the publication of findings of Johann Lamont’s devolution commission which was set up to look at what extra powers Labour would be prepared to devolve to Scotland in the event of a No vote in the referendum. The commisison has proposed handing Holyrood limited control over income tax and the devolution of some aspects of welfare policy including Housing Benefit and Attendance Allowance.
However the Scottish Labour leader faced almost immediate criticism with opponents pointing out that the plans adversely impacted Universal Credit, which would remain in the hands of Westminster. When pressed on this point in a TV interview, Ms Lamont found herself completely unable to explain how this would operate in practice.
The most damning criticism of the plans was made by Charlie Jeffery, Director of Edinburgh University’s Academy of Government, who focused on the “comparative modesty” of Labour’s proposals – and raised the embarrassing prospect of Labour’s plans for more devolution being less bold than even the Tories’ plans.
Mr Jeffery also highlighted the internal struggle between Labour’s pro and anti-devolution factions – which have led to the watering down of the final proposals compared to those in the Devolution Commission’s interim report.
Chair of Devo Plus, Ben Thomson, has already expressed his disappointment at the proposals, describing them as simply “tinkering” and “lip service towards real devolved powers”.
Johann Lamont’s plans had already been thrown into chaos after the proposals for the devolution of limited aspects of welfare policy unravelled within a day of publication – and left Ms Lamont totally unable to answer even basic questions on the subject.
In what some were describing as a “train crash” of an interview on the BBC, the Scottish Labour leader appeared not realise the implications of her own proposals, repeatedly floundering when asked basic questions.
In another TV interview, Ms Lamont was again unclear on the implications of one of her key policies when she appeared not to know how much her own income tax proposals would raise.
Asked how much a 5p increase in the top rate of income tax would raise, the Scottish Labour leader said, “We think it’s something like one hundred million pounds … you could get 3000 nurses for that”. Challenged that the £100m figure was for the whole of the UK, and the actual figure was closer to £10 million, Ms Lamont said; “I don’t think it is ten million”.
Commenting, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani said:
“Just a day after its publication, Johann Lamont’s devolution proposals have come apart at the seams. This latest expert opinion is a damning indictment of Labour’s weak proposals which simply won’t give Scotland the powers we need to create a better society.
“Experts have rightly highlighted the astonishing lack of detail in Labour’s proposals – but it’s Johann Lamont’s failure to bring forward major new powers that will most concern people in Scotland.
“It has even been suggested that Tory proposals for devolution could go further than Labour! This is a huge embarrassment for Johann Lamont ahead of Labour’s conference this weekend.
“Johann Lamont obviously doesn’t have the nerve to stand up to the anti-devolution faction in her party who are against any new powers for Scotland. It is now even clearer than before that only a Yes vote will give Scotland the powers we need to grow our economy and create a fairer, more equal society.”