The SNP’s Campaign Director Angus Robertson has said that Labour and the Lib Dems have become the willing supporters of a Tory tax trap for Scotland, leaving the SNP as the only party proposing measures which are better and more ambitious for the nation.
Mr Robertson also claimed that last week’s publication of the Scotland Bill highlighted the weakness of its proposals and undermined the credibility of Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott.
Speaking days after the bill was announced by Lib Dem Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, Mr Robertson highlighted the representation given by Tavish Scott to the Calman Commission in 2008 (1) in which the Lib Dem leader had called for Holyrood to be given control over the following:
- income tax
- corporation tax
- fuel duty and vehicle excise duty
- tobacco and alcohol duties
- betting and gaming duties
- air passenger duty
- insurance premium tax
- climate change levy and landfill tax
- inheritance tax
- stamp duties on property
The Lib Dems had also sought partial devolvement of VAT receipts and North Sea Oil revenues. Tavish Scott’s predecessor, Nicol Stephen, had also pledged that the Lib Dems would oppose the return of any powers from Holyrood to Westminster (2). After the election campaign and following the Lib Dem’s alliance with the Tories Mr Scott claimed that Scotland would see even more powers than those proposed by Calman being devolved, labelling it ‘Calman Plus’. (3)
However last week’s Scotland Bill revealed that the powers on offer were actually less than had been proposed by Calman and that some devolved powers will in fact be taken back by London. The Bill also revealed that only stamp duty and landfill tax will be devolved with a partial devolution of power over the basic rate of income tax.
Mr Scott’s UK Lib Dem colleague and new Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore last week dismissed calls for any significant changes to the bill and added: “we have no intention of devolving powers over corporation tax”.
Commenting Mr Robertson said:
“Tavish Scott’s own submission to the Calman Commission underlines the extent of the Westminster retreat from what the Scotland Bill could and should have been. The fact that the Lib Dems, Labour and the Tories are all joined at the hip in support of a measure which is far too modest means that everyone in Scotland who wants something better and more ambitious will be galvanised next May to support the SNP’s platform of real powers for Scotland.
“The Lib Dems’ proposed taxation powers – including transferring corporation tax to the Scottish Parliament – and the offer of Calman Plus all turned to dust. It is no wonder their poll ratings have hit a twenty year low.”
Mr Robertson also claimed the Lib Dem’s principles had “melted away” at the first sign of power and compared what he termed their “indefensible u-turn” on tuition fees with their backing for the Tory party’s plans for Scotland. The SNP MP also claimed that Iain Gray’s Labour group had blundered by backing the same Tory tax plans.
Mr Robertson added:
“Just as we have seen with the Lib Dems ridiculous and indefensible u-turn on tuition fees, we have seen the same thing happen with the Scotland Bill.
Talk of standing their ground and being principled has just melted away as they embrace power with a Tory government Scotland rejected. And Labour have blundered badly by signing up to a puny proposal which is way behind the ambitions of the people of Scotland.
“Only the SNP stand for something better – to ensure that our Parliament has the powers to make Scotland better.”
The Scotland Bill is to be scrutinised by a Holyrood committee to be chaired by ex Labour group leader Wendy Alexander.
1. A list of the tax powers Tavish Scott suggested could be fully devolved to Scotland:
2. Lib Dems oppose handing back powers:
3. Tavish Scott proposes Calman Plus:
Meanwhile a Tory MSP has claimed that the Scotland Bill will encourage moves towards Scottish independence. In an article on Scotland on Sunday MSP Margaret Mitchell said that the Bill would “help the move to independence”.
Labelling Scots who seek independence as ‘separatists’ the Tory MSP said:
“Having looked at the Scotland Bill, I can only see it playing into the hands of the separatists. To me it can only help the move to independence,”
Mitchell claimed that the Bill would weaken the Union and that nationalists, although publicly expressing reservations, would in fact grab it with both hands.
Mitchell added. “The Nats are making noises against it, but they will grasp it with both hands, because it is putting them further down the road that they want to go down.
“To me, it couldn’t possibly strengthen the Union. It could only weaken the Union. I fail to see how new tax raising powers can possibly strengthen the Union and I am very encouraged that Sanderson says there must be a full debate on it.
Mitchell also claimed that Holyrood was never supposed to have such powers and that the Bill was “not on” adding: “This was supposed to be a devolved parliament, it was never supposed to emulate Westminster. To then start talking about tax raising powers, when I’m quite certain that we haven’t used the devolved settlement as effectively as we should, is not on.”
SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson said:
“The Scotland Bill falls far short of what the people want, and its financial provisions threaten to short change Scotland. Margaret Mitchell’s remarks show that the Tory, Labour, Lib Dem alliance is already cracking.
“They show that the Tories don’t really care about Scotland and don’t have Scotland’s interests at heart.
“Only support for the SNP can ensure that the Bill is improved and strengthened – which is a strong platform, in contrast to the disarray of the unionist parties.”