By Martin Kelly
Plans by Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont for full control over income tax to be devolved to the Scottish parliament appear to lie in tatters today after reports claimed her UK leader Ed Miliband is set to distance himself from the proposals.
According to the Sunday Times, the plans are expected to be shelved after a backlash emerged from senior figures in the Labour party – including Mr Milband.
The newspaper reports that concerns have been raised that Ms Lamont’s controversial policy will ‘bounce’ her party into a position that could see it with less room for manoeuvre over spending and also lead to a cut in the number of Scottish Labour MPs at Westminster.
“It’s dead in the water,” one senior Labour source told the Sunday Times. The source added: “If it was just about devolving road tax people might have lived with it, but handing over control of income tax is pretty fundamental.”
Johann Lamont’s calls for income tax to be devolved in full followed a report compiled by a commission she herself set up which looked at further devolution. In her keynote address to the Scottish Labour conference in Inverness on Saturday, she defended the report, calling it “a good piece of work”.
The Scottish Labour leader added: “What it is, is the starting point of where we agree how devolution is to be developed.”
However, pressed this week on what the proposals would mean for ordinary Scots, Ms Lamont’s deputy, Labour MP Anas Sarwar, struggled to explain how the policy would offer benefits.
SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell, who sits on Holyrood’s referendum bill committee, described the situation as “a serious problem for Johann Lamont’s leadership”.
He added: “After this backlash from Westminster Labour MPs, no one is going to believe that more powers for Scotland would follow a No vote.”
Annabelle Ewing MSP, who sits on the Referendum Bill Committee, said that this came as a huge blow to Labour in Scotland – and undermined the ‘more powers’ line that the anti-independence parties are desperate to peddle to try to get a No vote.
She said: “This is a serious problem for Johann Lamont’s leadership, which also undermines the credibility of the No campaign’s key narrative about more devolved powers. After this backlash from Westminster Labour MPs and the scepticism of Ed Miliband, no one is going to believe that more powers for Scotland would follow a No vote. The case that only with a Yes vote can Scotland achieve the powers we need to build a fair society and strong economy is even clearer as a result of Labour’s infighting.”
The Scottish Labour leader must rely on Westminster based Labour MPs to support the plan in order to pass the necessary legislation to enable further devolution, but Labour’s Westminster contingent have criticised both the proposals and the way that they have been announced.
Labour’s UK leader Ed Miliband has refused to publicly endorse the proposals, leading to claims by Ms Lamont’s opponents that her plan was “descending into farce.”
In a separate row, there has also been claims that the Scottish Labour party refused to distribute an official party press package on the proposals to some newspapers. Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, Sunday Post reporter Campbell Gunn claimed that the packs were released to only four newspapers – the Daily Record, the Herald, the Scotsman and the Times, leading to disquiet amongst some media hacks.