By a Newsnet reporter
The SNP have claimed that Labour’s devolution plans are “descending into farce” after the depth of party opposition to Johann Lamont’s Devolution Commission proposals became clear.
According to one Scottish Labour MP, speaking anonymously to the Herald paper, the plans are “not going to happen”.
In a series of confused interviews since the proposals were unveiled, Ms Lamont has refused to deny that there was disquiet among Labour MPs about the new devolution proposals. Many Labour MPs have said they are boycotting the Labour conference in protest at what they see as a reduction in their power and influence.
The Scottish Labour leader must rely on Labour MPs to support the plan in order to pass the necessary legislation at Westminster to enable further devolution, but Labour’s Westminster contingent have criticised both the proposals and the way that they have been announced.
Friday’s Herald newspaper reported that concerns were raised at both the group meeting of Scottish Labour MPs and the full Parliamentary Labour Party.
One MP said: “There was a blatant attempt to stitch it up and bounce us into this.”
Another said of the income tax change proposals:
“It’s not going to happen as it does not stack up. You can’t devolve income tax and it not have an impact on the money Scotland gets from the Barnett Formula.”
A third MP complained that Labour was being driven to adopt SNP policies, saying:
“We shouldn’t be getting ourselves in such a situation where we are making ourselves more nationalist than the nationalists. That’s the potential here.”
Labour has acknowledged that it must make a new devolution proposal to the Scottish electorate as a response to the independence debate. Ms Lamont has described her party’s devolution proposal as a “starting point” and said:
“This interim report provides a starting point for our debate about the future of devolution … we need to open it up to the people of Scotland so Scottish Labour can reflect the views of the majority of Scots who want to stay within the United Kingdom.”
However opinion polls show that an absolute majority of voters in Scotland want full control of all income and expenditure to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament – including all taxation and oil and gas revenues. An absolute majority also want the Scottish Parliament to have full powers over benefits and welfare policy.
Despite the fact that Labour’s new proposals do not come close to meeting these aspirations, the plans are already heavily hedged about with caveats. Labour has said that they would not go ahead with the full transfer of income tax to the Scottish Parliament if it resulted in the scrapping of the Barnett Formula, or a reduction in the number of Scottish MPs returned to Westminster, or if administration costs proved to be too high.
Doubts have also been raised about whether the plans have the support of Labour leader Ed Miliband. It was reported in Scotland on Sunday last weekend that one Labour MP had complained that the plan to devolve income tax was unveiled without having been discussed beforehand with shadow chancellor Ed Balls.
On Friday morning’s Good Morning Scotland on BBC Radio Scotland Ms Lamont was repeatedly unable to explain whether Ed Miliband supported the income tax proposal, or even if they had had a specific discussion on it.
Ms Lamont has also refused to deny that there was disquiet among Labour MPs about the plans, and was unable to explain what she would do should her MPs refuse to back the plans.
The plans have also come under criticism from independence supporters, who have described them as lacking in ambition and say they do not go nearly far enough and do not come close to proposals for so-called “devo-max”. Labour and the other anti-independence parties had already refused to allow a question on enhanced devolution to be included on the ballot paper in next year’s independence referendum.
Attention has focussed on Labour’s categorical refusal to devolve control of benefits and welfare policy to the Scottish Parliament. The party has claimed that Westminster control of the benefits system has served Scotland well. Critics have noted that even if Labour’s devolution plans were implemented in full, Scotland would still be experiencing the effects of the bedroom tax recently imposed by the UK government.
Commenting, SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing said:
“Johann Lamont may be the Labour Leader but she certainly is not leading Labour. With her own MPs criticising her plans – the very people she will be relying on to pass the necessary legislation – they are clearly not going to happen. She seemingly hasn’t even asked Ed Miliband whether he would allow her to implement this policy. This is descending into farce.
“Let’s remember that it’s only when the SNP are doing well that Labour suddenly become interested in devolution. They went into the 2007 election promising no further devolution, then they set up the Calman Commission, which we were told was the biggest transfer of financial powers since 1707, and now they’re telling us that these powers weren’t enough.
“The baffling decision to leave welfare and policies like the Bedroom Tax in the hands of Westminster – where such damage is being inflicted on Scotland by the Tories – says it all about their ambitions for the people of Scotland.
“Scotland badly needs the full range of fiscal levers to allow us to grow our economy – but there is no way that these self-serving Labour MPs are going to pass these powers on.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that the only way to achieve this transfer of powers is through a Yes vote in next year’s independence referendum.”