New powers to be ‘fast-tracked’ in attempt to spike referendum bid

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New powers for Holyrood may be introduced earlier than expected in an attempt at killing off SNP plans….

New powers for Holyrood may be introduced earlier than expected in an attempt at killing off SNP plans for a referendum on Scottish independence.

The Scotsman newspaper is reporting that: “A senior source at the Scotland Office has confirmed that the recommendations by the Calman Commission are to be introduced in the first raft of legislation by the new Conservative/Liberal Democrat government unveiled on Tuesday.”

If true, the move could result in Holyrood gaining limited control over tax powers as well as the opportunity to create its own devolved taxes, such as local income tax – although this tax creation power would still need Treasury approval.

The tax raising powers would see the Scottish income tax levels cut by 10p by Westminster, with the UK Treasury reducing the block grant by the amount it was forecast to generate.  The Scottish government would then have to re-instate the 10p to try to make up the shortfall.

The controversial tax plans have been criticised by leading Scottish economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert who described them as “perverse” when they were proposed by the last Labour government.

The Conservatives enthusiasm for the Calman Commission was always suspected to be lukewarm; the conversion is seen as a bid to sell the Tory/Lib Dem alliance to Scottish based Lib Dems.

The Calman Commission was set up by the Unionist parties at Holyrood after the SNP won the 2007 Scottish election.  The Commission produced a list of recommendations aimed at “strengthening Scotland’s position within the Union”, the list included tax raising and borrowing powers.

The Commission was criticised for refusing to consider independence as an option and for rejecting the inclusion of independence supporting figures, former Holyrood Presiding Officer George Reid was omitted from the Calman panel.  The SNP declined to formally participate in the Commission citing its refusal to consider independence, although the party did make written submissions.

The SNP will introduce a bill later this year calling for a referendum on Scottish independence; a referendum is supported by a majority of Scots.  However, Unionist parties at Holyrood are currently opposed to such a move and can vote down the bill.

If the bill fails, it is thought that the SNP will respond by making a referendum on the Scottish constitution a major plank of its 2011 Holyrood election campaign.  The implementation of some of the Calman recommendations by then may be an attempt at pre-empting the SNP argument.