Scotland Bill not enough say experts as 78% say they want more powers

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A panel of business and financial experts has called for more from the Scotland Bill as they questioned whether the bill in its current form would improve the Scottish economy.

Over three quarters of the group, that included representatives from Earnst and Young, the Institute of Chartered Accountants and the Scottish Chamber of Commerce, agreed that far more powers were needed in order to provide the Scottish parliament with the economic levers required in order to grow the economy.

The panel were taking part in a seminar – The Scotland Bill: What will it mean? – organised by Holyrood magazine to allow public discussion on the proposals contained in the current Scotland Bill.

Asked if the Scotland Bill powers are enough to “drive economic recovery” not a single member of the small but influential panel of tax, legal and economic experts agreed.

Some 78% felt the powers did not “sufficiently strengthen Scotland’s capability and responsibility to make its own choices on economic and social issues” and the remaining 22% were undecided.

The high level panel also argued that it would make sense for Scotland to have powers relating to corporation tax with 58% backing corporation tax powers for the Scottish Parliament.

Speaking at the event, senior Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm acknowledged the varying opinions in Scotland over more powers but insisted that the Scottish public wanted the Scottish Parliament to have significantly more powers than the Bill contained.  Mr Chisholm argued that the Bill needed to be significantly “beefed up”.

James Aitken, former trustee at Reform Scotland, said that the independence referendum had led to London ‘waking up’ to what was happening in Scotland.  Mr Aitken described the Bill as “Calman-Minus” and noted an increased reference to ‘Devo-Max’ in the political debate.

Mr Aitken listed the many complexities and possible conflicts of having taxes shared between parliaments and suggested that Scotland should have its own Exchequer, a “one stop shop” catering for legal, tax and registration services.

Commenting as UK government ministers responsible for the bill appeared at the Scottish Parliament Scotland Bill committee, member Adam Ingram said:

“It is increasingly clear that the steps in the Scotland Bill simply do not go far enough to boost economic growth and there is an appetite for more powers for the parliament.

“The response from those who will have to deal with the tax plans in the bill and who are involved in trying to boost Scotland’s economy is telling.

“Many of those who will have to deal with the day-to-day impact of the bill do not have confidence in the tax proposals or the arrangements for them.  The UK Government need to give those working with the tax system more clarity and ensure the Scottish Parliament has the powers to decide if and when this system comes into force.”

The views of the experts come as Scottish Secretary of State, Michael Moore, confirmed that the UK coalition had no plans to interfere in the independence referendum.

Mr Moore was pressed on the matter by members of the Scotland Bill committee after the UK Prime Minister implied that London would try to use the Scotland Bill in order to try to exert some influence over the timing and wording of the ballot.

A hesitant Mr Moore eventually confirmed that no such interference was being planned.  However the Lib Dem MP was unable to explain how the bill would operate and what effect it would have on the Scottish block grant.  Mr Moore insisted that the Scottish government should simply trust the Tax Office and the UK Treasury.

The Scottish government are calling for the bill to be enacted only if both Edinburgh and London agree.  The mechanism, known as joint-commencement, would ensure that agreement would be required before the bill came into force.

Headline findings from the seminar (1):

• 78% of the voting audience did not believe the powers in the Scotland Bill, as it currently stands, were sufficient enough to drive economic recovery. 22% were undecided.

• More than half of the voting audience (60%) agreed to some degree with the statement “cutting business and personal taxation will increase the long-term growth rate in Scotland”.

• 58% of the voting audience agreed it would make sense for Scotland to have additional powers relating to Corporation Tax. A quarter (26%) disagreed.

• A significant majority of the voting audience (77%) disagreed with the statement that the Scotland Bill sufficiently strengthens Scotland’s capabilities and responsibilities for making decisions on economic and social issues.

• 72% of the voting audience identified they were not confident they understood fully the implications of the Scotland Bill, indicating a need for more guidance and engagement.

• 56% of the audience voted in support of a transfer of more powers in theory but not in the form of the current Scotland Bill.

• A third (33%) saw the Scotland Bill as the start of a wider debate about Scotland’s place within the UK.

Source: 1. Holyrood magazine Scotland Bill seminar/seminar report