Scotland Bill passes but more powers needed say SNP

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By G.A.Ponsonby

SNP MSP John Mason has described the Scotland Bill as a “missed opportunity” that he says “falls far short of what is required”.

The MSP for Glasgow Shettleston was responding after a debate in the Scottish Parliament saw MSPs vote to accept the limited tax varying powers offered by the Westminster coalition.

The Bill, which will be phased in between 2015/16, will implement some of the recommendations contained in the Calman Commission and will also include control over air-guns, drink-driving and speed limits.

Mr Mason insisted he welcomed more powers coming to Scotland and had voted accordingly.

However the MSP, who is also a member of the Scotland Bill Committee, criticised the lack of real change and suggested that it had already been rendered redundant by the 2014 independence referendum.

Mr Mason attacked the Lib Dems and accused them of ditching their own devolution aims, saying:

“It is particularly disappointing that when a LibDem politician gets into power they ignore what they called for previously.  Just what has happened to their policy of  devolving corporation tax, excise duty, the Crown Estates and a number of other key wealth-creating powers to the Scottish Parliament?”

“It falls far short of what is required, and has been completely overtaken by events, with all parties seeking to go much further than the limited new powers offered by the Bill – it is a missed opportunity.

“Thankfully, the people of Scotland will now get the chance to choose those real job-creating powers in the independence referendum in autumn 2014.”

The new income tax powers will see Westminster cut Scotland’s budget by an estimate of revenue generated by 10p income tax, Scottish income tax will be cut by the 10p.  The Scottish Parliament can then opt to re-instate the 10p income-tax to try to make up the budget shortfall.

However academics have claimed this will have a negative effect on Scotland’s economy as Westminster estimates will be up to two years out of date and the Scottish Parliament will be faced with having to raise taxes even higher in order to make up for unexpected shortfalls.

It has also been pointed out that any fiscal benefits resulting from economic growth would not accrue to Scotland but would go to the UK Treasury.

As well as income tax, the Bill will see Holyrood take control of stamp duty and landfill tax as well as £5 billion in borrowing powers.

Unionist MSPs goaded the Scottish Government who they claimed had been forced into a climbdown.  However Scottish Government Minister for Stategy, Bruce Crawford, who led the debate, claimed that the more damaging aspects of the Bill had been removed as a result of the Scottish Government’s negotiations.

Mr Crawford said the Bill could have been “much better” but echoed the words of his colleague and pointed to the real debate which was the referendum on independence.

He added: “The Scotland Bill has now been bypassed by history and events – its promoters are already looking past it, although so far they’re reluctant to say what they can see.

“This government has a clear view – independence is the only state that allows Scotland to flourish.”

Labour MSP James Kelly agreed with his SNP rivals and said the Bill could have gone further by including more borrowing powers and devolving powers over air passenger duty and the Crown Estate.  Mr Kelly said: “It is a substantial package of measures, which is something that should be welcomed by the Scottish Parliament.

“I firmly believe the proposals which have been brought through the Scotland Bill will mean more accountability from this parliament to the people of Scotland.”

However both the Conservatives and Lib Dems attacked the Scottish Government, boasting that six areas outlined by the SNP had been ignored by the Tory / Lib Dem UK coalition.

Mr McLetchie said: “The legislative consent motion which has been tabled by the Scottish government can be viewed either as a humiliating climbdown or a tactical retreat.

“Perhaps it is a mixture of both, because when one looks back on the heady days of last summer and reflects on the rhetoric of the first minister and his so-called six demands, there is no doubt that people unaccustomed to humility should now be eating a large slice of humble pie.”

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: “When it came to the Scottish elections, they had the six big demands, which they whispered during the election campaign, but they were red lines which they insisted the UK government must agree to – they failed to make their case.”

The SNP responded to the Lib Dem jibes by pointing out that they had reneged on five key areas in their coalition pact with the Tories.

According to the SNP the Lib Dem U-turns included:

1. Crown Estates – In 1998 the Lib Dems proposed amending the Scotland Bill to devolve the Crown Estates to the Scottish Parliament. Now Lib Dem Secretary of State Michael Moore is saying they will oppose this.

2. European representation – In 1998 the Lib Dems proposed amending the Scotland Bill to allow Scottish Executive Ministers to have the right of statutory representation in the Council of Ministers. Now they are suggesting that they will oppose this.

3. Corporation Tax – In his submission to the Calman Commission on behalf of the Scottish Lib Dems the then leader Tavish Scott called for corporation tax to be devolved with “all revenues accruing directly to the Scottish Parliament”. Now they are opposing this.

4. Excise duty – In his submission to the Calman Commission on behalf of the Scottish Lib Dems the then leader Tavish Scott called for tobacco and alcohol duties, along with fuel duty and vehicle excise duty, to be devolved with “all revenues accruing directly to the Scottish Parliament”. Now they are signalling they will oppose this.

5. Broadcasting – In the Lib Dems’ Steel Commission it was said that there should be much greater accountability to the Scottish Parliament and regular reporting from the BBC with a formal role for the Scottish Parliament in the charter renewal process.  No positive response to the Scottish Government’s similar proposals have been received.

 

Scotland Bill powers

  • New Scottish rate of income tax
  • Devolution of stamp duty land tax
  • Devolution of landfill tax
  • Power to create new taxes
  • New borrowing powers of about £5bn of the budget
  • Legislative power over air weapons
  • Responsibility for drink-driving and speed limits
  • A role in appointments in broadcasting and the Crown Estate
  • New procedure for Scottish criminal cases that go to the UK Supreme Court