Scotland Bill under threat as Calman consensus evaporates

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By G.A.Ponsonby

The Scotland Bill looked to be under pressure today after media reports indicated Labour and the LibDems were both planning to ditch Calman and were now reviewing their stance on more powers for the Scottish parliament.

A newspaper report has claimed that senior Labour figures have held discussions aimed at backing the transfer of even more powers to Holyrood than were currently on offer in the Calman-inspired Scotland Bill.

The reports in The Scotsman newspaper described a meeting between Labour leader Ed Miliband and senior Scottish Labour politicians including former First Minister Henry McLeish.  If true, it would spell a dramatic U-turn from the Labour party who have thus far resisted devolving more powers to Scotland than contained in the Bill.

In an equally dramatic move it emerged that the Scottish LibDems are also planning to review their own stance and are to set up another commission to look at devolution.  The bizarre announcement came only one day after senior Scottish LibDem MPs argued that new tax powers for Scotland would harm Scottish businesses.

The moves by Labour and the LibDems will be seen as an admission that the Calman Commission has failed in its attempt at neutering the SNP and stemming demands for more powers.  The chair of the commission, Sir Kenneth Calman, was forced to concede last week that the new income tax rate that is the central plank of the Bill had no evidence to back it up.

The moves will also be seized on by the SNP who have publicly stated their opposition to the “damaging” tax proposals contained in the Scotland Bill and have instead set out three key areas they want to see devolved – corporation tax, control of Crown Estates and increased borrowing powers.

Responding to reports of Labour’s meeting, SNP MSP and Finance Committee member Paul Wheelhouse said:

“An overwhelming majority of Scots want to see Holyrood take more responsibility for taxation, for welfare and for enterprise.

“It is ridiculous that Labour would rather see the Tories control Scotland’s economy than allow Scotland’s Parliament to take on the responsibility.

“The ambitions of the people of Scotland go far beyond those of the current Labour, LibDem or Tory parties and if this [meeting] is true then it is a welcome recognition by Labour that the Scotland Bill simply doesn’t go far enough.

“If Labour are considering giving independence to the Scottish party they should show the same freedom to the Scottish Parliament and support SNP calls for the Scottish Parliament to take responsibility for taxation, spending and welfare.”