Westminster’s mind already made up on Corporation Tax

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By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP has called for honesty from Scotland Secretary Michael Moore over claims the UK Coalition Government has privately ruled out devolving corporation tax powers while claiming, in public, that they will consider the move.

Michael Moore was questioned on the issue by SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson MP who highlighted evidence given to the Scottish Parliament Scotland Bill Committee by Dr Graham Gudgin, an adviser to the Northern Ireland Secretary, who said the move had already been ruled out.

Speaking to the Holyrood Committee, Dr Gudgin said he had “reliable information” that the tax power would not be given to Scotland “under any circumstances”.  He told the Scottish Parliament committee that he had been briefed by senior Whitehall sources that the power would not be handed to Holyrood.  He also expressed his fear that should the Scottish government continue to press Westminster on the matter the tax would not be devolved to Northern Ireland either.

SNP committee member Stewart Maxwell said Dr Gudgin’s comments suggested that Westminster’s mind was already made up.  

Addressing Dr Gudgin during the Committee hearing, Mr Maxwell said: “We’re being told by the UK government that their minds are not made up and it’s an open discussion, and there’s a respect agenda for the Scottish Parliament and, in fact, for this very committee and the work it’s doing.

“You seem to be suggesting in fact that their mind is already made up.”

During Scottish Questions in the House of Commons yesterday, Mr Robertson pressed Secretary of State Michael Moore to clarify the government’s position:

“The secretary of state has taken the opportunity in the past to say that the UK Government will consider the devolution of corporation tax powers to Scotland, however Doctor Graham Gudgin, an advisor to the Northern Ireland Secretary confirmed in evidence to the Scottish Parliament that the UK Government has already ruled out the devolution of corporation tax under any circumstances. Both statements can’t be true, so which is true?”

However the Secretary of State gave a prevaricating response, attempted to shift blame to the Holyrood administration, and notably did not give a straight answer to the question.  Mr Moore said:

“We have said that we want to consider any valid proposals brought forward by the Scottish Government, however they have to establish some creditable position, some detail, maintain the consensus across the different parties and make sure there isn’t a determent not just to Scotland but to the rest of the UK.  So far the SNP and the First Minister have failed to deliver the details.”

Speaking after the exchange at Scottish Questions, Mr Robertson said:

“The UK Government has been caught saying one thing in public and another in private and we must now have honesty from Michael Moore.

“It would be extraordinary if it emerged that UK Ministers had never had any intention to even consider devolving corporation tax.

“Michael Moore failed to deny that Dr Gudgin’s comments were correct and as a result has raised questions over the clear previous assurances that UK ministers would genuinely listen to proposals for devolution of these powers.

“Devolution of Corporation Tax was a key campaign issue for the SNP and the cross-party Scotland Bill Committee in the last parliament concluded that this power should be available to the Scottish Government if it is granted to Northern Ireland.  The Scottish people have spoken and Westminster must finally wake up to what Scotland wants.

“Control over corporation tax would enable us to boost investment, bringing jobs to communities across Scotland, grow the economy and take the right decisions for Scotland.

“There has also been backing from business leaders, with a growing number of Scotland’s most successful entrepreneurs calling for change, such as Jim McColl and Sir Tom Hunter.  And across the political spectrum there has been support for the principle of devolving responsibility for corporation tax, such as the Steel Commission, as well as the last Scotland Bill Committee.”