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What now for devolution?

Brian Taylor | 13:14 UK time, Thursday, 3 March 2011

It remains the fundamental fault line in Scottish politics: the distinction between those who advocate independence and those who favour the Union.

That fault line was to the fore as the Holyrood committee which has been considering the Scotland Bill presented its conclusions.

There were no histrionics, no raised voices, no red cards, no need to send for the stewards, no angry scenes.

But there was palpable tension nonetheless: that tends to happen when the disagreement is basic, even visceral.

The subject? Proposals by the UK government, derived from the Calman Commission, to enhance the financial powers of the Scottish government, primarily via extra shared responsibility for income tax.

These are UK proposals. They will be enacted via the UK Parliament. But, under established convention, Westminster does not act on such matters without first gaining consent from Holyrood.

Hence the Holyrood committee investigation. Hence today's report.

Hence, subsequently, the prospect of a full vote in the Scottish Parliament in which the majority, presumably, will prevail.

Borrowing powers

That majority representing those who support the Union.

There are several areas of agreement in today's committee report. Those were acknowledged openly by both the convener, Labour's Wendy Alexander, and the deputy convener, Brian Adam of the SNP.

All sides at Holyrood believe that the borrowing powers proposed in the Bill should be extended still further.

There is common ground on several non-financial matters.

But fundamental division remains. Ms Alexander believes that the shared income tax package provides an opportunity to Holyrood to move into a new phase of self-government, with greater financial responsibility and entrenched incentives to create growth and thus higher tax revenues.

In this, she was supported by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Adam believes that the powers are inadequate and might well leave Scotland short in revenue. He and his party advocate full fiscal responsibility as part of independence.

Both sides, all parties, made their views plain today. This contest will form one of the key aspects of the coming election.

Polite opening

It had already been rehearsed in committee hearings - most notably the tetchy exchanges over whether or not devolution of tax responsibility is inherently connected with growth.

From the formal, polite opening, those divisions again steadily appeared today.

Supporters of the Union said that the case for intrinsic growth had been demolished.

Nationalists regretted the treatment given by the committee to academics on this point.

SNP member Tricia Marwick went further: castigating committee advisers whom, she said, had previously worked with the Calman Commission and had been, she implied, inimical to alternative views.

This perspective was disputed later by Ms Alexander who insisted that she and her committee had carefully examined all aspects of the evidence, assisted by expert advisers.

Which leaves us where?

With the knowledge that Unionists and Nationalists disgree.

But also with proposals for further strengthening the devolved package which, I believe, the UK Government will be under considerable pressure to agree.

Core issue

It might, indeed, fit with the perceived choreography between Westminster and Holyrood on this matter for that agreement to be given, admittedly after consideration.

There remains though another basic question at the core of this issue.

The new tax powers substitute for grant which will be withheld. On what basis will that withdrawn grant be calculated?

The committee notes that it has yet to receive a detailed proposal on that point from the UK Government - or indeed the Scottish government.

But, in a lengthy annexe, the committee itself sets out the basis upon which that calculation might be done.

This is, indeed, fundamental to the issue of whether grant for tax will be a good trade. Presumably the UK government will set out their position clearly before an absolutely final decision is taken.


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  • 1. At 9:48pm on 03 Mar 2011, moujick wrote:

    Meanwhile,today, the people of Wales had their chance to have their say in a referendum in relation to additional powers for the Welsh assembly whilst the people of Scotland get no chance to express their opinion on the Calman proposals vs Full Fiscal Autonomy or Independence? Utterly disgraceful.

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  • 2. At 09:12am on 04 Mar 2011, AMJHAJ wrote:

    The Scotland Bill is a con. Any more powers for the Scottish Parliament are outweighed by others going to Westminster.

    Interesting that this article isn't easy to find ...

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  • 3. At 10:06am on 04 Mar 2011, AlastairGordon wrote:

    Thhis article isn't easy to find. Is this just an error on the website, or is there a Machiavellian purpose behind it?

    The Scotland Bill isn't just a con, it's an insult to democracy!

    The very constitution og the Scottish Parliament i.e. the primary legislation it has power to imtroduce, is about to change - but we, the people, have no say in whether the Parliament should have those powers.

    This is a total stitch up and shows that Cameron, Clegg et al have a completely different understanding of the word 'respect' than me and, I would suspect, most people have.

    There must be a referendum on this. I'm surprised the SNP hasven't pushed for this.

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  • 4. At 11:53am on 04 Mar 2011, Dunecht Loon wrote:

    I am deeply concerned about the Scotland Bill in its present form; the dangers of leaving a serious shortfall in income but without any system in place to provide any short term top up until the system beds in and is in a regular cycle is worrying. We would be better with FFA in a federated UK system which would include an English Parliament in some form.

    There is also the issue opt Scots law and the transfer of powers to the UK supreme court with it’s over influence of English law lords. In addition, the lack of scrutiny given to the bill and the seemingly undue haste to push it through is unacceptable

    There is also the problem of a loss of powers from the Scottish parliament and the over influence of Westminster in Scottish affairs.

    The whole thing is a mess and before it is imposed, the Scottish People should be consulted and allowed a vote on it.

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  • 5. At 12:52pm on 04 Mar 2011, moujick wrote:

    Can't find the original "Bring it On" clip featuring Wendy Alexander but I'm sure that she said that in response to the suggestion that a major constitutional change (such as Calman was going to propose) couldn't go through without a referendum. Although I can't find that clip there are plenty others where Wendy clearly states that (and I paraphrase)"the Labour Party trust the judgement of the people of Scotland". Where is that trust now and why are powers being handed BACK to Westminster without our permission. Calman is a shameful betrayal of every single person who voted Yes in the 1997 referendum.

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  • 6. At 2:23pm on 04 Mar 2011, Dunecht Loon wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 7. At 4:51pm on 04 Mar 2011, handclapping wrote:

    With the result in Wales 64% for more powers, you can see why they don't want the Scots to vote on this bill to hand back powers to Westminster.

    The Supreme Court has no legitimacy in Scotland. The powers arrogated to the House of Lords were under the Scots doctrine of "remede in law" and the House of Lords had, theoretically in the end, such a potential. The Supreme Court has no law making powers and therefore is incompetent to pronounce on any matter in Scots Law. Any appeal from the Court of Session or the High Court of Justiciary lies to the Parliament with powers to grant a "remede in law" anent the matter complained.

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  • 8. At 6:56pm on 04 Mar 2011, Jim Robertson wrote:

    Surprise, surprise eh --- no blog from you regarding this weeks FMQs. Could it be that Ian Grays contribution was excrutiatingly bad! What's new one may say, but this weeks one was the worst. Writers block Brian? I think I can understand why.

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  • 9. At 7:20pm on 04 Mar 2011, Barbazenzero wrote:


    At the time of writing, this thread claims to have been available for more than 24 hours, but it is still not linked to from the previous "Tuition Quandary" thread, so perhaps it's should be no surprise that the first comment was made after 21:00 last night and the second after 09:00 this morning. Perhaps your blogs owner would check and fix, so that people know it's open again, however briefly?

    On topic, it's a pity that bendy Wendy wasn't given the 3rd degree by Brewer on Newsnicht yesterday night. Not one question on why referendums are on the agenda for Wales and the UK but not to be mentioned for Scotland, even though Ms Alexander is apparently perfectly happy to give back powers to Westminster which were only won for the people of Scotland in a referendum of said people.

    Both her and Brewer's performances were either shameful or shameless, according to taste.

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  • 10. At 7:48pm on 04 Mar 2011, Sizzy wrote:


    A referendum has to pass through the Scottish Parliament, and with the SNP in a minority it would be voted down by Liebour (sorry Labour). The ConDem-ed vote would not matter. The only way for a referendum is for a major swing to SNP in May, so they have a majority to force the vote through.

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  • 11. At 7:52pm on 04 Mar 2011, vlad8 wrote:


    "The Supreme Court has no legitimacy in Scotland. The powers arrogated to the House of Lords were under the Scots doctrine of "remede in law" and the House of Lords had, theoretically in the end, such a potential. The Supreme Court has no law making powers and therefore is incompetent to pronounce on any matter in Scots Law."

    Part of the unionist hand back of powers called the Scotland Bill does just that it hands the Supreme Court and English Law control and supremacy over the Scottish Parliament and Scots Law.

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  • 12. At 7:53pm on 04 Mar 2011, vlad8 wrote:

    Again until you WAKE UP:-

    The Scotland Bill

    It has been well highlighted the new “tax powers” the Scotland Bill would introduce are unworkable and unusable. They are only being introduced to give the impression greater powers on tax have been devolved.

    However the worst and largest part of the Scotland Act is in the precedent it will set in returning powers. Under the democratic referendum the Scottish people held to create the Scottish Parliament. The voted for the powers we have at the moment to be devolved. The also democratically voted on the idea of powers being devolved not powers being returned. Devolution was always supposed to be a one way process.

    The unionists most notably Labour are disregarding and flouting the results of the only democratic referendum held on devolution of powers. They have no mandate to do so and do it is against a democratic referendum.

    The worst part is if they succeed the will set a precedent. Devolution was always perceived to be a one way process. If they are allowed to begin reversing devolution they will have set the precedent that any powers, any part of devolution can be reversed at any time. No part of devolution will be safe.

    Some of the Powers and Responsibilities Being Returned

    The end of Scots Law. The Bill wants to make the Supreme Court Scotland’s highest law maker. It will also have the ability to suspend bills passed by the Scottish Parliament.

    Control of Insolvency (debt) London want Scotland control and legislative abilities handed to London again there will only be British legislation again this impacts on Scots Law being separate.
    Control of charities Scotland will no longer have "Scottish" charities all charities will come under London there will only be British charities.

    Control over regulating Health Professions London wants this back even though Health is devolved they want to control regulation of our Health professions.

    London wants control over gambling legislation too.

    There is also a lot being said of breaking down the separateness of the Scottish Parliament and Westminster.

    There is also talk of "The UK Parliament should end its self-denying ordinance
    of not debating devolved matters as they affect Scotland, and the House of
    Commons should establish a regular “state of Scotland” debate. Meaning Westmonster can now debate devolved matters and increase LCM usage London legislating on devolved matters.

    "A standing joint liaison committee of the UK Parliament
    and Scottish Parliament should be established to oversee relations and to consider
    the establishment of subject-specific ad hoc joint committees." Again Westminster wants to be involved and interfere in devolved matters.

    "Committees of the UK and Scottish Parliaments should
    be able to work together and any barriers to this should be removed" and "Any barriers to committees in either Parliament being able to share
    information, or hold joint evidence sessions, on areas of mutual interest,
    should be removed."

    Barriers being removed means making there no division of powers more power sharing again interference. There is a lot of mention of removing barriers and working closely with Westmonster on devolved issues. Interference and control.

    These are only some of the issues and legislation being passed back there is more. More powers are going than we are getting! This is tantamount to an attack on devolution itself. Don't be fooled by a gradual increase of powers we are seeing a massive reversal of powers.
    What do we gain?

    Control of speed limits
    Control of air guns
    Control of drink driving

    The conclusion has to be that the idea of devolution itself is under attack. They are taking far more than they are giving and what they are giving is of little importance. A vote for any unionist party is a vote for a gradual return to direct control. It took us long enough to get even a slither of democracy and freedom.

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  • 13. At 7:57pm on 04 Mar 2011, vlad8 wrote:

    The only way to stop this Bill is for the SNP to win again, Even then Michael Moore recently answering to a committee indicated he is of mind to ignore the Sewell Motion. If the parliament was to vote against allowing Westminster to implement the Scotland Bill he said they would ignore the parliament and do it anyway. Now if he is developing this attitude he is infering Westminster can now legislate on devolved matters and what is anyone going to do about it.

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  • 14. At 7:59pm on 04 Mar 2011, vlad8 wrote:

    Brian says "The subject? Proposals by the UK government, derived from the Calman Commission, to enhance the financial powers of the Scottish government, primarily via extra shared responsibility for income tax."

    It is not enhancing the financial powers it is introducing a system that is unworkable and unusable.

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  • 15. At 8:23pm on 04 Mar 2011, cheesed_off wrote:

    Calman is a unionist stitch up designed to impoverish Scotland and make us more dependant on Westminster. The scrutiny of this bill is appalling both here and in England showing why the UK is a basket case of democracy.

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  • 16. At 8:34pm on 04 Mar 2011, vlad8 wrote:

    If this Bill is passed if you want to donate to charity you will have no guarantee your money will be helping Scots like all our money it will be flowing south. They want control of all charities handed to London who are going to abolish Scottish charities. You will only have British charities so if you donate to charity your money will be diverted from helping local Scottish charities to charities in London. Much as we have seen with the lottery where Scottish charities have gone without so money can be diverted to the London olympics.

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  • 17. At 8:40pm on 04 Mar 2011, vlad8 wrote:

    Scottish insolvency laws were always seen as much fairer than the English insolvency laws. So for those struggling with debt the Scotland Bill will make you worse off Labour are handing control to London. Where as before you came under Scots Law if you are in debt you will now be subject to English Law while living in Scotland. This is the first time in 300 years that Scots Law has began to be moved to English Law and may set a trend.

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  • 18. At 8:54pm on 04 Mar 2011, soosider wrote:

    Why is this article not linked from the BWB page, suppose it is just another of those technical difficulties (aye right)

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  • 19. At 9:48pm on 04 Mar 2011, cheesed_off wrote:

    18. soosider
    "Why is this article not linked from the BWB page, suppose it is just another of those technical difficulties (aye right)"

    Called fulfilling there charter obligations box ticked.

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  • 20. At 9:53pm on 04 Mar 2011, cheesed_off wrote:

    Wendy altered/had altered the name on a donation, Mcletchie liked taxis and these two on a Scottish bill committee, give me strength.

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  • 21. At 9:57pm on 04 Mar 2011, cheesed_off wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 22. At 10:08pm on 04 Mar 2011, reincarnation wrote:

    If this blog thread doesn't actually exist, then are we all just figments of Brian's imagination - or is he just a figment of ours?

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  • 23. At 10:17pm on 04 Mar 2011, peteraberdeenshire wrote:

    I think Labour and their media puppets or is that muppets, the BBC are seriously worried. Blogs closing in a short space of time, comments removed, and no discussion of FMQ's if Elmer is worse than usual. Then we have Elmer avoiding the real difficult issues in FMQ's and asking the same questions time and again. You can almost smell the fear.

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  • 24. At 10:46pm on 04 Mar 2011, cheesed_off wrote:

    Did you set up the 'profanity filter' Brian?

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  • 25. At 10:50pm on 04 Mar 2011, cheesed_off wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 26. At 11:07pm on 04 Mar 2011, reincarnation wrote:

    25. cheesed_off

    Thanks for that link. Regardless of the political implications, it's very clear that (because this is a Bill drafted in the UK/English Parliament) it has given Whitehall the chance to introduce wording that opens the door to them to take back, not only the limited powers over Scotland that they lost in 1999, but the potential to move into areas that they had no power over before.

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  • 27. At 11:13pm on 04 Mar 2011, cheesed_off wrote:

    24. cheesed_off
    "Did you set up the 'profanity filter' Brian?"

    Seems like you did.

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  • 28. At 11:24pm on 04 Mar 2011, cheesed_off wrote:

    26. reincarnation

    And people are losing their lives for democracy/freedom in Libya and we are stuck in a flawed democracy unable/unwilling to change this into a grown up honest democracy aided and abetted by a complicit media.

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  • 29. At 11:30pm on 04 Mar 2011, cheesed_off wrote:

    The Biggest Block Compromising democracy is the MSM embedded into the fabricate of the UK as money and power comes before peoples welfare.

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