Report reviews Holyrood tax powers

Published

Ishbel Begg

A recently published report from an expert economic panel established by the Calman Commission has been met with mixed reactions in Scotland.

The interim report, which was to examine alternatives for allocating funds to Scotland, comes in the wake of the Westminster department’s submission to the Calman Commission, which did not recommend any further transfer of powers from Westminster to Holyrood.

The chairman leading the commission, Sir Kenneth Calman, was elected Chancellor of Glasgow University in 2006.
The publication of the report coincided the tenth anniversary of The Scotland Act, which created devolution. The report was to offer updated recommendations on issues such as greater financial powers for the Scottish Parliament, and the Barnett formula, which is designed to automatically apply a proportionate share of any increase (or decrease) in comparable English spending programmes.

However, the expert economic group, chaired by Professor Anton Muscatelli, Principal of Heriot-Watt University, has decided not to make specific recommendations on Holyrood’s powers over taxation and spending, in contrast to the pro-Union parties’ expectations of enhanced financial powers.

Days before the report’s release Tom Clarke, Labour MP and architect of the 1998 Scotland Act, commented: “We shall see what the Commission says, but it has to be remembered that one of the referendum questions which the Labour party put, honouring our commitment that there shall be a Scottish Parliament was, were the Scottish people in favour of tax raising to a limit of 3p?

“Now that’s a power that no legislation in Hollyrood has chosen to use, but its there. And given the problems that have emerged from the Scottish Government freezing the council tax, for example, its not unreasonable for us to return to the issue and say, ‘Wait a minute, you do have tax raising powers,’ and also to reflect on whether those go far enough or go too far.”
Sophie Hall, President of Glasgow University’s Liberal Democrats, claimed that the majority of people in Scotland would support the aims of the Calman Commission.

She explained: “We welcome the Calman report because it would lead towards giving us a fiscal home rule which is what people are actually looking for. Most of the Scottish people don’t want a status quo or independence, however moving towards greater fiscal autonomy is widely welcomed by the people of Scotland.”

Paul O’Kane, Vice Chair of Glasgow University’s Labour Club, told Guardian he felt that, thus far, devolution had been a very successful process.
He said: “The Calman Commission has assessed devolution after ten years and has found a wholly positive and forward moving process, although there is room for debate and discussion on progress on a number of key issues.”

The commission, first proposed by Wendy Alexander, former leader of the Scottish Labour Party, won support from the Tories and Liberal Democrats to review constitutional arrangements. The SNP have chosen not to back the project, instead launching their rival National Conversation project.
SNP MSP for Glasgow, Sandra White told Guardian that the National Conversation project will offer a wider focus and be open to everyone in Scotland.

She said: “The National Conversation, unlike the Calman Report which only engaged with invited audiences, is open to everyone to comment on what they wish to see for the future of Scotland, independence, status quo, more powers or indeed any suggestions that they feel will benefit Scotland.

“The Calman Commission offers no such choice and is very narrow in its focus. As a party who wish to see Scotland flourish and take responsibility for its own affairs we could not support such a narrow agenda.”

The Commission will release the first part of their report before the end of this year, with the final report expected by the end of 2009.