Devolution for England is a good idea. The Blair devolution settlement was flawed, unequal and unfair (even before you consider the way in which is has boosted the SNP), so it’s high time England gained powers over Income Tax, for example, as the Conservative English manifesto proposes today.
But is this really a coherent way to go about things? After Labour created the current mess by taking a piecemeal approach to the structure of our country, a piecemeal approach to fixing it is hardly desirable.
The Income Tax idea is a good example of the problems this poses. Evidently the decision is that it ought to be a devolved, not a union-wide, tax. But why isn’t it being devolved for Wales and Northern Ireland? Northern Ireland is getting power over its own Corporation Tax, but Scotland, England and Wales aren’t. National Insurance, which is effectively Income Tax in dark glasses and a false moustache, doesn’t appear to be part of the debate at all.
We already know that patchy devolution for some but not all is a recipe for frustration, tension and ultimately political disaster. And yet this tax proposal simply follows that very pattern.
What is needed is a clear set of principles as to which taxes ought to be controlled at a UK level and which at a devolved national level. No doubt the left would prefer everything to be harmonised, while the right would broadly see some benefits in tax competition, but the debate ought to take place and the issue be settled. Ultimately, that can only be done by establishing a federal system for the UK with full, equal devo max for all four Home Nations, as we proposed in the ConHome manifesto. If we want the Union to survive, we need a coherent vision of what it is for and how it should work for all its constituent parts – hotch-potch changes will just stave problems off temporarily.