Today saw the publication of a White Paper from the Government responding to the proposals of the Calman Commission on the future of Scottish devolution. It proposes new tax-raising powers for the Scottish Parliament, for which income tax in Scotland would effectively be cut in Scotland by 10p and the Treasury block grant reduced, leaving it up to Holyrood to make up the difference. The White Paper also proposes the devolution of a few further powers such as the regulation of air weapons, setting the alcohol limit for drink driving and setting speed limits.
In the Commons, Shadow Scotland Secretary David Mundell generally welcomed the proposals, but insisted that any incoming Conservative Government elected next year would not feel bound by them an would instead publish its own White Paper:
"Conservatives accept that the Scottish Parliament needs
to be more financially accountable, that the devolution settlement
needs to be tidied up and that Westminster and Holyrood need to start
working constructively together for the good of Scotland and Britain,
but we will ensure those things through our own White Paper, not this
Government’s proposals launched in the dying days of this Parliament.
Will the Secretary of State welcome that commitment and undertake to
continue in the spirit of Calman, on the basis of consensus and
momentum, regardless of who is in government, and resist the temptation
to play party politics with such an important issue as Scotland’s
"Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the
guiding principle in deliberations on the Calman process has been, and
must continue to be, securing Scotland’s position within the United
Kingdom? Is he as heartened as I am by recent polling in Scotland that
demonstrates that there is very little support for separatism and an
independence referendum? Does he accept Sir Kenneth Calman’s view that
the establishment of better working relationships between the British
Government and the Scottish Government and between the Parliaments here
and at Holyrood must be in place to underpin every other recommendation
in his report? Given that most of the measures to improve relationships
do not require any legislation, can he tell us what he will do to
re-establish the good will between Westminster and Holyrood, which
appears to have ebbed away?
"Whatever differences we may have with the Labour
Government about how to take forward the Calman recommendations, may I
invite the Secretary of State to agree with me that they are as nothing
compared with the divide between us and the Scottish National party? We
are Unionists; they are separatists. We are in the mainstream of the
constitutional debate; they are on the extreme."
David Cameron later issued the following statement:
"We wholeheartedly support the proposals to improve the relationship between the British Government and the Scottish Government as well as the British Parliament and the Scottish Parliament. Under Labour and the SNP this relationship has sadly deteriorated and a Conservative Government would use the Calman Commission's proposals as a base to repair that relationship and indeed we would go further. As Sir Kenneth Calman has said, the "mutual respect" agenda, which we have long advocated, underpins all other aspects of his Commission's proposals and failure to implement them would be detrimental to all of the other recommendations.
“On more non-financial powers for the Scottish Parliament, the Conservative Party is in favour of devolving powers away from big government. However this is not about transferring powers on a "drip, drip" basis. As Calman concludes, the settlement needs some "tidying" up but overall it strikes the right balance between reserved and devolved issues. On the recommendations concerning financial powers, we agree that the current balance does not work. We want to achieve a better balance using the recommendations in the Calman Report as a starting point.
“We accept that the Scottish Parliament needs to have more financial accountability through greater powers over raising and spending taxes and over borrowing. However, we will not be bound by any White Paper produced by the present Government in the short time that remains before the election."