0131 524 9500 | info@reformscotland.com

Wallace says Holyrood dependence on Treasury handouts needs examination – Times

Angus Macleod
\r\nThe Times, 8/12/08

\r\n

A senior member of the commission examining the powers of the Scottish Parliament has warned his colleagues that supporting the devolution status quo is “not an option” and that they must be bold in producing a new financial blueprint for Holyrood.

\r\n

Lord Wallace of Tankerness, the former deputy first minister and leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said in a newspaper article that a think-tank suggestion that all levels of government should have the power to raise the bulk of the money they spend “merits proper consideration.”

\r\n

His comments come less than a week after the Calman Commission published its interim report which made no firm recommendations on how the financial accountability of Holyrood should be improved, but expressly ruled out any scheme that gave MSPs full powers over tax-raising in Scotland.

\r\n

Lord Wallace, who as Jim Wallace, played a key part in the deliberations of the constitutional convention leading up to devolution in 1999, said that Calman “had established a narrative for the Union and Scotland’s place in it”. He continued: “I hope that the next phase of the commission’s work focuses more on the part of its remit to recommend any changes which will enable the Scottish Parliament to serve the people of Scotland better.”

\r\n

Lord Wallace added: “Crucially, the commission has to address the future funding of the Scottish Parliament. Our remit specifically asks us to make recommendations which ‘improve the Parliament’s financial accountability’. So the status quo isn’t an option.”

\r\n

He approvingly quotes Lord Steel of Aikwood, the former Liberal Democrat leader and the first Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, as saying: “No self-respecting parliament should expect to exist permanently on 100 per cent handouts determined by another parliament” — a reference to the annual £30 billion block grant going to Holyrood from the Treasury.

\r\n

A paper from the Reform Scotland think-tank, says Lord Wallace, arrived too late to be given proper account in the Calman Commission’s first report but, he says, its basic conclusion — that all levels of government in Scotland should have the power to raise the bulk of the money which they are responsible for spending should be considered. He adds in the article: “Some people who fought the devolution battle in the decades leading up to 1999 have expressed concern to me that the stance adopted by Labour in the 2007 (Scottish) election — no more powers for the Scottish Parliament — still represents the prevailing mood of the UK government. Caution,even inertia, has replaced ambition.

\r\n

“I sense a view among some people that devolution is OK provided we don’t have too many differences between Scotland and England. That,after all, could destabilise society and the Union. One can imagine their political forebears in 1707 opposing Scotland having a separate system of family law in case differences in the age of parental consent for marriage led to young English couples running away to marry at Gretna Green.”

\r\n

The purpose of devolution, Lord Wallace maintains in the article, is to allow different solutions to different problems and circumstances. “Confident of Scotland’s place in the Union, we should not be afraid of diversity. The \\ commission should be bold in addressing both the further powers and financial accountability which the Scottish Parliament requires to serve better the people of Scotland.”
\r\n
\r\n