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Real Debate is about greater fiscal power for Holyrood, says Reform Scotland

Edinburgh – Monday, November 30, 2009

Reform Scotland today warns that the question of an independence referendum should not be allowed to overshadow the real debate about greater financial power for Holyrood.

Responding to today’s White Paper, the leading, non-partisan think tank says the primary concern of politicians should be how to correct the fundamental weakness of the current devolution settlement.

‘Our priority is to ensure financial accountability for the Scottish Parliament. We are less concerned about the process by which this occurs,’ it says in a bulletin to coincide with publication of the SNP Government’s proposals.

Reform Scotland says that achieving greater financial powers for Holyrood does not require a referendum. But it acknowledges that the proposed referendum could help bring it about by stimulating debate about fiscal accountability and responsibility.

The think tank, which is not affiliated to any party, emphasised that because any proposals for change would affect other parts of the UK as well as Scotland, it would require UK Government legislation. 

‘Therefore, taking the debate to a UK level is as important, if not more so, than a referendum,’ it says.

Ben Thomson, chairman of Reform Scotland, said the question of financial accountability for the Scottish Parliament was the real and urgent priority.

‘The Scottish Parliament’s almost total reliance on the block grant limits its accountability,’ he said. ‘Equally, it provides no incentive for politicians in Scotland to come up with innovative ideas to boost economic growth or improve public services because, however poorly the economy performs, the money still rolls in via the block grant. If the economy did grow faster the benefits would accrue to the Chancellor at Westminster and not the Scottish Government.’

He added: ‘As we said in our research paper, Fiscal Powers, last year, proper financial accountability could be achieved in a number of ways. These could include independence as well as Reform Scotland’s recommended proposal that both Scotland and the UK be separately responsible for raising the money that they each currently spend. 

‘However, neither the current Barnett formula nor the solution proposed by the Calman Commission give enough incentive to politicians to run our public services effectively. Therefore whatever the outcome we do need a sensible debate both in Scotland and at Westminster.’