REFORM Scotland, a think-tank, produced some interesting proposals a few months ago for the possible architecture of a more fiscally responsible Scottish Parliament.
It has now attempted to support this design, which it describes as “devolution plus”, to distinguish it from “devo-max”, with some public poll backing.
The case it put forward was for virtually all taxes apart from VAT and National Insurance to be devolved to Scotland, and for most welfare payments apart from pensions and statutory sick pay to be similarly devolved. Thus, it argued, Scotland would have nearly all the economic and social levers it needed to create a more prosperous and socially just country.
The opinion poll it has now produced, however, provides fragile buttressing. It is a self-selecting sample, so it is impossible to know whether it is representative of the Scottish electorate – and the suspicion must be that it is not.
But the results have an interesting quirk. While there is big support for the Scottish Parliament raising the taxes it spends, there is much less enthusiasm for local councils being able to do the same. And yet, if fiscal and democratic accountability go hand in hand, that ought to be true for all levels of government.
Perhaps the answer is that people have bitter experience of councils raising taxes, but no such experience of the Scottish Parliament, naturally enough, doing likewise.
If so, it suggests that popular support for greater Scottish tax powers may be based on the dubious assumption that devolved taxes will come down and not go up.