Labour Devolution Commission report is a let down

By Ben Thomson in the Press & Journal

On Tuesday the Labour Party published its Devolution Commission’s final report. I don’t believe I was the only one who found the recommendations both surprising and disappointing.

Surprising, because in its interim report the Devolution Commission considered the merits of devolving a wide variety of taxes to the Scottish Parliament everything from income tax in its entirety to “a strong case” for devolving air passenger duty. Indeed, it commented that “only devolving Value Added Tax (VAT) can be completely ruled out”. However, in its final report, the commission proposes only to tinker with the income tax powers which are to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament as a result of the Scotland Act 2012 and nothing else.

I’m disappointed because it has not taken the opportunity to ensure that the Scottish Parliament has greater responsibility for raising the money it spends. Last year, the Scottish Parliament was responsible for spending over £38bn, yet responsible for raising just under £4bn. So, it’s responsible for raising just 10 per cent of its income – that’s simply not sustainable.

Each tier of government, whether that is Westminster, Holyrood, or local authorities, should be responsible for raising the majority of what it spends, only then can we hold our politicians properly to account for their decisions. Such a scenario would ensure proper reward for successful economic policies if revenues grow and give the Scottish Parliament the levers it needs to achieve higher economic growth.

Ultimately, what the Labour Party has produced is a lacklustre effort which is motivated by referendum politics rather than doing what is best for Scotland. This week has been a major let-down for those who expected the Scottish Labour Party to reclaim its mantle as the party of devolution. Their proposals will do little in the drive to give Scotland a more responsible and accountable Parliament fit for the future. We now wait with interest to see what the Conservative’s Devolution Commission produces in May – will it grasp the thistle or mimic the feeble response from Labour this week.