We’ve had the Labour and Liberal proposals and now with the publication of the Strathclyde Commission’s report on the Future of Governance of Scotland by the Scottish Conservatives, I can finally shout “house!” on my further powers reports bingo card.
The headline proposal is that the Scottish Parliament should be responsible for setting rates and bands of income tax across Scotland.
The tax proposals from the Conservatives do not constitute fiscal autonomy and may not necessarily lead to increased accountability in parliamentary spending. However, most people relate to income tax and the link between their hard-earned cash and what they receive from the Scottish Parliament may lead to greater questioning from the public and transparency from the Scottish Parliament.
Given the recent manoeuvring over Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) and the so-called bedroom tax, the proposal that housing benefit should be devolved shouldn’t come as a surprise and the devolution of attendance allowance makes eminent sense.
Yet, the suggestion that the Scottish Parliament should have the power to supplement welfare benefits legislated at a UK level is more than could have been expected from the Conservatives.
The analysis of the Scottish Parliament as an institution is both thought-provoking and timely. The proposal that the Convenors of mandatory committees should be elected from among opposition parties – a feature not seen in any of the other parties’ reports – is noteworthy. In the age of majority government, effective scrutiny of government policy is crucial and recent press coverage has seen many people question the ability of the parliament’s committees to carry out this function.
It will be interesting to note whether any of the sentiments in the Strathclyde report will be reflected in the evidence given to the Standards Committee’s inquiry into the procedures for considering legislation – see SCVO’s response to the inquiry.
Nevertheless, given the effort to analyse the ins and outs of tax and welfare, the section on decentralisation seems a little hollow. Although it re-emphasises the long-held Conservative belief in localism and decentralisation, any discussion of reform of local government was out with the remit of the Commission. Therefore, the key recommendation that real devolution should be given to individuals with a greater role for civic society and local government is simply a platitude in the absence of suggested reforms or frameworks to enable this.
Given the furore over David Cameron’s speech to the Scottish Conservative Party Conference in Edinburgh earlier this year, when he said that a vote for no can mean further devolution – sources insist he meant to say “will” – it is inevitable that people will question whether we can trust the Scottish Conservatives, or any of the opposition parties, to implement these proposals in the event of a No vote on 18 September.