Scotland Should Get Increased Powers, Including Over Taxation, Commission Says
Scotland would gain sweeping new powers, including control of income tax, under plans announced on Thursday that are intended to defuse pressure for Scottish independence.
The proposals have big implications not just for Scotland, but for the rest of the United Kingdom. And they have set off a lively debate about where power should lie in a country that prides itself on doing without a written constitution.
Pressure for Scottish independence culminated in a referendum in September, in which 55 percent of voters rejected secession and 45 percent voted in favor. But before the referendum, when opinion polls suggested that the result was too close to call, the leaders of all three main British political parties promised Scots more autonomy if they rejected independence.
Thursday’s report came from an independent commission, set up to work out the details of increased autonomy, which was presided over by Robert Smith, a member of the House of Lords. The recommendations, which suggest the biggest shake-up of Scotland’s relationship with London since the Scottish Parliament was re-established in Edinburgh 15 years ago, have the support of the main political parties.
Under the plan, the Scottish Parliament would have the power to set income tax rates and brackets, though not the level at which people need to start paying tax.
Some of the revenues from sales taxes raised in Scotland would go toward the Scottish budget; the Scottish government would be able to control the duties imposed on passengers traveling through Scottish airports; it would gain a significant portion of welfare spending; and the Scottish Parliament would be given the power to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote.
However, the plans are likely to prove controversial in England and, reporting before the announcement, The Times of London warned in a headline of “fears of a federal U.K.”
Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain has already called for curbs on the ability of Scottish lawmakers elected to the British Parliament in Westminster to decide on English issues. There is also likely to be pressure to give greater decision-making powers to other cities and regions in the United Kingdom.
Legislation on the recommendations is expected to be drafted early next year and put in place by the government that will be formed after a general election in May.
In a statement, Mr. Smith said that the recommendations agreed to by the parties would result in “the biggest transfer of powers” to the Scottish Parliament since its establishment.
“This agreement is, in itself, an unprecedented achievement,” he said. “It demanded compromise from all of the parties.”
The plans have been most problematic for the opposition Labour Party, which traditionally relies on Scotland to elect many of its lawmakers in Westminster and currently holds 41 Scottish seats.
The party could suffer significantly if the powers of Scottish representatives were limited, and it is resisting Mr. Cameron’s push to put such curbs in place.
However, the commission’s report was endorsed by Jim Murphy, a leading contender to take over the leadership of the Scottish Labour Party, which is vacant.
Source: New York Times / Nov. 27, 2014