Monday, 16 March 2009

Scottish Conference: More powers for the Scottish Parliament

One of the things about any conference is that there are usually a few things going on at the same time.

Thus it was that while the conference in Perth debated giving more powers to the Scottish Parliament, I was in a training session. So I can't give you a blow-by-blow account of the debate, although the first couple of speeches were good.

But I am delighted with the policy that conference passed in my absence. It is a radical vision of a powerful Scottish Parliament within a federal Britain. There are new powers proposed for the Scottish Parliament to control drugs policy, energy policy, firearms, human rights and marine policy, as well as a system of shared competence with the UK on issues such as broadcasting and unemployment.

And just as importantly, the policy also includes extending the Scottish Parliament's fiscal powers. Borrowing powers are included and Holyrood would get the power to control a range of taxes, such as income tax, vehicle excise duty, alcohol and tobacco duties and several others. There's a proposal for shared revenues between Holyrood and Westminster for VAT and North Sea oil duties and for Westminster to have sole control over things like national insurance and taxes related to welfare benefits.

This is a bold set of policies and it shows that we can have a much more powerful Scottish Parliament without going down the Gnats' road of a costly and unnecessary break-up of the United Kingdom. I hope we in the Lib Dems campaign hard on them in the run-up to the next elections, both at Westminster and at Holyrood.

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