Monday, 15 June 2009

Calman: the next steps

Today's final report from the Calman Commission is designed to plot a way forward for devolution in Scotland.

The report itself is OK as far as it goes: it recognises that Scotland needs to be responsible for deciding a greater share of its own finances and it sets out a case for additional powers to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

The down side is that there are proposals for certain fairly minor responsibilities to be handed back to Westminster. I haven't yet read the full report, only the executive summary, so I don't know the Commission's thinking behind these, but I have to say I am inherently suspicious of any proposal to exercise power further away from the people and I suspect these might be an area of controversy.

I think it is also fair to say that Calman is not a particularly bold vision for the future of devolution. The Scottish Lib Dems, for instance, wish to go far further than is proposed by Calman, with the Scottish Parliament having control over a whole range of taxes, not just the 10p income tax rate and a few minor taxes proposed by Calman. We would also give a much wider range of powers to the Scottish Parliament than Calman envisages. You can find more details of our proposals here.

However, Calman was almost certainly constrained by the need to achieve consensus among all the parties to the commission, with neither the Tories or Labour as keen as the Scottish Lib Dems on an enhaned home rule settlement. It is a tribute to Calman that the final report was unanimous and it is an important landmark that both the Tories and Labour have now agreed to an enhanced role for the Scottish Parliament, including over its own finances.

The question now arises of where we go from here. In my view, there now needs to be a much wider debate about the future of Scottish devolution. Although Calman did make an effort to take evidence from a range of groups, there now needs to be much more public involvement in deciding how we proceed.

And the best way that can happen is if we have a referendum on the proposals, with independence being the other option. I have in the past argued (here and here) that a referendum should wait until we have fully worked out proposals for both an enhanced devolution settlement and for independence. Well, we now have the former. What we need now is for the Gnats to come up with a proposal for independence which is more than just a slogan.

And when they do that, we can have a big argument about it all and then vote on it. Over to you, Mr Salmond.

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