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Thursday, December 04, 2008


The interim Calman Report has come out & it is more interesting for its tone than for what it actually presents. Its tone is "no great changes but a few tokens like giving the Scots control, over airguns, energy & the BBC." The only thing it actually rejects is full fiscal autonomy.

But he added: "Full fiscal autonomy is inconsistent with the union and we do not consider it further."

Well actually I agree & have said so. Full fiscal autonomy is independence under another name. Nonetheless this need not have been their first line.

On the other hand they are considering some changes:

"It identified a range of areas that could see further powers granted to Holyrood, including broadcasting, energy policy, animal health, firearms and misuse of drugs"

Most of these are tokens - cuddly animals & airguns popular issues but not really what revolutionary changes are made of which is why they were chosen. The BBC are already desperately promising that 8% of their programming will be Scots made, something which would only reduce with full autonomy. Much more important is the offer to put energy policy in the SNP's hands. This is not being done because it is unimportant. That the lights are going to go out & thousands die should be the most important issue in Scottish politics. It is being done because the SNP have already seized it, through planning controls & none of the other parties have the integrity to fight to stop blackouts. Anyway SNP caused blackouts & a total dependence on England for electricity would clearly work for the unionist cause.

What we should get from Calman is the right to change corporation tax. Nominally this is the SNP's big policy on which they wish to erect the "Celtic Lion" economy which is what Salmond is talking about when he says:

A spokesman for Alex Salmond, first minister and SNP leader, dismissed the report, saying: "We need the economic and financial powers to build a lion economy. What the Calman commission has produced is a constitutional mouse."

Strangely enough, however, he has done very little to push this Celtic Tiger. To get our corporation tax down to the level that gave Ireland 7% growth would cost about £2 billion & there is no sign that he has got this ready. Even today putting a lesser amount into ending business rates would have a lesser but comparable effect yet the SNP's steps here have been very hesitant. If his main economic election promise was a bluff based on the belief that Westminster would never give such powers the only sensible thing to do is to call it.

In fact Labour have already expressed a willingness to do this in Gordon Brown's speech here in September. "we asked the commission to look carefully at the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament and this is a critical part of Calman's remit."

Nicol Stephen ran for Scottish leader on a position of cutting business taxes & though he was not overly specific David Steel was.

The Conservatives nationally support it, David Cameron promising "We'll get rid of those complex reliefs and allowances and use the savings to cut corporation tax by three pence" & has made it clear to the Scots Tories that he would not be embarrassed by them coming up with some interesting policies but would actually like to see them trying.

So if everybody says they are in favour of it, to a greater or lesser extent, why is nobody doing anything. Perhaps it is because they are only in favour during elections. They know 77% of Scots think if taxes are cut the economy will grow faster, which will mean higher living standards AND more money available for public services. They know this is an overwhelmingly popular policy which doesn't fit the agenda of the political class so, while going into the Calman commission calling for it they now hope to lose it in the long grass.

I think that not only Scots but anybody in the UK who wants a progressive government committed to growth should push for Scotland to get the power to set CT. If it is a bluff then the unionist parties win anyway but if it is not, it does get used & our economy prospers it would be an unmistakable sign which could not be ignored (as the example of Ireland is ignored in the Westminster square mile) & the pressure to adopt a successful policy would be irresistible. In the event that I & decades of economists are wrong then a small failure is better than a large one - but I don't think I am.

So far Calman seems to be desperate to do nothing, suggesting change only where the SNP have already achieved it (even though the particular change in power policy heralds disaster. If they do not offer the possibility of economic success by CT cuts within the union they may well force us into the only alternative - independence & trusting that the SNP will keep their word. If so the unionist parties will have nobody but themselves to blame.

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