Offering more powers to Scotland may cause resentment

Analysis: wavering Scots must be persuaded more devolution will occur if they vote No to independence

Scottish first minister Alex Salmond:  failed to secure ‘devolution max’ option on independence referendum ballot paper. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Scottish first minister Alex Salmond: failed to secure ‘devolution max’ option on independence referendum ballot paper. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 01:00

Some Scots want independence and nothing less. Before the referendum campaign started, however, the majority would have settled for running more of their own affairs.

In the negotiations that led up to the decision to hold next month’s referendum on Scottish independence, Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond said he wanted such an option – known as “devolution max” – on the ballot paper.

Prime minister David Cameron ruled it out; indeed, Salmond probably knew Cameron would never agree, and that asking for it made him look reasonable in the eyes of middle-ground Scotland.

The irony is that during the campaign, the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have now all made pledges offering extra powers in a bid to persuade the Scots to vote No to independence.

The offers on the table are not identical, however.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would, they say, let Scotland decide its own tax rates and bands. Labour does not go that far. Instead, tax bands would be decided in London. Scotland could increase tax rates, but not cut them – to block “a race to the bottom”, it says.

Under the rules that set Holyrood up in 1999, Scotland could have varied the basic tax rate up or down by 3p in the pound, but none of the three administrations that have held office in Edinburgh tried.

Control of the purse strings

Legislation already passed by Westminster, that will come into force next April if Scotland votes No, will see a Scottish tax rate – one that will give Holyrood responsibility for up to 10p in the pound of tax.

Such a move would transfer control of over nearly £6 billion of taxes and help to rectify Holyrood’s central flaw: that it sets policies without having the responsibility for raising the money to pay for them.

The offers of extra powers if there is a No vote are being led by Scots in the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and Labour: even if Labour’s pro-devolution Scottish voices are the weakest of the three. The question, however, is what will be the ability of those same Scottish voices to dominate the landscape after a No vote, if that happens, given tempers elsewhere in the UK.

Already, there are signs that the post-referendum landscape will be complicated, even if there is a widespread recognition amongst senior figures in London that promises made would have to be kept.

Happy to soothe the troubled breasts of Conservative hardliners, Boris Johnson – who is burnishing his own leadership ambitions – has already declared that the Scots should get nothing.

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