Leaders: New battleground is full fiscal autonomy

Ed Miliband, Jim Murphy and Ed Balls in Edinburgh today. Picture: Neil Hanna
Ed Miliband, Jim Murphy and Ed Balls in Edinburgh today. Picture: Neil Hanna
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WITH full fiscal autonomy, Scottish Labour believes it has an issue that can hurt the SNP in this general election.

Yesterday in Edinburgh, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy tried to press home what they see as their new advantage. They pointed to what they described as a “£7.6 billion black hole” that would be left in Scotland’s finances if the SNP got its way with this policy.

Full fiscal autonomy, as envisaged by the SNP, means “everything except defence and foreign affairs” becoming the responsibility of the Holyrood parliament.

The SNP sees this as a logical extension of its key policy of independence – full fiscal autonomy is, in effect, independence lite.

And therein lies the opportunity as seen by Labour. Mr Murphy and his colleagues believe that full fiscal autonomy carries the same financial risks as independence. In fact, given the low oil price at the moment, it carries even more risks than were evident at the height of the referendum campaign last year.

Labour’s problem is that opinion polls show no sign of reflecting what the party believes is a voting public warming to its message. On the contrary, one poll yesterday showed the Nationalists’ already commanding lead increasing.

Of course, there is no “black hole” as such under full fiscal autonomy. What there is, clearly, is a need for a shortfall in the finances to be filled by one or more of the three methods open to politicians in these circumstances: tax rises, cuts in public spending, and more borrowing.

There is, in short, a need to balance the books differently.

Now, it may be that full fiscal autonomy is an idea that can capture the imagination of a section of the population that was wary of independence but would like to see a vastly more powerful 
Holyrood.

It would certainly allow for more homegrown control of the Scottish economy.

It would mean Scots taking responsibility for their own affairs – one of the most compelling arguments deployed by the Yes camp in last year’s independence referendum – only this time within a radically reshaped United Kingdom.

Labour’s key objection is that the pooling and sharing possible within the UK now – and envisaged under the Smith Agreement – would be lost, to Scotland’s cost.

What the public needs now is clarity, in order to assess these competing arguments.

Voters need to know from the SNP how the books would be balanced if Scotland had full fiscal autonomy now. Would the party borrow billions more and put future generations in even more debt? Would they raise taxes and, if so, which ones? Or would they cut public spending and, if so, where would the cuts lie?

What is not in doubt is that this £7.6 billion would be a significant challenge to any SNP administration newly empowered with full fiscal autonomy.

Police get their priorities wrong

PITY our poor Scottish police officers. Not only do they have to be fully cognisant of the law – including all the songs sung at Old Firm football matches – they also have to fully absorb a 40-page document on Police Scotland branding.

Inside, they will find essential information such as advice on how to stand when having your photograph taken. Crossed arms is a no-no – far too aggressive and confrontational.

Heaven forfend that a police officer should look like they could be relied upon in a rammy outside a kebab shop in the small hours of a Saturday morning.

“Watch body language,” officers are told. “No hunched shoulders, crossed armed or arrogant pose. These poses do not reflect our brand values.”

Nor should they use a font other than Museo, which “displays clarity and transparency while still inferring forward thinking”.

It is a pity Police Scotland did not spend as much time, money and attention on other, more neglected aspects of its work.

What has damaged Police’s Scotland’s reputation and relationship with the public has not been the photographic appeal of its officers or wrong brand fonts or colours but how it has gone about addressing public concerns about very important aspects of its policies.

What the public expects of Police Scotland is not the same as its expectation of multinational corporations.

People want good, honest, no-nonsense policing, with the highest professional standards, and the best of modern technology allied to common-sense policing that pays attention to public concerns and values.

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