LABOUR has signalled that the party is to embrace radical new powers for the Scottish Parliament that could bring wide-ranging control over taxation and benefits to Edinburgh.
The transfer of powers to raise all income and corporation tax and gain further control over the welfare system and oil revenues are among the proposals to be considered by Labour’s newly established commission on further devolution.
The party wants to be able to present a firm vision of what new powers it believes the Scottish Parliament should adopt before the independence referendum in 2014, in order that voters know what is on offer following a No vote.
As part of the process and after months of uncertainty over Labour’s official position on the constitution, Scottish leader Johann Lamont today announces the make-up of its Devolution Commission, which will determine the party’s policy.
“We are looking at proper new powers,” a Labour source told Scotland on Sunday. “We want to enhance devolution, but at the same time we are not going to damage the Union.”
Significantly, Lamont’s 11-strong commission includes Duncan McNeill, the Labour MSP who has played a prominent role in the Devo Plus campaign, which has been arguing for a transfer that goes beyond the limited control over income tax currently offered by the UK government.
“People thought it [the commission] would be full of anti-devolutionists, but the fact that we have Duncan on it shows that is not the case,” the source added.
Serving alongside McNeill will be Scottish Labour deputy Labour leader, Anas Sarwar, shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran, Holyrood finance spokesman Ken McIntosh MSP, the Westminster shadow minister for work and pensions Gregg McClymont – a former Oxford University don.
Other appointments to the body are: Jackson Cullinane of Unite the Union, Scottish Labour chair Vicky Jamieson, Aberdeen councillor Willie Young and the MEP Catherine Stihler, who will see what can be learned from European models of devolution.
There are also advisory roles for Jim Gallagher, the professor of government at Glasgow University, and Professor Arthur Midwinter, a public finance expert from Edinburgh University.
The two academics will prepare an interim report on enhanced powers for Holyrood in time for next year’s Scottish Labour conference in the spring, with a final report ready ahead of the 2014 independence referendum.
The Labour source said: “It is a very practical approach we are taking – not power for power’s sake. We are going to look at what works and what doesn’t work, with a blank sheet of paper.
“This is about enhancing devolution. This could be quite radical, but it has nothing to do with trying to outmanoeuvre the Nats.”
McNeill’s presence increases the chances of Labour arguing for the sort of settlement envisaged by the Devo Plus campaign, which would see income and corporation tax as well as some benefits and oil money coming to Holyrood.
In an interview with Scotland on Sunday today, Lamont said that the group would not “be afraid” to focus on the questions surrounding the demands for more powers for Holyrood.
She said: “I’m keen for it to be outward looking and that the commission gets out there to get evidence from people.
“The argument should be about more than just what powers and where power lies and more about how these powers can best serve the needs of the Scottish economy.”