AS THOSE who attended the launch of devo-plus last week will know, Reform Scotland is not afraid of a bit of debate. But the tone of Arthur Midwinter’s article in The Scotsman yesterday is disappointing.
Our proposals are based on the principle that Holyrood should be responsible for raising as much of its own spending as possible.
His assertion that this model is incompatible with devolution is at odds with reality. Devolved administrations in countries such as Switzerland, Canada and the United States raise between 70 and 80 per cent of the money they spend (compared with 11 per cent here), as was highlighted by constitutional expert Alan Trench during his evidence to the Scotland Bill committee.
It is also fundamentally misleading to claim that these issues can be divorced from issues of principle. The Calman Commission set out clear principles which should underpin the financial relationship between Westminster and Holyrood, and identified one of these – the lack of financial accountability – as a key weakness of the current arrangements. But by enabling the Scottish Parliament to raise only a quarter of its own revenue, the commission failed to adequately address it.
Reform Scotland also attaches great weight to the need to make the Scottish Parliament more financially responsible because we think this is the key to greater responsiveness to local preferences and greater democratic accountability.
We know there are different ways of ensuring that Holyrood and Westminster both raise as much as possible of their own spending; we have set these out ourselves. Reform Scotland’s proposals are the starting point for Jeremy Purvis’s cross-party and non-party devo-plus group, which will develop them in accordance with the underlying principle.
Arthur Midwinter is entitled to his opinion about Reform Scotland and devo-plus. However, it carries no more weight than anyone else’s. Indeed, opinion polls such as YouGov’s poll in yesterday’s Scotsman consistently show the majority of people in Scotland agreeing with our approach.
• Ben Thomson is chairman of Reform Scotland