The Scotland Bill matters. It will matter even more in a few days when, with Holyrood’s consent, it is enacted by the Westminster Parliament to become the Scotland Act 2012.
It was the Scotland Act 1998 that established devolution in Scotland, and that created and empowered the Scottish Parliament. The current Bill is the first piece of major legislation since 1998 to amend that foundational enactment.
Central to the Bill are provisions as to public money. At the moment the Scottish Parliament is responsible for spending public money but the raising of revenue has remained Westminster’s responsibility. The Bill retains Holyrood’s powers as to spending but, for the first time, splits responsibility for taxation between London and Edinburgh.
There will be a new “Scottish rate of income tax”, which will work alongside the UK rates. This might mean that our taxes go up; it might mean that they go down. Most likely it will mean that they stay the same. The point is that, for the first time, it will be MSPs in Holyrood who decide.
The Act will contain a critically important but almost wholly overlooked provision that will enable further taxes to be devolved to Scotland without the need for a fresh round of Westminster legislation. Thus, there is a flexibility built into the Scotland Bill, carefully designed to allow devolution to continue to grow. And herein lies the true significance of the much maligned Scotland Bill. Since the SNP recorded their historic victory in 2011, constitutional reform in Scotland has been dominated by talk of independence. But this does this important Bill a disservice. For this Bill represents not only the immediate future of devolution for Scotland within the Union, but also signposts the ways in which devolution can continue to flourish in the longer term.
• Adam Tomkins is the John Millar Professor of Public Law at the University of Glasgow