Letter: Rethink needed on Calman proposals

The remit of the Calman Commission (your report, 11 December) was prescribed in tight terms. Anything that smacked of assisting independence or of threatening the Union was off-limits.

Its prospectus was set in step with the terms of Wendy Alexander's 2007 St Andrews Day speech: A new Agenda for Scotland, at Edinburgh University. In reality, that meant a review of the devolution arrangements. That would cover additional powers over finance etc, and "more" accountability (where we have none at present).

The proposition is, and it is being presented to the Westminster parliament in a Scotland Bill, that we should take over responsibility for the half-share (10p) proceeds of the standard rate of income tax, ie, for 4.150 billion, and have power to vary the rate of that tax. The block grant from Westminster, about 26bn (which accounts for about 80 per cent of Holyrood funding of about 33bn) would be reduced by the 4.150bn, so the remaining block grant would be 22bn. This, it is claimed, would make the parliament accountable.

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How could that possibly be so? 4.150bn represents only 16 per cent of that funding, leaving 84 per cent, unaccountable still coming from a block grant and, therefore, still subject to the Barnett formula. It is not possible to be a little bit accountable, any more than it is possible to be a little bit pregnant.

And it is claimed the proposal would let the English see that we were raising our own money, and so consolidate the Union. It is preposterous. But what is particularly irksome and disingenuous is the presentation of the issue: Scottish taxation would be reduced by Westminster by 10p, leaving the Scots to decide whether to implement the 10p rate, or not. Of course, to enable that, we would have to reduce our public expenditure by 4.150bn. The English don't seem to realise that our block grant comes on the back of tax we already pay here.

In any event, an income tax option alone is not adequate to influence our economy; we need the basket of tax powers in order to set rates necessary to meet our public spending at optimum levels, and to manage the economy to generate the growth to pay for it. So we need fiscal autonomy. Without it, the proceeds from additional VAT and other taxes would be shipped off to the UK Exchequer. It would, at a stroke, get rid of the Barnett formula and questions about our viability as well as misunderstandings by the English about their subsidising us.

It would provide complete accountability and answerability to the electorate. Furthermore, the major thorn in the flesh of the English: MPs from Scotland voting on purely English matters - the 40-old West Lothian question - would cease to exist.

If Calman is the answer, we are asking the wrong question.We are in a constitutional quagmire; regrettably, we need a further, apolitical assessment of the whole issue, with a meaningful scrutiny of the identifiable problems that can be solved only if the politicians are not allowed to influence proceedings to their own advantage.

The irony is that, had Labour won the 2007 Holyrood election, that would have been represented as approval for their devolution settlement as well as for their eight years of administration. But the SNP won. Calman was born out of their success - Labour had no manifesto proposals for a review of devolution prior to that, and there would have been no Calman Commission.

The Calman proposal being forced upon us has no democratic support in Scotland - we need a referendum.


Thomson Crescent

Currie, Midlothian