Scottish independence: What about Scots who want powerhouse parliament in UK

Picture: PA
Picture: PA
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LAST week, Westminster unanimously approved the legal transfer of powers to Holyrood to allow it to hold a referendum on independence.

But where does this leave the large number of Scottish voters who support neither the status quo nor independence, but who would like to see the powers of the Scottish Parliament significantly strengthened?

Their hopes currently hang on vague promises from the unionist parties to consider the case for further empowering Holyrood – over and above measures contained in the Scotland Act 2012 – after the poll should Scotland vote No to independence.

Leaving the framing of a greater devolution option until after a referendum carries real risks for those who want Scotland to remain a part of the United Kingdom.

It is surely possible that some voters will be tempted to back independence if they feel insufficiently confident that the unionist camp will deliver on their promise.

The more the SNP presents independence as “independence-lite”, (and the more they can point to the way Westminster pursues policies that are unpopular in Scotland), the bigger this risk becomes.

By setting out an alternative to independence ahead of the referendum, the pro-union parties will not only be able to reassure this important electoral constituency.

More significantly, once armed with a clear alternative the unionist camp would finally be in a position to articulate a positive vision for Scotland’s place in the union.

This has attractions for all three unionist parties, but especially for Scottish Labour. It will need more than a no vote in 2014 to help it regain the political initiative in Scotland.

It stands its best chance of responding to the SNP in 2015 Westminster and 2016 Holyrood elections if it once again becomes the champion of stronger devolution, and argue for the advantages of diversity within a shared state.

Some strongly resist the idea of “appeasing” nationalists with the offer of greater autonomy. However, unionists would be well advised not to start by asking how they can deny Alex Salmond a consolation prize.

It is far better to begin by acknowledging that Scots like devolution and want more of it.

The aim of Institute for Public Policy Research’s Devo-More project is to help those who want to get the constitutional settlement for Scotland right, before the referendum campaign starts in earnest. The reform options seek a balance between giving Scotland sufficient autonomy to make policy choices that meet the aspirations of the Scottish people in a way that is workable and preserves the integrity of the UK as a whole.

With this in mind, the report recommends devolving tax bases that are relatively stable, such as income tax, but not corporation tax which is far more volatile.

Taken together, the package would put more than 60 per cent of devolved spending into the hands of the Scottish Parliament. But in contrast to devo-max – a model of full fiscal autonomy – there would continue to be a grant from the UK government to underpin cohesion and fairness across the UK.

• Guy Lodge is associate director at IPPR. Alan Trench is honorary fellow at the University of Edinburgh.