Businessmen launch drive to claim more control over tax for Scotland

A CAMPAIGN will be launched tomorrow by Scottish businessmen to press for extra tax powers for Scotland beyond those proposed under the Calman Commission.

• Minister for Business Vince Cable looks through a microscope during a visit to Glasgow University yesterday. Picture: Robert Perry

The move to win greater fiscal autonomy for Scotland is to be led by Dan Macdonald, of Macdonald Hotels, Ben Thomson, the financier who set up the Reform think-tank, and Jim McColl of the Clyde Blowers company

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At a media conference tomorrow the group will launch a declaration which will claim that "a Scottish Parliament with far greater responsibility for raising the money it spends would lead to better government".

The group's aims were bolstered yesterday when Business Secretary Vince Cable threw his weight behind suggestions the new coalition government could oversee the introduction of "Calman plus" – reforms that would take constitutional change beyond the proposals set out by the Calman Commission set up by Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems before the election.

Although not backed formally by Reform Scotland, its chairman, Mr Thomson, said: "A number of disparate business people including myself have been saying we want to see more fiscal responsibility for Scotland. We are clear that Calman does not go far enough to deliver fiscal responsibility."

Tomorrow's declaration will add: "It would make politicians more accountable for the financial decisions they take while giving them both the incentive and the fiscal tools necessary to achieve improved public services and faster economic growth – vital in the current economic circumstances.

"Further, it would help to foster a healthy relationship between Westminster and Holyrood."

Last night, a spokesman for First Minister Alex Salmond said the Scottish Government "very much" supported the statement. He said: "What's crucial in the economic downturn is the need for Scotland to secure financial powers to make decisions to grow the economy."

News of the launch of the campaign came as Mr Cable restated the government's desire to introduce far-reaching devolution reforms.

Speaking as he arrived in Scotland to meet the First Minister, he insisted his administration was committed to handing more powers to the Scottish Parliament than those outlined by Sir Kenneth Calman, which would see Holyrood collect a proportion of income tax.

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The plans, to be formulated by a steering group, could include devolution of responsibility for corporation tax, and even the VAT rate. "The coalition partners want to go further in devolution than the last Lab-our government was willing to go," Mr Cable told The Scotsman while visiting Glasgow University.

The debate came as one member of the Calman Commission's independent expert group on finance warned against moving towards full fiscal autonomy.

Iain McLean, a professor of politics at Oxford University, said the move could drive firms headquartered in Scotland down south.

Writing in The Scotsman today, he says: "Any company operating across the Border would have to comply with two tax administrations and segregate every transaction between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

"How can that be economically efficient?"