SCOTTISH Labour leadership frontrunner Jim Murphy has said the party must agree to the full devolution of income tax in a move he described as its most far-reaching change in nearly 20 years.
Mr Murphy will use a keynote speech today to state there is “no hiding place for those who want to talk about radical politics but then fail to deliver them” in a veiled attack on his main challengers Neil Findlay and Sarah Boyack, who have expressed doubts about handing over the full tax powers.
The former Scottish Secretary’s dramatic intervention follows Alistair Darling’s warning that handing full income tax responsibilities to Holyrood would increase borrowing costs for the entire UK and end in a “flood of tears”.
The stark warning from the former chancellor, who led the Better Together campaign, comes just days ahead of the publication of findings from the Smith Commission tasked with delivering a package of fresh powers for Scotland.
Mr Darling expressed reservations about part of the package on tax devolution if it was linked to David Cameron’s controversial plans to block Scottish MPs from English-only votes in the Commons.
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However, Mr Murphy says Labour “should agree to the full devolution of income tax” ahead of the publication of the findings of Lord Smith’s cross party-backed commission, which is expected to recommend the full devolution of income tax, as well as some powers over welfare, when it reports on Thursday.
Senior figures within Labour have resisted signing up to the demand from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats for the devolution of full income tax powers, with some expressing fears that the move could lead to a weakening of the role of some of the party’s MPs at Westminster.
Mr Murphy will today state that the move “is as important a change for the Scottish Labour Party as the rewriting of Clause Four was for the UK Labour Party” as he evokes the flagship change introduced by Tony Blair in the mid-1990s, when Labour abandoned its longstanding commitment to public ownership.
Mr Murphy will go on to call for Labour to reclaim the mantle of the party of devolution and will highlight the creation of the Scottish Parliament under Mr Blair’s first government in 1999.
However, the East Renfrew-shire MP, in his clearest statement yet on full income tax powers, will use a speech in Glasgow today to attempt to distance himself from his two leadership election rivals on the issue.
Former transport minister Ms Boyack expressed “reservations” about the move, which she said centred around the “pooling and sharing of resources”.
Mr Findlay – Scottish Labour’s health spokesman – warned that care must be taken to ensure Scotland does not end up “worse off” as a result of the transfer of the powers.
Mr Murphy, in an attempt to portray himself as the most pro-devolution candidate, says: “Even before the Smith Commission reports, we should agree to the full devolution of income tax to Scotland, if that is what emerges.
“This is a significant moment for Scottish Labour.”
However, Mr Murphy’s remarks will be viewed by some within Labour as an attack on those within Labour’s ranks such as Ms Boyack and Mr Findlay, who have failed to back the full devolution of income tax – a policy Mr Murphy says will go “a long way towards eliminating the blame game” from Scottish politics.
Ms Boyack last night said she still had reservations about devolving income tax powers, but would accept the plan if Lord Smith recommended the move.
However, Mr Findlay last night failed to back Mr Murphy’s pledge on income tax powers ahead of the publication of Lord Smith’s findings.
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