SNP pledge to use new powers to ban airguns

SCOTTISH ministers vowed yesterday to introduce an outright ban on airguns and tighten the drink-drive limit if, as expected, new law and order powers are transferred to Holyrood in the wake of the Calman Commission report.

Sir Kenneth Calman will unveil the recommendations from his commission into devolution today. He is expected to call for the Scottish Parliament to be given control over policy areas including airgun licensing and drink-drive and speed limits in a wide-ranging report which is also likely to recommend further tax-raising powers for Holyrood.

Yesterday Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said if these changes were made, he would move quickly to introduce a complete ban on air weapons and to reduce the drink-drive limit.

SNP ministers have argued for a ban on airguns since the death of Glasgow toddler Andrew Morton in 2005. The two-year-old died after being struck on the head by a pellet fired from an air rifle in Easterhouse.

Ministers have made repeated attempts to get Westminster to ban airguns throughout the UK, or to allow the Scottish Government to legislate for Scotland on the issue.

Firearms policy is reserved to Westminster, but it is understood the Calman Commission is to recommend that part of this area – ie, the policy on air guns – be devolved.

Asked whether he would use the powers to ban air weapons, Mr MacAskill replied: "Oh absolutely. It is a real scourge in our communities."

He added: "We don't care who takes action, as long as action is taken. London did not want to take action so we will take the powers and take action."

Traffic laws, such as those governing drink-drive limits and speed limits, are reserved to Westminster to ensure a uniform law across the UK, but it is understood the Commission will call for this to be devolved.

The SNP has made it clear for the last three years that it wants to reduce the current drink-drive limit from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg, making it almost impossible for drivers to drink anything before getting behind the wheel.

The Justice Secretary said he would move to reduce the drink-drive limit if the issue was devolved, despite such a move creating a different regime on each side of the Border.

"We welcome these powers. It is a step in progress and we will certainly use them because it is about making Scotland safer," Mr MacAskill said.

The SNP Government does not have any current plans to change the speed limits in Scotland but this would also be possible if the Calman Commission recommendations are accepted by the UK government.

The most ground-breaking constitutional recommendations from the Commission will be on finance and, as The Scotsman revealed last week, Sir Kenneth and his team are expected to call for a radical redrawing of tax powers, with Scotland to get control over the setting and spending of half of income tax revenues raised here.

Holyrood is also likely to get control over stamp duty – potentially allowing the Scottish Government to reduce the rate to stimulate the housing market – as well as over aggregates tax and landfill tax.

However, Mike Russell, the minister for the constitution, yesterday warned that getting some new financial powers but not others could leave Scotland worse off.

He said the best option was allowing Scotland to raise and spend all of its own money.

"That is the best and simplest solution, anything else risks being a messy fudge. We must not have a system imposed by Westminster which could leave Scotland worse off than at present. That is why independence and equality represent the best future for Scotland."

But former Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander hailed the long-awaited Calman report as the end to Scotland's "pocket-money parliament".

Ms Alexander, who was instrumental in launching the commission two years ago, described the package of measures due to be unveiled by Sir Kenneth Calman today as "very radical".

She said: "For the first time, it will give real financial accountability to the Scottish Parliament; we will end the lazy politics whereby the discussion in the Scottish Parliament becomes simply the Westminster blame-game.

"We have at the moment what David Steel called something of 'a pocket-money parliament'."

"The grant comes from London; the only thing we decide at the moment is that we have some influence over council tax and some influence over non-domestic rates."

She added: "We don't have to make any decisions about our spending and that is simply wrong."

Ms Alexander also said she did not believe the Calman Commission recommendations would need a referendum to enshrine them into law because the Scottish people had already voted in favour of tax-raising powers for the parliament and this was just an extension of that.

And she stressed that although Westminster is not bound to implement the recommendations, she did not expect strong opposition from London.

The question of whether the Calman Commission recommendations will be passed into law depends on the UK government.

The Liberal Democrats are firmly in favour of moves to make the Scottish Parliament more financially independent, but while the Conservative and Labour parties both backed the creation of the Commission, they will be more nervous in case any changes push Scotland closer to independence.

Gordon Brown is thought to have seized on the issue of constitutional change to deflect attention from the expenses scandal, and the timing of the Calman report is likely to find favour with London ministers, who want to be seen to be doing something on this issue.

Downing Street yesterday declined to comment in advance on the report.

However, Downing Street sources have indicated that Mr Brown is ready to endorse the report, at least in principle.

Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Tory leader, is due to meet David Cameron in London tomorrow to discuss the Calman Commission's report.

Both appreciate that it may be up to an incoming Conservative government to decide whether the Calman proposals are introduced and they want to examine the proposals in detail before deciding their party's formal position on them.

Both Labour and Conservative party leaders are expected to give cautious support to the Calman recommendations today before studying the proposals more closely.

But if both parties back the bulk of the recommended changes, it will pave the way for the biggest constitutional shake-up of the UK since devolution.

WHAT IS BEING PROPOSED

&#149 PROPOSAL: Income tax allocation.

WHAT IS IT?: Giving the Scottish Parliament power to vary all rates of income tax by 10p in the pound, up from 3p on the basic rate at present.

HOW WILL THE SNP REACT?: With scepticism. Ministers are wary of any change which gives some power to the Scottish Government, but not all. They also fear that any positive impact of changes made will result in cuts to Scotland's block grant.

&#149 PROPOSAL: Devolving other tax revenues.

WHAT IS IT?: This would involve giving the Scottish Parliament control over stamp duty, aggregates and landfill taxes.

HOW WILL THE SNP REACT?: Positively. Ministers could lower stamp duty to stimulate the housing market or change landfill and aggregates taxes to favour the environment.

&#149 PROPOSAL: Borrowing.

WHAT IS IT?: This would give Scottish ministers the ability to borrow substantial sums of money to finance big infrastructure projects.

HOW WOULD THE SNP REACT?: The Scottish Government has already called for this power to help fund the new Forth bridge so would support this change.

Ministers would know, though, that borrowing requires the Scottish Government to be able to prove it could pay the money back – and that means having the ability to raise taxes.

Radical changes may hit Conservative hurdle

What will the Calman Commission recommend on financial powers for the Scottish Parliament?

Sir Kenneth Calman is expected to announce that the Scottish Parliament is to get a mix of new assigned and transferred tax powers.

This is likely to mean complete control over 10 billion in income tax and another 1 billion in other taxes, like stamp duty.

Ministers are also likely to get new borrowing powers, allowing them to spread the cost of projects such as the new Forth bridge over many years, rather than paying for it in just two or three.

What will happen to the report?

The report will go to both the Scottish Parliament and to the Westminster government.

The Scottish Parliament is likely to endorse it – as the three main unionist opposition parties support the commission – but Holyrood has no power to implement the recommendations. Any changes to the devolution settlement have to made by Westminster which means the approval and willing help of the UK government.

What are the chances of full implementation?

Gordon Brown is keen to push constitutional change at the moment and this fits in with that agenda. However, one key issue here is time. With just 11 months to go (at the most) until the next general election there is not much time to get through complex and detailed changes to the devolution settlement and the tax system, as recommended by the Calman Commission.

So, however keen Mr Brown is to do something definite on the constitution, it is likely to fall to the next government – with an incoming Tory administration being the most likely – to implement the report.

David Cameron is expected to give his backing, in principle, to the report this week but no-one yet knows whether his party will back such radical change, particularly if some senior figures feel it will aid the SNP's quest for independence.

'Andrew's Law' calls sparked by shooting of two-year-old boy

Michael Howie

CALLS for tougher legislation on airguns were first made after the death of two-year-old Andrew Morton, killed in March 2005 when he was shot in the head in Glasgow.

Andrew was killed by a pellet fired by Mark Bonini in Easterhouse. Bonini was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder, but the boy's parents have since campaigned for "Andrew's Law", which would see the weapons widely banned.

Sharon McMillan and Andy Morton collected 11,000 signatures in support of their campaign for a ban on airguns. They took it to the Scottish Parliament in 2007, when they presented a petition to MSPs along with Tommy Sheridan, who campaigned on the issue.

"The laws which involve airgun crime haven't worked," Mr Morton stated in his petition. "Airgun crimes are still rising and are at a seven-year high.

"If airguns were banned, people couldn't get hold of them to commit such crimes. Our precious son Andrew is no longer with us in body but will always be in our hearts."

Mr Sheridan said a bill aimed at toughening gun laws in Scotland had the backing of more than four out of five Scots.

The campaign was also backed by the Fire Brigades Union, which said its members were being targeted by youngsters with airguns.

In March, the Scottish Government launched a 212,000 publicity campaign against airguns – and attacked Westminster for failing to heed pleas for action.

Following the move, which came just after the fourth anniversary of Andrew's death, the boy's mother said it was a "step in the right direction".

"I wouldn't like another family to suffer the way we suffered, and are still suffering. You'd think it would get easier as each year goes on but it doesn't," she said.

Three Scots have died and more than 1,150 have been injured in airgun incidents over the past nine years.

But former home secretary Jacqui Smith dismissed SNP calls for an airgun ban – and rejected justice secretary Kenny MacAskill's invitation to jointly host a summit aimed at reforming gun laws.