Tom Peterkin : Who needs a referendum on our independence with these new levers to pull

ALEX Salmond once hoped that St Andrews Day 2010 would be the day that saw Scotland vote for independence. As the date earmarked for an independence referendum, it was the most important destination on the route-map he drew when he plotted the road to independence.

A lack of parliamentary support put paid to a St Andrew's Day referendum - a poll, which had it been held, would have likely resulted in an emphatic "No" answer to the independence question. Bearing that in mind, Salmond must be quietly relieved the referendum did not come to pass when he considers what actually did happen on St Andrew's Day 2010.

Described as the biggest transfer of fiscal powers since the 1707 Act of Union, the pro-Union parties' Scotland Bill yesterday heralded massive constitutional change.

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In public, the First Minister may have moaned that the new powers are "far too limited". But there must be some satisfaction in that the pro-Union parties are going in the right direction as far as the SNP is concerned. While it may fall short of the party's desire for full independence, new borrowing powers and more control over income tax are not to be sniffed at if you are of a Nationalist persuasion.

There are those, of course, who believe that politicians ought to be trying to breathe new life into an ailing economy rather than performing major surgery on a constitution that has stabilised after the changes that accompanied the beginning of devolution.

Those who disapprove of constitutional tinkering can also reflect on the irony that the transfer of new economic levers to Holyrood has not been driven by the abject economic situation. After all, when the Unionist parties set up the Calman Commission to look at devolution in 2007, the economy was not the pressing issue it is today. Economic Armageddon was still hiding round the corner when Labour, under Wendy Alexander, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems appointed Sir Kenneth Calman to look at constitutional tweaking.

The SNP's stock was at an all-time high and the Holyrood opposition parties felt they had to come up with some response to what seemed at the time to be an irresistible tide of opinion in favour of giving the parliament more teeth.

Calman and its successor - yesterday's Scotland Bill - have been driven by politics, not economics. It is also a curious state of affairs that it is the politics of the pro-Union parties that are driving through constitutional change.

Perversely, the Scotland Bill has gathered steam as the SNP's Referendum Bill has run out it. The collapse of the Scottish banks and the travails of Iceland and Ireland have weakened the arguments for independence.

Salmond's personal popularity has waned as the SNP has struggled with minority government. Yet, thanks to the Unionists, constitutional change is on the agenda.So while, St Andrew's Day has not turned out in quite the way he had hoped, Salmond - as an independence gradualist - cannot be too displeased with yesterday's outcome. Who needs a referendum?