Thoughts on the Smith Commission proposals

Looked through the Smith Commission report. Better than expected on some things, but as expected inadequate on taxation and it was never going to offer the power to scrap Trident.

It’s all very well to devolve new powers, but without the revenue to fund new activities Scottish Government will be fighting with one hand behind its back and will be forever having to rob one sector to pay for improvements in another.

Also there are a lot of sections which talk about UK government having greater rights to be consulted, or represented in decision making. How much difference this makes depends on how seriously the views which Scottish Government put forward are taken. We’ve all seen “consultations” which do little more than go through the motions and rubber stamp decisions which have already been made, but some consultations can be good and bring about real changes.

Anyway I’ll start with the things I like first:

Good things:
1) Enshrining the Scottish Parliament as a permanent institution.
2) Looking at mechanisms to oversee the power of the Parliament. However good the initial intentions of a party, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, so we need to have a mechanism for scrutinising majority governments. I don’t have the solution to what this must be, and certainly not anything like the House of Lords or groups of undemocratically selected “worthies”, but we need something to make sure that rules are being followed.
3) Giving the Parliament the power to give votes to 16 and 17 year olds.
4) More powers over election spending limits which could help to stop the rich buying themselves into power through greater advertising etc.
5) Requirement for formal processes to improve communication and consultation between UK and Scottish Governments.
6) Requirement for Scottish Ministers to be involved in EU negotiations on devolved matters and be allowed to speak at EU meetings where Scotland has the predominant interest in the matter being discussed.
7) Transferring responsibility for and income from the Crown Estate in Scotland to the Scottish Parliament.
8) Scottish Government and Parliament to be formally consulted about a new BBC charter
9) Scottish Government and Parliament to be formally consulted on priorities for OFCOM relating to telecommunications e.g rural broadband, wifi etc and postal services. This could improve rural broadband and wifi as well as protecting rural communities from high costs for postal and courier services.
10) A greater role for Scotland in designing incentives for renewables – this is an important industry for Scotland and we need to be able to assist it, although it would have also helped for regulation of the electricity grid to be devolved.
11) Devolution of some benefits, power to create new benefits and the power to vary “bedroom tax” (including persumably the power to vary it to nothing).
12) Power for public sector organisations to bid for rail franchises.
13) Power to design energy efficiency schemes, although it would have been better if the power to raise funding for them was also devolved.
14) Devolution of onshore gas exploration licences (although I’m not sure how this will work as licences for the most likely parts of Scotland have already been offered by DECC).
15) Borrowing powers for Scotland to allow investment and financial stability.

Bad things:
1) No taxes other than income tax will be devolved nor will National Insurance. The richest people in society earn money in ways which is not taxable via income tax, and income tax is a difficult tax for governments to raise, which may limit the funds which Scottish Government can raise to support action with new devolved powers.I can see no reason why capital gains and inheritance tax could not be devolved.
2) The fact that income raised through increases in income tax will be clawed back from block grant, so what’s the point?
3) The fact that income tax on the savings of Scottish residents is not devolved.
4) Not all benefits will be devolved.
5) We’re not going to be able to get rid of Trident or have a say in whether or not the UK takes military action.
6) The regulation of the electricity grid in Scotland will not be devolved.
7) The fact that Scottish MPs still have the right to comment on things such as Bills to control filming on Highways in Northamptonshire is ridiculous.
8) While we retain the Barnett Formula public spending trends in Scotland will be tied to those in rUK.

Although outwith the scope of the commission I also think it is welcome that they have recognised that devolution should not stop at Holyrood and there is need to increase the devolution of power within Scotland.