The Calman Commission Report

First up, it’s pretty unusual for me to post about politics; I normally keep such thoughts to myself or moan about the general ineptitude of politicians to friends and colleagues, however I’m a keen follower of what’s going on regarding UK politics, as it has the opportunity to be an exciting time of change.

Today a report was published by the Calman Commission; who were tasked by the opposition parties of the Scottish Parliament, with the support of the UK Government, to look at the relationship of Scotland within the United Kingdom. This relationship or “devolution settlement” is already a very misunderstood and highly politicised thing, which pretty much everyone will admit is so riddled with problems and patchy half-thought-out legislation that something needs done. I’m neutral when it comes to both party politics and on the independance debate; as with most things there are reasons for, reasons against and a lot of spinning in between – but one way or another, the problems with the status-quo need addressed.

The Calman Commission does have some suggestions that I think will be almost universally supported, for example devolving air-gun legislation to the Scottish Parliament. Air gun crime is a big problem in Scotland and there is widespread approval for stronger legislation, something that Westminster has been hesitant to address.

However the commission had a great opportunity to come up with some revolutionary and innovative means of addressing the more deep-rooted constitutional and financial concerns, but instead has either ignored the most sensitive problems (for example the West Lothian Question) or has suggested yet more half-way-house measures, for example, proposed income-tax recommendations. The report suggests that the amount of tax levied by the UK Government on Scottish persons (it’s unclear if this is working for a Scottish company or domiciled in Scotland) should be lowered by 10p per pound, the block grant that the Scottish Parliament is currently funded by would drop the corresponding amount and that the Scottish Government may choose how much of that 10p (or indeed over 10p) be charged. Revenue raised by this “Scottish Income Tax” would be sent to a new Scottish exchequer for public spending by the Scottish Government, the idea being that the amount the Scottish Government could spend would be partly a consequence of their decisions.

There’s a problem with this method. The Scottish Goverment can already raise or lower income tax by 3p in the pound, but all parties have yet to do so as firstly it will likely cause a beaurocratic nightmare and secondly, as the majority of other taxes (such as cooperation tax, VAT, etc) are still set by the UK Government, there’s very little in way to balance these changes other than direct cuts or extra investment in public spending. As far as I can see Calman’s suggestions still result in these two problems, with the only difference being that the Scottish Government would have slightly less of an reason to blame lack of funding for public spending on decisions made in Westminster. However, since it’s less than 50% of one form of taxation (I believe around £5-6bn of a £33bn budget) the majority of public spending will still be dependant on monies and decisions from Westminster. What’s more, Calman has suggested the Scottish Income Tax should be the same across tax bands, so that the Scottish Parliament does not have the device of altering the ratio of how much is raised between base and high-earners.

So I can’t help feel that we’re pretty much back to where we started. Whilst change for change’s sake is best avoided, there appears a real need for it throughout the political world of the UK. Yet it feels as if there’s still a great inertia in UK politics; that change is frowned upon and only begrudgingly granted in the most minimal of forms.

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