Answering The English Question

After many months of deliberation, the Calman Commission has today reported back on the question of Scottish devolution. As many readers will remember, last year we produced a report on Scottish funding, financial devolution and the Barnett Formula which we submitted to the Commission. So is their conclusion any good?


Well, it's getting there. Our report reccomended full fiscal devolution, so that Scotland would gain control of its own taxes and therefore be able to control its own spending. As well as being desired by many Scots including the SNP, this would also be welcomed by taxpayers in England as it would signal an end to the vastly expensive Barnett Formula.


Calman's report suggest partial fiscal devolution - Holyrood would gain the power to control many more of its own taxes and spending, though not all and not fully. In terms of taxation and representation, this is a good move. If any government spends money without having to think about the consequences of raising that money, then it will spend too much and too recklessly.


It can only be right that the Scottish Parliament spends money drawn from its own voters - otherwise either English taxpayers will be made too pay too much tax, or Scottish voters will be disappointed that the scale of their own Budget is effectively decided in Westminster.


As I said earlier, Calman only goes part of the way but it is an important step. With Holyrood gaining 50% control over income tax, Barnett will become totally unsustainable. Tellingly, when we released our report last year, instead of welcoming our support for greater devolution the SNP flipped out and started desperately defending the Barnett subsidy. They can't have their cake and eat it - fiscal devolution must happen, and that will make the already obsolete Barnett Formula impossible to sustain.


It's that interesting split personality that the SNP have displayed - wanting devolution but also wanting to continue funding their Budgets with English subsidies - which goes to the heart of this issue. This is no longer really a Scottish Question that needs answering but an English Question. With English taxpayers' money flowing North of the Border, and Scottish MPs holding the casting vote on many English matters in Parliament, many would argue that it is England which needs freeing from Scotland rather than vice versa.


It may be for that reason that various polls have found, like this one in 2006, that more English people support Scottish independence than Scots do!


England Scotland 


PS As an aside, the Calman Commission is also a good example of the strange workings of Government. Why is Sir Kenneth Calman overseeing this issue at all? He is a former Chief Medical Officer, and was for a while Vice Chancellor of Durham University. The issue would surely be better served by someone with expertise and experience in public finance, taxation and constitutional issues, rather than just selecting on the criterion of "public sector Scot."

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