Scotland Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:12 pm on 27th January 2011.

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Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee 2:12 pm, 27th January 2011

No, but people have said to me, "I want independence, as long as I can still be a British citizen." There is confusion in the minds of many people about what independence is. Two facts are clear: the majority of people vote for Unionist parties, and the majority of people say repeatedly that they want more power, but that they want to take it in an orderly and measured fashion. It is up to the politicians, to some extent, to work through what the priorities are and how they should be worked up. That is precisely what this legislation does.

In the end, the SNP's position is anti-democratic, because it does not represent the majority. More to the point, it is unproductive. Frankly, it is downright lazy, because many of us have done an awful lot of work to bring these proposals forward. Having done nothing to create the Scottish Parliament, the SNP is happy to use it and abuse it. It takes a similarly curmudgeonly approach to this legislation. Of course it will not provide fiscal autonomy, which is, of course, a technical term for separation from the UK, as was pointed out by the Steel commission, of which I was a member. There is no mandate for that. The proposals do not go as far as I want them to go, but I have no hesitation in welcoming them as a constructive step forward that will allow us to test how greater responsibility and accountability will work. In my view, as and when that does work, it will justify future extension.

The Bill will give Scotland control over about 35% of its budget, which I hope will increase over time. It will ensure that Scotland has the capacity to demonstrate responsibility and accountability to justify more devolution. In an ideal world, I would like each tier of government to have access to part of the taxes that broadly finance its operations. In other words, each tier should be able to get more or less all its revenue from its own tax base, subject to the recognition that the UK Government have fiscal transfer responsibilities. Perhaps on a smaller scale, the Scottish Government should have some internal fiscal transfer responsibilities. That would be my ideal in the long run, but one has to take these things a step at a time and by negotiation.

I want to pick up on the point on which the Secretary of State has intervened two or three times. On a few occasions, I have heard the assertion-stated as a matter of absolute fact-that had this arrangement already been in place, Scotland would have lost £8 billion. As has been pointed out, if that were true-which it is not-it would be a clear demonstration of the benefit of being part of the United Kingdom, because that £8 billion would have been a transfer from the UK taxpayer to Scotland. Of course, the assertion is perverse and a nonsense. It is also retrospective, at a time when the balance is changing. It showed that, at a time of rising public spending, the Barnett formula delivered for Scotland at a faster rate than the rate at which incomes rose. Of course, at a time of public spending constraint, the reverse will be the case-the income tax take will rise faster than the Barnett formula consequentials. Over time, that can be averaged out-that is what the cash borrowing is for. That is the way that we should look at it.

The proposals give the Scottish Government the capacity to benefit from economic success, which grows the tax base and can potentially grow the revenue base. If they use their powers well, they will benefit from the buoyancy of the revenues. Of course, if they mismanage the economy, the reverse will be the case. The advantage of the Bill is that the transitional arrangements and the cash borrowing adjustments will provide a cushion to minimise the extremes of that effect. However, they will not deny a bit of pain if it goes wrong and a bit of benefit if it goes right. Over time, one hopes that that will become a more substantial amount.