Calman Commission reports

The Commission on Scottish Devolution set up by the Unionist parties in the Scottish Parliament and chaired by Sir Kenneth Calman published its final report on 15 June 2009.

The report, entitled Serving Scotland Better: Scotland and the United Kingdom in the 21st Century, concentrates most on fiscal matters.  Having in its first report ruled out full fiscal autonomy for Scotland, the Commission nonetheless recommends that part of the budget of the Scottish Parliament should be found from devolved taxation under its control rather than from grant from the Westminster Parliament.  The starting point is income tax based on a special Scottish rate with the UK tax rate in Scotland reduced by 10 pence in the pound and the UK block grant to Scotland also reduced accordingly.  The Barnett formula for determining the block grant’s amount would be otherwise unchanged.  The Scottish Parliament would have stronger borrowing powers and could also legislate to introduce new taxes, while some existing taxes, e.g. the Stamp Duty Land Tax and Air Passenger Duty, would be devolved to Scotland as well.

How well all this will go down at the UK level, where it will be decided, remains to be seen.  UK Tories, even under David Cameron, are unlikely to see new tax powers north of the border as attractive either ideologically or from a pragmatic vote-winning perspective, whether in the UK as a whole or in Scotland.  They may also see a deepening of the divisions in the union of the UK rather than a strengthening.  Scots Law News also has its doubts about Labourites’ buy-in for this sort of thing.  But we have seen headlines suggesting that the UK Government will put all this through Westminster in the next 10 months, i.e. before the next UK General Election.  Shades of the late 1970s begin to pass before our eyes.

Other things in the report make sense, especially measures that will make the UK and the Scottish Governments and Parliaments work more closely together (but the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies must also be involved here).  There are some interesting suggestions about matters that should now be devolved: administration of elections to the Scottish Parliament, regulation of airguns, the speed limit and drink-driving limits.  Other matters should be dealt with at a UK level: there should, for example, be a unified regime on charities law for all purposes.  (But which of the existing regimes should be preferred is not discussed.)  Unified rules on insolvency are also advocated.  Each of these suggestions is likely to attract controversy.

Finally, there seems to be nothing in the report on the role of the Lord Advocate, although as regular readers may recall questions on that subject were raised by the judiciary during the Commission’s evidence-gathering process.  A subject for another day, no doubt.