Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds So, Nicola, what further powers were promised for the Scottish Parliament in the Vow in the event that the Scottish people voted ‘no’ to independence? Well, the Vow was very vaguely worded. It suggested a stronger parliament, but it didn’t really specify beyond that. Immediately after the referendum, of course, there was this Smith Commission process. So all of the parties, the main parties, got around a table together with two representatives from each party and essentially hammered out a deal, which was a political compromise over the new powers to be transferred. It’s a very speedy process.
Skip to 0 minutes and 46 seconds Perhaps not an ideal way to revise a constitution, but it’s meant that the main powers in the new devolution legislation coming to Scotland revolve around tax and welfare with a variety of other smaller areas covered as well like energy, efficiency, elections conduct and so on. In terms of tax and welfare, the powers are really quite substantial with a lot of responsibility as well as power. So with relation to income tax, the Scottish government will now be responsible for setting the rates and the thresholds for all income tax, taxes on earned income for people resident within Scotland. That’s a really big responsibility. But it is still within a broader UK tax framework, so it has constraints as well.
Skip to 1 minute and 40 seconds And it will be complicated and difficult going forward. In relation to welfare, the social security powers are again potentially quite broad. So there are some very specific things that devolved around disability benefits, carer’s allowance, attendance allowance, these sorts of areas where the Scottish Parliament will have the power to do anything it wants in these areas. It can continue as before. It can change the legislation completely to provide a different kind of benefit for a similar purpose.
Skip to 2 minutes and 12 seconds And then there are some other additional powers, some flexibilities around Universal Credit, but also a very broad power for the Scottish Parliament – the Scottish government acting through Parliament – to introduce any new welfare benefit that it sees fit as long as it’s not given to people by virtue of old age and as long as it’s not to compensate for a sanction, and crucially, as long as it’s met within the resources of the Scottish government’s own budget. And we also saw that the UK and Scottish governments had to negotiate something called a ‘fiscal framework’ to do with the taxpayers. Why was it so important to agree at some kind of fiscal framework?
Skip to 2 minutes and 54 seconds Well, the fiscal framework is the underpinning of the new devolution arrangements. It was a way to determine how they would adjust what’s called the Scottish block grant. Although there is substantial tax autonomy coming to Scotland, there will still be a substantial grant coming to Scotland from the Treasury to reflect all of the other taxes that people in Scotland pay and pay centrally. So there has to be an agreement on how you would adjust that block grant to take account of the fact that more revenue would be raised within Scotland and also to take account of the fact that more responsibilities would be carried forward in social security.
Skip to 3 minutes and 43 seconds Reaching an agreement on precisely how to do that was quite an intense political negotiation, and there’s been compromises on both sides in that respect. And still, even though there is an agreement, there’s quite a lot of the detail and the implementation of that will still have to be ironed out and worked out as the process unfolds. And do these new powers over tax, and over welfare, and over some other areas, make the Scottish Parliament quite a powerful some sub-state legislature? It does. It does make it more powerful. It’s already quite a powerful sub-state legislature if we look around the world to devolved parliaments in other countries.
Skip to 4 minutes and 26 seconds But it does come with some constraints too, because it creates a system of devolution where there is more overlap, more jagged ages if you like, between what’s devolved and what’s reserved. And I think in order to be able to exercise those powers effectively, it may be that there needs to be a strengthening of the degree of influence that the Scottish government can have within the intergovernmental arena over those areas of reserved policy that will have a bearing on the new powers and responsibilities. Income tax is the classic example. Yes, it’s a big power, but it’s a big responsibility.
Skip to 5 minutes and 11 seconds And unless the Scottish government and the UK government – particularly the Treasury – can find ways to work together cooperatively and not play political games with one another, then it might actually create some difficulties in the long run because of the complex interdependence between what is devolved in tax and what continues to be reserved.
What Can the Scottish Parliament Do?
Devolution has evolved since 1999. Alan Convery and Nicola McEwen, Professor of Territorial Politics at the University of Edinburgh, discuss the powers of the Scottish Parliament.
© 2016 The University of Edinburgh CC BY-SA 4.0