Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Good day for Salmond to bury bad news

The news agenda today will be dominated by the budget so there will be little room for what would have been a front page story for most of the Scottish press - an Alex Salmond capitulation.

Despite the SNP threat to torpedo the Westminster government's Scotland Bill that would give more power to Holyrood, the Scottish government now appears to have completely backed down.

A written Ministerial Statement issued by Scottish Secretary Michael Moore this morning makes it clear that the UK government and Scottish government have reached agreement on the bill.

There's grumbling from the SNP, and concessions not to take minor powers back to Westminster, but both administrations have confirmed they will recommend MSPs and MPs support the bill when it comes before Holyrood and the Commons.

The SNP had vowed to frustrate the process of transferring powers by rallying their troops to vote against the measures in Holyrood, where the party has a comfortable majority.

But here's the bill, at the committee stage in the Lords today, with hardly any significant changes to what the Coalition was proposing in the first place.

Remember, when Salmond won a Holyrood majority he came south with a shopping list of demands he wanted added to the Scotland Bill.

In the glow of election victory the First Minister bid for control over corporation tax and Crown Estate revenues.

He made new demands over alcohol and cigarette excise duty, broadcasting powers and EU representation.

These will doubtless remain SNP demands but there is no sign of them being contained in the Scotland Bill.

What is contained is the biggest transfer of powers since devolution. I know Michael Moore says "since the creation of the UK" but that's too much hyperbole for me.

The measures include:

a new Scottish rate of income tax
the devolution of stamp duty land tax
the devolution of landfill tax
the power to create new taxes
new borrowing powers

There are also legislative odds and ends like power over air weapons in Scotland,
responsibility for drink driving and speed limits on Scotland's roads, and a role in appointments in broadcasting and the Crown Estate.

There's also going to be a new procedure for Scottish criminal cases that go to the UK Supreme Court.

Politically the SNP would have found it hard to vote against more powers anyway, but a few weeks ago the Scottish government was describing the new tax powers as harmful and the whole bill a "pig in a poke".

Now they seem perfectly happy to accept the measures and vote accordingly. As with so many issues for Alex Salmond, he huffed and he puffed, and...

UPDATE: The SNP's John Mason has popped up to call the Scotland Bill "a missed opportunity".

All that does is highlight Salmond's silence on the issue, presume this will be sorted by SNP Central soon.

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