The UK parties promise that Scotland can have “the best of both worlds” - all the “strength” and “security” of the UK, with a strong Scottish Parliament that they say will get more powers if Scotland votes No.
But if you actually look closely at what they’re offering, they’re not more “powers” at all. The Scottish Parliament will NOT have power over anything that it doesn’t currently have power over. It won’t control the most vital aspects of society, such as welfare or pensions. Bar a few tiny trivial matters, all that Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats actually propose to do is change the arrangements for collecting income tax.
Instead of Westminster collecting the tax and then handing a fixed sum of money to Scotland in the shape of the block grant, Holyrood will have to set up, in essence, a Scottish HMRC. That’ll cost hundreds of millions of pounds a year, in order to pointlessly duplicate the functions currently performed by the UK one.
That money will come out of the Scottish budget and have to be replaced somehow, either by increasing tax rates or cutting public services. But because you can’t actually have different income tax rates in two parts of a unitary state - because people and businesses will just flood over the border to whichever is cheapest, causing chaos and public fury - tax rates will have to stay the same.
(Which is why the Scottish Parliament’s existing tax-altering powers have never been used in the 15 years of the Parliament’s existence, whether by Labour/Lib Dem or SNP governments.)
That only leaves cuts. In the event of a No vote, the Scottish Government will have to slash public services just to stand still. That’ll put enormous pressure on things like free prescriptions, tuition fees and care for the elderly.
(All of which are bitterly resented in the rest of the UK and cause problems for the UK parties, and which they’d prefer not to exist as a result. Labour’s shadow health secretary Andy Burnham told Holyrood Magazine in September 2013 that he “passionately” wanted to “get health policies that can be consistent across England, Scotland and Wales. Wouldn’t that be a good thing, pulling in the same direction as opposed to pulling our separate ways?”)
But again, don’t take our word for any of this. Listen to what Johann Lamont told northeast-England newspaper the Northern Echo in April 2014:
“The North-East has nothing to fear from ‘devo max’ for Scotland, Labour’s leader north of the border has insisted.
Johann Lamont rejected suggestions that Scotland is poised to gain a huge economic advantage over its neighbouring region, in return for voting ‘no’ to independence.
Instead, Ms Lamont urged people in the North-East not to believe ‘propaganda’ about extra powers and riches heading to Edinburgh.
‘Scotland will not be getting more money, it will simply be accountable for raising more of its money. I hope that dispels some myths.’”
No MORE money? It’s worse than that. In February 2014 the Daily Record reported on someone who says Labour’s devolution plans will mean LESS money for the Scottish Parliament, and who knows the workings of the UK government better than Johann Lamont does:
“Scottish public spending would suffer a cash squeeze under Johann Lamont’s plans to devolve all tax-raising powers to Holyrood, a leading Labour MP has warned.
Glasgow MP Ian Davidson said the Barnett formula that gives Scotland a bigger share of UK government spending would be lost if the party go for full tax powers for the Scottish Parliament.
The Labour chairman of the influential Commons Scottish affairs committee said it ‘would undoubtedly be to Scotland’s detriment’.”
But even that doesn’t tell the whole story about what Labour proposes for Scotland. The previous month, Ms Lamont had spelled out what the party’s devolution proposals meant in a BBC1 interview:
“We believe very strongly the United Kingdom is about sharing risk and resources, it is about pooling risk, and it is about redistributing out of better-off parts of the United Kingdom into poorer bits.”
But which are the “better-off parts of the UK” that’ll be having this money taken away from them if Labour win in 2015? The answer can be found in Scottish Labour’s own devolution document, on page 70:
We’ve added the red underlining, but the rest is untouched. Labour’s plan, in their own words, is to redistribute wealth from the better-off parts of the UK (ie Scotland) to the poorer areas (ie nearly everywhere else).
What that means in practice is that Scotland’s money will go to London, and poorer areas will just have to hope that London distributes it to them - something that hasn’t happened in the last few decades, as the city has greedily hoovered up more and more of the UK’s resources, to the extent that the UK government’s business secretary Vince Cable told the BBC in December 2013 that the capital was “a giant suction machine draining the life out of the rest of the country”.
So here, in a nutshell, is what “more powers” really means for Scotland: Holyrood will have to make huge spending cuts OVER AND ABOVE those already coming down from Westminster, in order to pay for a lot of unnecessary tax bureaucracy, and even more of Scotland’s wealth will be taken away to the Treasury.
All three UK parties are promising variants on the same plan if they win the 2015 election, differing only on the proportion of tax they want Holyrood to have to collect.
In practice, because all those plans mean Holyrood having less money at its disposal, they amount to LESS power for the Scottish Parliament, not more.