The Government White Paper, unveiled this week, offers voters a clear alternative to nationalism, as support for Scottish independence slumps to below 30%.
The publication of the Government’s White Paper, Scotland’s Future in the United Kingdom, has highlighted a genuine choice facing voters in Scotland at the general election next year.
The paper, trailed in the Queen’s speech last week, is a response to the final report of the Commission on Scottish Devolution, chaired by Sir Kenneth Calman, a commission which enjoyed the support of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.
In presenting the paper to the UK Parliament, Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy declared:
“The plans which the Government is setting out today will create a stronger, more accountable Scottish Parliament within the framework of the United Kingdom.”
Among the measures announced in the paper were:
• Greater powers for Holyrood to raise its own funds: The plan would see Westminster reduce the UK income tax levied on Scottish citizens by 10p. At the same time, the UK Government will reduce the block grant by the same amount. This will mean the Scottish Government would have to adopt a 10p Scottish income tax to keep the budget unchanged, or increase it by more if it wanted it increased;
• Greater ability to borrow for investment in capital projects;
• The devolution of powers relating to the control of air guns;
• Holyrood will get the powers needed to set the drink drive limits and speed limits on Scottish roads.
• Measures to improve the communication between Holyrood and Westminster: Such as through the Scottish Secretary reporting to the Scottish Parliament on Whitehall’s legislative programme.
Under the plans, Labour would introduce a Scotland Bill to give effect to the measures in the next Parliament, should they win the election. The plans however, exposed the stark and clear choices Scotland now faces, despite the Commission having been supported across the major Scottish parties, with the exception of the SNP.
For the Conservatives, Shadow Scottish Secretary David Mundell made clear that the Tories were in no hurray to see the proposals implemented, declaring that whilst his party supported the principles of the Government’s aims:
“We will do this through our own White Paper, not with this Government’s proposals launched in the dying days of this Parliament.”
Liberal Democrat Scottish Affairs Spokesman Alistair Carmichael made clear his party’s support for the paper, but questioned the Government’s reluctance to legislate on the issues requiring new laws now. He said:
“What does the government’s white paper really add to the process, apart from further delay in the implementation, where there is a consensus, and giving the Conservatives an opportunity for the sort of backsliding we have seen today.”
Meanwhile, with the SNP Government in Holyrood was expected to publish its White Paper on full scale independence for Scotland on St Andrew’s Day this coming Monday, Scotland’s Constitution Minister, Mike Russell, told BBC Scotland that the UK Government’s paper was “very flimsy”.
The developments come as a YouGov poll for the Daily Telegraph found that more than half (57 per cent) of Scots would reject independence in a referendum, with only 29 per cent in favour (down 2% since October). Likewise, the same poll found that Scots rated independence as the sixth most important issue faced by the nation, out of a list of 7.
This is despite independence being the SNP and Alex Salmond’s defining mission.
Labour remain committed to implementing plans for a strengthened Scottish Parliament if it wins the next election. The Conservative party, whilst publicly in favour of the principle of greater powers to Holyrood, is in no rush to loose powers as it enters a general election it expects to win. The Lib Dems believe that Scotland should gain greater powers within the union immediately, and the SNP continue their campaign for full scale independence.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.