The Scotland Bill has been somewhat delayed at Westminster, firstly because of the Libya debate and then the Scottish elections. The First Minister has called for the devolution of Corporation Tax, control over the Crown Estate, and immediate borrowing powers. Yesterday, he upped the ante by calling for a fresh raft of powers to be included in the Bill including control of excise duty on alcohol and cigarettes, create a new digital Scottish TV channel, and a guaranteed seat at the European table.
On Corporation Tax my view is no. I know Northern Ireland is supposed to be getting this power, but there are special circumstances and I wonder if it will actually happen. Using Corporation Tax to entice companies across the border will inevitably lead to a race to the bottom and there is no evidence that it promotes growth. And how are we going to pay for what will undoubtedly be a tax cut? Further cuts in public services.
Control over the Crown Estate is a yes. There are obvious synergies with existing devolved powers. However, we cannot expect to simply draw down income streams from UK powers without compensatory cuts in the block budget. Nice if we could but the Treasury is not daft.
Borrowing powers is a definite yes. Calman could have been stronger on this but the draft Bill is much weaker. Artificial limits and Treasury controls should go. Plus we should be able to raise bonds. This could be particularly useful for Scottish Water investment and the ideas in the Hydro Nation consultation.
Excise duties is a maybe. It would get over one of the strongest objections to the minimum pricing proposals that were defeated in the last session. Increasing the price of booze is sound, but lining the pockets of Tesco et al isn't. However, a steady stream of booze filled white vans up and down the M74 isn't very attractive either.
Broadcasting is a yes. There is no reason left for this not to be devolved. It shouldn't mean insular news and programmes. We have a long tradition of internationalism and viewers would quickly object to parochial TV and radio.
A seat at the European table is also a yes, compatible with the access that other devolved/federal institutions have. A Europe of the regions is something we should promote.
In UNISON Scotland's evidence to the Calman Commission we argued that the test for new powers should be subsidiarity. On that test many of the First Minister's are reasonable - but not all.