The talk of the steamie in this weekend’s Sunday papers is that Scottish Labour are set to backpedal on the devolution of 100% of income tax, a position previously described by Gordon Brown – the great architect of “The Vow” – as a “Tory trap” which was “not in Scotland’s interests”.
(Coincidentally, the papers also report that Brown, who said he would personally ensure the safe delivery of the new devolution settlement, will stand down at the 2015 election in order to devote more time to his “charity” work.)
It is, of course, a challenge to keep track of Labour’s position on the move from one day to the next. In 2013 it wanted to devolve all taxation, then in 2014 it decided as its final settled position that it wasn’t a good idea after all, and has flip-flopped on a more or less weekly basis ever since. Just this month the favourite for the Scottish branch office leadership, Jim Murphy, poured cold water on the notion, but now it seems yet another U-turn is on the cards.
We wouldn’t put a lot of money on it being the last one.
According to Scotland on Sunday’s report, the reason for the latest switch isn’t a considered rejection of the merits or otherwise of the plan, but a political defeat:
“A Labour insider said: ‘We have been forced to accept it. It’s an SNP/Tory stitch up. If we don’t accept it the Nats will say we are holding back Scotland and the Tories will say we are holding back devolution. That’s why we have got no choice.'”
So the inside Labour position is apparently that the party will back a policy it’s on record as saying will be disastrous for Scotland – rather than standing up for what it believes in – because it’s scared of being criticised by opposing parties. We’re sure Scots will be deeply impressed by such steadfast commitment to principle.
There’s a little more to the story, though.
“The Sunday Times understands that Scottish Labour MSPs have been reassured by public comments made by David Cameron, the prime minister, that Scotland will retain a form of the Barnett Formula on public spending to offset any potential shortfall in monies raised from income tax.”
The trouble is that we don’t recall the Prime Minister saying any such thing. He has of course said that he has no current plans to reform Barnett, but he has never, so far as this site is aware said anything about offsetting any potential shortfalls caused by the devolution of income tax.
As the only way to do so would be to actually INCREASE the proportion of money sent to Scotland – a move which would surely spark a massive revolt among English MPs who already want the Formula scrapped – it seems stupendously unlikely that any such assurance has been given, even in private.
It would, after all, destroy what has consistently been presented as the entire point of granting Holyrood more devolution – that of making it more responsible and accountable. It’s not “responsibility” if London will pick up the tab for any shortfall.
So to recap: if the story in today’s press is to be believed, Scottish Labour are about to endorse and pledge to implement a policy they firmly believe will damage Scotland, because they’re scared of being criticised by the Tories and the SNP, and the reason they’ve caved on their previous position is on the basis of alleged comments which David Cameron hasn’t actually made and which would go against every single public pronouncement from the Conservatives on the subject.
We’d order extra popcorn for Thursday if we were you, readers.