1. ITV Report

Peter MacMahon looks at a taxing question ahead of the Scottish independence vote

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown proposes six "major" constitutional changes to revamp the UK's relationship with Scotland Credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Gordon Brown’s speech today in which he said the Scottish parliament should raise 40% of its taxes, is yet another stage in the devolution debate.

The former Prime Minister was speaking on the same day another former leader – Menzies Campbell of the Liberal Democrats – published an up-date on his party’s home rule plans.

Both of these proposals have to be seen in the context of the Scottish National Party’s plans for independence.

Scottish Labour is planning to publish its formal proposals for greater devolution at its conference later this month.

It looks like the Scottish Conservatives, who have set up a commission under Lord Strathclyde, will not publish at their conference at the end of this week but wait until May.

So exactly what is on offer?

There are now many varieties of devolution – devo to its friends and political opponents alike - including devo plus, devo more and devo max.

Where are we?

At the moment, the Scottish parliament has control over very little by way of taxes. In theory it can raise or lower the basic rate of income tax by 3p in the pound but no party has ever used that power.

As of 2016 there is more power coming. Holyrood will be able to set income tax up to 10p in the pound. It has been given control stamp duty and land fill tax. And it will have borrowing powers.

This was the product of the cross-party Calman Commission work, supported by the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems, and is a major step forward.

Such has been the pace of political change it is already seen as the status quo with the parties now looking to build on it.

So what have we got? Here’s a rough guide.

Devo plus: all income tax and corporation taxes devolved to Scotland. First proposed by the Reform Scotland think tank. Here’s a handy Devo plus: all income tax and corporation taxes devolved to Scotland. First proposed by the Reform Scotland think tank. Here’s a handy guide.

Devo more: adds some welfare benefits to ‘devo plus’, like housing benefit. Proposed recently by the IPPR think tank

Here’s the IPPR’s view.

Devo max: Holyrood gets all tax powers but Westminster retains control over foreign affairs and defence. The Bank of England would continue to set interest rates. Here’s an argument for this from the Institute of Economic Affair’s.

Now in response to all these devos (if that is the correct plural), the SNP will always say they do not go far enough.

For a nationalist party, that is logical. After all they believe in independence.

However, the SNP support an independent Scotland retaining the pound Sterling and allowing the Bank of England to set interest rates.

So there is a small(ish) gap between ‘devo max’ and the currently SNP version of independence.

Where does this leave us? Well, by the time of the referendum all three main unionist parties will have published plans for greater devolution.

It looks like Labour will come down somewhere close to Mr Brown’s plan which you can read here in more detail.

The party’s commission of last year said there was most scope for devolving income tax, though some in the party do not believe they should go that far. You can read it here.

The Tories have moved a long way from leader Ruth Davidson saying when she was elected she wanted to drawn “a line in the sand” on further powers.

There are hints that the Tories will move on tax but, as with Labour, may propose to devolve power further down from Holyrood to local government and local communities.

The Liberal Democrats, who claim to be the keepers of the home rule flame, are likely to be more radical still but even they will not go as far as devo max.

Yesterday’s Lib Dem paper, called Campbell II (there was a Campbell I) says they think the Scottish parliament should raise the taxes “to pay for the majority of its spending”.

Here is some more detail on that.

But the Lib Dems will not go as far as devolving VAT which they – and most experts – say cannot be done under EU rules.

Those rules state one country, as the UK would still be, cannot have different VAT rates within it.

So, disparate proposals and from parties which may be on the same ‘No’ side in the independence debate.

But, if they win that battle, they will be fighting each other at the 2015 UK general election, and the 2016 Scottish parliament elections.

Which makes the chances of them coming up with a joint position before the referendum slim, though the Lib Dems hope that will be the case.

They use as their model the Constitutional Convention of the 1990s in which they worked with Labour on the original devolution plans.

When asked how this greater devolution can be delivered, the only answer the three main unionist parties can give just now is to first vote for them in the UK elections.

For the SNP, of course, all of these debates are in their eyes a response to their rise from a minority grouping to a party in control of the Scottish parliament proposing the September 18 independence referendum.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was quick to attack the Lib Dems saying they have had more than a century to deliver on home rule and not managed to do so.

On the proposals from all parties, Ms Sturgeon put it thus:"There's a pattern here, where the Westminster parties, when they're in a position to deliver more powers, fail to do so.

"Then, with the threat of a referendum and a 'Yes' vote, they suddenly start to decide that they're in favour of all of this anyway."

It is hard to tell how much of this kind of devo detail the general public want to hear.

But we can be sure it will be central to the independence debate in the run up to September 18.

PS. About the only thing not on offer is “Are we not men: we are DEVO”, but that’s a whole other 80s pop thing which a serious political blog best avoid.

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