Magazine article Public Finance

Two Questions, One Winner

Magazine article Public Finance

Two Questions, One Winner

Article excerpt

Alex Salmond's choice of options for the Scottish referendum in 2014 has already - barring disaster

- ensured success for the SNP

Unionists in Westminster have been regrouping as realisation has dawned that First Minister Alex Salmond may be planning a referendum he can't lose.

As this column noted last month, the proposal to include 'devolution max'

- a kind of federalism - as an option in the forthcoming referendum on independence means that the Scottish National Party leader has an each-way bet. The SNP wants independence but it would settle for a 'halfway house'

that gave full tax-raising powers to the Scottish Parliamentbut left defence and foreign affairs to Westminster.

Irate Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative MPs say this is 'playing politics with the constitution'. The Scottish Labour leadership contender, Tom Harris MP, says that if Salmond does not ask the Scots 'Independence, yes or no?' without including second options, then the matter should be taken out of his hands. The new leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, Ruth Davidson, supports an early referendum on independence mounted by Westminster to shoot the nationalist fox.

Several constitutional experts agree. Dr Cormac Mac Amhlaigh, of Edinburgh University, says that Scotland does not have the legal right to hold a binding referendum on independence because the constitution is a power reserved for Westminster. Adam Tomkins, law professor at Glasgow University,

believes that Salmond's referendum would be challenged in the courts.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats point out that there is already a Bill going through the House of Commons that offers 'the greatest transfer of fiscal powers to Scotland since 1707', according to the Scottish Secretary, Michael Moore. So why - unionists argue - should Alex Salmond be allowed to propose a new 'devolution max' with unspecified powers in addition to those on offer? …

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