Academics' Concern At New Powers

23 January 2015, 05:01

Scotland's new powers are confusing and may lead to growing pressure for a further review of the devolution settlement, academics have warned.

Prime Minister David Cameron's hope that the next Scotland Bill will lead to "an enduring settlement'' between the UK and Scotland "may seem forlorn'', the Centre on Constitutional Change (CCC) said.

The draft clauses, which are designed to make the Scottish Parliament more accountable, will actually increase Holyrood's dependence on UK policy and decision-making, according to CCC, which includes professors from universities throughout Scotland.

Paul Cairney, professor of politics and public policy at Stirling University, said: "The rhetoric has been about greater financial responsibility and accountability but, in fact, what they have produced is a confusing system providing a complex interplay between reserved and devolved taxes.

"The result is great confusion about what tax and spending decisions we can meaningfully describe as being made by the Scottish Government.''

Nicola McEwen, professor of territorial politics at Edinburgh University, said: "At the same time as increasing powers, it also increases the Scottish Parliament's dependence on UK policy and decision-making.

"In the area of welfare, the draft clauses specifically create concurrent powers, where new powers given to Scottish ministers to affect the delivery of Universal Credit will be shared with the UK Secretary of State, and subject to his agreement.

"Similar provisions are established in relation to energy efficiency, where the Scottish Government will be given the power to 'make schemes', through regulation, for the purposes of reducing fuel poverty, subject to the agreement of the UK Secretary of State.''

She added: "Unless such joint working can be conducted on the basis of equality of status and mutual respect, the complexities and interdependencies are likely to create new sources of tension and dissatisfaction, and lead to growing pressure for a further revision of the devolution settlement.

"The Prime Minister's hope that today's announcement will lead to 'an enduring settlement' may seem forlorn.''

Michael Keating, professor of Scottish politics at Aberdeen University, said the principle that devolution should cause "no detriment'' to Scotland or the UK will be "politically contentious''.

"Detriment could be read more widely to cover tax competition,'' he said. ``So if Scotland were to abolish air passenger duty and divert traffic from Newcastle to Edinburgh Airport, England might complain about the lost revenue. Wealthy residents could be lured across the border by different taxes on high incomes.

"Determining what should count as 'detriment' will remain politically contentious and technically complex.''