Author Archives: Alan Trench

About Alan Trench

Academic, non-practising solicitor, close watcher of devolution in the United Kingdom and similar systems around the world

The Strathclyde Commission report

The Scottish Conservatives have today published the report of the Strathclyde Commission, their review of how Scottish devolution should change if there is a No vote in the September referendum. I’ve been an adviser to the commission since it was set up, and it has been a great pleasure to advise Lord Strathclyde and his fellow commissioners, and the party more generally, and to help them consider what can (and what cannot, or cannot sensibly) be done by way of enhancing devolution.

The report recommends the devolution of income tax, including the power to set the rates and thresholds between bands, as well as some smaller taxes, and to look at assigning a proportion of the proceeds of VAT.  It also proposes devolution of attendance allowance, housing benefit if that is possible given the Universal Credit, and a general devolved power to supplement UK-level welfare.

The report is available from the Scottish Conservatives’ website here. Their press statement about the report is here, and Ruth Davidson’s article for Scotland on Sunday on the plans is here.  Sunday’s Telegraph trail for it (pretty well informed) is here.

The impact of the work I’ve been doing with Guy Lodge in the IPPR’s Devo More project is palpable in the Strathclyde proposals. This is clearly a model for enhanced devolution and – as I argued in my chapter for the IPPR’s book Democracy in Britain – works from the point of view of all three major political traditions, with some variations.

Those interested in the effect of the Strathclyde proposals may find it useful to look at two tables I’ve prepared.  These can be downloaded HERE. Table 1 shows how much of the Scottish Government’s budget would come from devolving the various taxes considered in the report, without any change to its current functions. Table 2 shows the proportion of its budget it would generate from tax revenues if the measures of welfare devolution that it contemplates also took place. In the case of tax revenues, it assumes that Scottish tax levels of devolved taxes would remain the same as those set by the UK Government, so in that sense it should be regarded as an assessment of fiscal capacity rather than a straightforward amount of money. The assumption that 10 points of VAT (rather than some other figure) is mine, and made mainly as that is the figure used in Funding Devo More which involved some complicated arithmetic given changing rates of VAT between 2007 and 2010.

UPDATE: There’s news coverage from BBC News here, and a Guardian liveblog (quoting this post!) here.  The Guardian news story is here, a blog post by Severin Carrell here, the FT‘s are here and here (note: registration/paywall), and the Telegraph’s (emphasising David Cameron’s support) here.

 

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Filed under Conservatives, Publications and projects, Scotland

‘Devo More’ seminar in Cardiff, 11 June 2013

I’m giving a seminar on Devo More and what it would mean for Wales in Cardiff on the morning of Wednesday 11 June. The full title is ‘Devo More: How fiscal and welfare devolution can benefit Wales and strengthen the Union’, and it is part of the UK Changing Union programme based by the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, under the aegis of the National Assembly’s Cross Party Group on the Changing Union. (Those who haven’t seen them can find the Devo More and Welfare paper here, and Funding Devo More here.)
The seminar will take place at 8.30 am in conference room 24 in Tŷ Hywel, with tea, coffee and pastries provided. To book a place, please email info@ukchangingunion.org.uk.

UPDATE, 12 June: The slides from Tuesday’s talk are now available HERE.

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Filed under Devolution finance, Events, Publications and projects, Wales

Guardian ‘Comment is Free’ piece on ‘What happens after a Scottish independence Yes vote?’

Drawing on my Belfast lecture, I’ve a piece in the Guardian‘s ‘Comment is Free’ section on what would happen following a Yes vote in September’s Scottish independence referendum.  I argue that the difficulties with a long transition are very great indeed, and that there are compelling reasons to ensure Scotland becomes independent by the time of the May 2015 UK general election if there is a Yes vote.  That  would be formidably difficult – not only are there are tough and complicated issues to be negotiated and resolved  between the governments, but also legislation needs to be passed by both Scottish and UK Parliaments (and the UK Government would need to pass a paving bill too).  But the problems caused by a longer transition are even more formidable, in my view.

The CiF piece can be found here.

 

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Filed under Implications of Scottish independence, Publications and projects, Referendums, Scotland, Scottish independence, Westminster, Whitehall

Lecture in Belfast on what happens after the Scottish referendum

I’m giving a public lecture at the University of Ulster’s Belfast campus on 15 May, on what happens following September’s Scottish referendum.  It will take place in the Conor Lecture Theatre at 5 pm.  The poster, with more details, can be downloaded here.  Please email Zoë Lennon on z.lennon@ulster.ac.uk to confirm your attendance if you’d like to come.

 

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Filed under Events, Implications of Scottish independence, Referendums, Scotland, Scottish independence

Unlocking the lockstep?

There are interesting changes to the ‘Calman’ model of income tax in the Wales bill (which had its Commons second reading on Monday) and the Finance bill (which had its Commons second reading on Tuesday).

The ‘Calman’ model applies a ‘lockstep’ to the devolved income tax rate, which has to be the same for all three tax bands (basic, higher and additional or 45 per cent). That rate can be 0 per cent, 10 per cent (as it is at present) or some other figure but it must be the same for all three bands – so if the devolved rate were nine per cent, you would have tax rates of 19, 39 and 44 per cent. While this question did not attract particular attention when the Scotland Act 2012 was going through the UK and Scottish Parliaments, it has been controversial in Wales. It was not recommended by either the Holtham or Silk Commissions, and has attracted criticism from the Commons Welsh Affairs Committee, the First Minister (who called the power with the lockstep ‘pretty useless’) and the Plaid Cymru and Welsh Conservative leaders.

The provisions in the Wales bill mark a change from the draft bill published before Christmas. Instead of providing for a single ‘Welsh rate of income tax’ across all three bands, the key operational clause now provides for Welsh basic, higher and additional rates and defines each of them separately (see clause 9 of the bill). Clause 289 and Schedule 34 of the Finance (No 2) bill make similar changes to the finance provisions of the Scotland Act 2012. (Both bills also provide for beefed-up arrangements for reports on devolved tax powers by the Comptroller and Auditor General, something that was conspicuously missing from the Scotland bill.)

The substantive policy behind the devolved rate of tax remains the same; the lockstep is still in place, and UK Government policy backs it strongly. But this change creates the legal basis for having different rates of tax for each band, if that policy decision were taken later, by altering the rule regarding what a ‘Welsh’ (or ‘Scottish’) ‘rate resolution’ would be.

The application to Scotland appears to be an inversion of the position that ‘Wales gets what Scotland gets’, which is apparent throughout the finance provisions of the Wales bill. Since what Scotland has is proving politically very difficult in a Welsh context, creating a framework for a possible different approach is an interesting move. In the light of ongoing debates about fiscal devolution to Scotland, though, including the Scottish Labour Party’s proposals to increase the devolved rate of income tax from 10 to 15 points and to allow the Scottish Parliament to vary higher and additional rates upward, there are obvious potential uses on the table in Scotland as well.

UPDATE: There’s coverage of this issue – quoting me extensively – here, which appeared on the front page of Wednesday’s Scotsman, and a cartoon and comment, here.  It’s interesting to note a firm denial of the idea that there is any plan to break the lockstep from HM Treasury, reported in the Scotsman story.  Ben Riley-Smith of the Telegraph has also tweeted a denial from No. 10.  I don’t doubt the policy remains to maintain the lockstep, but also that this creates a smoother path to break it if the policy were to change.

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Filed under Calman Commission/Scotland bill, Devolution finance, Legislation, Scotland, Wales

Devo More and Welfare

Our paper on devolving welfare, snappily entitled Devo More and Welfare, is now available on the IPPR website here.

Our concern in making these proposals has been to formulate workable proposals which preserve important parts of the UK and its ‘social union’ as it presently is. There’s a lot of material in the paper discussing this, and why risk-sharing at a UK level is in the interests of all parts of the UK.  Constraints also arise from the existing pattern of welfare spending and the structures that support that – the role of the National Insurance fund when it comes to contributory benefits, for example.  However, we think it would be wrong to treat that social union as rigid; sharing risks for big things like old age or unemployment doesn’t mean other things can’t and shouldn’t be changed.  We argue for recognition of the role of devolved governments when it comes to providing welfare benefits, bearing in mind the large role they already play in providing public services that are part of the welfare state – an approach we call ‘welfare pluralism’.

We endorse, broadly, changes in three areas.  First, housing benefit should be devolved, given how closely it is linked to the devolved function of social housing. This would enable devolved governments to improve housing policy, by joining up housing benefit with already-devolved functions, and giving them more flexibility in how they invest in providing social housing.

Second, we support devolution of functions where this will improve social investment.  This applies to two areas in particular: the Work Programme and welfare-to-work, and childcare.  Devolving the Work Programme would involve a form of executive devolution, with Job Seekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance remaining paid on a UK-wide basis. Childcare powers are already in devolved hands; the question is how that should be funded, and here fiscal devolution (as we recommended in Funding Devo More) addresses the problem.  Devolving the childcare element of the Working Tax Credit would support this.

Third, we support a power for devolved governments to supplement UK level welfare, and removing existing legal restrictions on devolved governments providing cash benefits, provided they do so within devolved resources.  This would certainly simplify action like that taken by the Scottish Parliament to redress the ‘bedroom tax’/spare room subsidy, and would enable a much wider range of possibilities for devolved governments that wished to undertake them.

Welfare devolution should not simply be about handing over more powers to devolved governments.  It is about improving how devolution works, but even more importantly about improving social outcomes across the UK.  This can produce benefits for all; it is about a win-win game not ‘making concessions’.  It is also for all devolved governments; what we propose would be as applicable in Wales and Northern Ireland as in Scotland.  It is also, importantly, about responsibility; in particular, we argue that fiscal devolution is a necessary prerequisite before devolution of welfare functions can take place.

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Filed under Policy issues, Publications and projects

‘Devo More and Welfare’ in ‘Scotland on Sunday’

The paper Guy Lodge and I have written on Devo More and Welfare as part of the wider Devo More project is published on Tuesday.   There’s extensive coverage of it in today’s Scotland on Sunday to whom we’ve given a preview of the paper, including a news article here and a comment piece by Guy and me here.

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Filed under Northern Ireland, Policy issues, Publications and projects, Scotland, Wales

The Silk Commission’s Part 2 report

If ever a report deserved careful consideration rather than an immediate response, it’s the Silk Commission’s Part 2 report.  The product of more than 15 months’ evidence-taking and deliberation, it is a carefully framed, principles-based blueprint for the next step for Welsh devolution.  The full report is available here, and the executive summary (which I must admit to having relied on for this post) is here.  There’s BBC News coverage here, here and here, and from Wales Online here.

The key recommendations are:

  1. devolution of policing to the National Assembly
  2. devolution of responsibility for youth justice, but not the courts or the legal system generally
  3. devolution of planning powers to approve energy projects of up to 350 megawatts, of powers relating to sewerage and the regulation of some aspects of water supply within Wales, and for there to be a Welsh Crown Estate Commissioner.
  4. some further devolution of powers in relation to rail franchising, bus and taxi regulation, and speed limits and drink-driving
  5. appointment of a Welsh member of the BBC Trust (something already in place for Scotland), and control for the Assembly over public funding for S4C
  6. an increase in the size of the National Assembly, noting many calls for 80 members but leaving the issue for further consideration
  7. an enhanced approach to the conduct of intergovernmental relations and the machinery for that. The Secretary of State for Wales would also lose his seat in the National Assembly, his right to receive its papers and obligation to present the UK Government’s legislative programme each Parliamentary session.
  8. perhaps most importantly, a move to a ‘reserved powers’ model for the National Assembly’s legislative powers, away from the current ‘conferred powers’ one, along with a removal of the current and problematic protection of pre-devolution powers of UK ministers.

There are also calls for further study of a number of matters – not just the size of the Assembly and the number of AMs, but also the possible devolution of prisons and the court system.  It sees no need for a further referendum on any of these proposals.

What is notable about this is how cautious it is.  The recommendations eschew a number of more radical calls – for the establishment of a separate legal jurisdiction, or for devolution of the civil or criminal courts, the civil or criminal law, or of welfare.  I argued in my own submission that it would be very hard to establish a ‘reserved powers’ model without establishing a separate legal jurisdiction, and that this could be done without losing many of the advantages of the current shared arrangement.  (See also THIS EARLIER POST on the relationship between a legal jurisdiction and legislative powers.)   I suggested as well that the Welsh Government’s proposals for a reserved powers model would imply a devolved power to legislate for areas like land or contract law (these are omitted from the Welsh Government’s proposed list of reserved matters).  This would achieve the substantive outcome of a separate legal jurisdiction without formally calling it such –which may be the worst of all worlds.

Welfare devolution is another area which would create a number of administrative problems but offers scope for major gains for both governments and for citizens – as we’ll be arguing shortly through the Devo More project.

The Silk proposals are, in essence, an attempt to make sure the division of powers between Welsh and UK institution catches up with reality.  They’re not actually very radical; they don’t take account, for example, of the impact of the September referendum on Scottish independence (whether there’s a Yes vote leading to Scottish independence and a restructuring of the remainder of the United Kingdom, or a No vote resulting in further devolution for Scotland).  Rather like Holtham before it, this is an exercise in bringing Welsh devolution up to date not making far-reaching plans for the future.

However, the proposals do represent a clear consensus across the Welsh political parties about what should happen next.  I’ll shortly be putting up a post about the problems arising from the way the UK Government approached Silk Part 1, and its profound misreading of the political and economic situation in Wales compared with Scotland.  The gravest mistake the UK Government could make would be to cherry-pick these proposals.  The second gravest would be to take a year to decide what to do, especially given that it has a legislative slot in the next Parliamentary session and not using that would mean a significant wait for any action – even though, from his initial reaction (saying a response would be for the next UK Parliament not the current one), that’s just what the Secretary of State seems to intend.

UPDATE, 4 March: Carwyn Jones’s response to the Silk Part 2 report, here, is interesting.  Although Jones calls for a substantial expansion of the powers of the National Assembly and Welsh Government, he appears unwilling to accept the logical implication that greater self-government means no longer being in a privileged position when it comes to UK-wide institutions.  He seeks to maintain the office of the Secretary of State (despite his well-publicised difficulties with both Conservative holders of that post), and the present number of Welsh MPs.  Both cases are poor. For a discussion of the Secretary of State, see HERE.  The latter case is if anything weaker.  Wales is presently over-represented at Westminster; if MPs were allocated to Wales on a similar basis to England, it would have around 32, not its present 40.  Scotland was similarly over-represented in the Commons before devolution, and the creation of the Scottish Parliament saw the number of Scottish MPs reduced to the English ‘quota’.  That meant a reduction from 72 to 59.  This was provided for in the Scotland Act 1998, and (to avoid  a reduction in the size of the Scottish Parliament as well) required further legislation to ‘decouple’ the number of MSPs from the number of MPs.  (Decoupling has already happened for Wales, as part of the abortive plans to reduce the size of the Commons.)

Wales cannot expect to maintain a privileged position at UK level if devolved powers are to be extended.  Carwyn Jones is trying to have his cake and east it.

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Filed under Courts and legal issues, Wales, Westminster, Whitehall

The UK Government’s increasingly clear referendum position

The UK Government has now taken to using publicly a clear line about the independence referendum.  A Yes vote, and Scottish independence, will lead to Scotland leaving the United Kingdom (despite semantic objections from the Yes side).  That means an independent Scotland will also cease to be part of UK institutions.  It can’t expect to be able to maintain participation in such bodies as the Bank of England (as emphasised by the row over currency union), the BBC (illustrated by Maria Miller’s comments in Oxford), and others. The European Union is another of these.  Lord Wallace’s impending speech makes the point vividly clear.  Expect to see the research councils added to the list over the coming weeks, as another body where an ‘independent’ Scotland would seek to share arrangements with rUK.  There may be some hard choices to be made about a common travel area and its security implications.  The ground for both of those has already been laid in the Scotland Analysis papers.  And expect arguments about such detailed matters as the organ transplant ‘pool’, which currently operates on a UK-wide basis.

None of this should be a surprise.  It’s been implicit in the UK Government’s position since the beginning of the Scotland Analysis programme.  Remember that that kicked off with an analysis of the international legal issues, concluding that (r)UK would be the successor state in international law and Scotland would be a new state.  The line of argument now emerging is simply the logical fulfilment of that.

This is also perfectly consistent with the strategy of the Unionist side in another respect.  Since the May 2011 Scottish election result, and David Cameron’s prompt acceptance of the need for referendum and stipulation that it be ‘legal, clear and decisive’, the UK Government has pursued an excluded-middle Continue reading

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Nicola Sturgeon at UCL: the positive, England-friendly case for independence, and laying down a challenge on Devo More

Nicola Sturgeon’s lecture for the Constitution Unit on Thursday evening, 13 February, was a rare opportunity for her to speak to a London audience, and for a London audience to see her.  What they heard was a very slick presentation of the SNP’s case for ‘soft independence’, carefully tailored for the audience, and predicated on advancing Scottish self-government rather than breaking up the UK.  Her key arguments were that Scotland could be independent, and was well-prepared for that because of the development of devolution; that Scotland could and should become independent, because Westminster’s politics and policies were at odds with those of Scotland; and that independence would be a firm basis for good relations with all the nations of the British isles.  She emphasised that Scottish independence was ‘emphatically not separatist or insular … [n]or … driven by antipathy towards or resentment of our neighbours in the rest of the UK.’  Indeed, she said she was sure independence could be achieved without any lingering sense of resentment in the rest of the UK. She added that the debate was not about ‘identity’ and that the SNP were not asking people to choose their identity as part of the process which may come as a surprise to some observers).  Rather, it was about the best form of self-government for Scotland.

Much of this was familiar to those who have heard the SNP in recent years, and much could be strongly contested.  The line that Scotland’s politics were different to those of England was undermined by arguing that Scottish independence would not doom the rest of the UK to unending Conservative governments, for example.  Sturgeon made a good deal of how important it was for Scotland to have control of such issues as economic management, defence and foreign affairs from Westminster – even though an independent Scotland’s room for manoeuvre under its white paper blueprint would be limited, and even though there is little sign from polling that these issues are key in voters’ minds. Continue reading

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Filed under Events, Scotland, Scottish independence, SNP