Mike Russell used his speech at the Constitution Unit on Monday night formally to launch the Scottish Government’s response to the Calman Commission’s report. The response is available here, and a press release summarising Russell’s speech is here. A video podcast will be available on the Constitution Unit’s website, probably early next week.
The response is largely unsurprising. The Scottish Government is critical of the narrowness of remit of the Commission because of its refusal to consider independence, and of the limited scope of its recommendations for fiscal autonomy. It is more welcoming of its practical proposals to extend the scope of devolved powers, limited as they are. It does not welcome the small number of cases where the Commission recommended ‘un-devolving’ powers and returning matters such as the definitions of ‘charity’ and ‘charitable purpose’, or regulation of some health professions. There is a cautious welcome for proposals to enable adaptation of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit to Scottish circumstances.
Perhaps more interesting than what the Scottish Government has said is the fact that it has bothered to say it. The Calman Commission, after all, reported to the bodies that set it up – the UK Government and the Scottish Parliament. This response is a convenient way for the Scottish Government to take the debate forward and to identify more clearly areas of disagreement between the Scottish Government and the Commission. However, that cautious welcome may also increase the perception in unionist circles, particularly in London, that any embrace of the Calman recommendations is simply a further concession to ‘the Nats’ and therefore to be resisted. (Given the strength of support in Scotland for more devolution not less, that position is wrong and indeed counterproductive, but it has a lot of supporters on both Conservative and Labour sides of the divide in London.)
Moreover, the Scottish Government has published its response ahead of the UK Government’s formal response, promised for this autumn. The UK Government has similarly yet to respond to the report of the Lords Select Committee on the Barnett Formula (published in July) or the Justice Committee’s report on Devolution: A Decade On (published in May). There’s normally a two-month deadline for such responses, so the Government is running seriously late on both. The smaller government has been able to outpace a larger one by quite a margin.