I hope most readers of this blog are aware that the Holtham Commission’s final report has now been published. It’s a thorough and impressive piece of work which is well worth reading, and does much credit to the distinguished members of the Commission. (For those who haven’t already found it, the report is available here, and there’s news coverage from BBC News here and the Western Mail here.
I’ll be writing more shortly about the substantive contents of the report, which merit very serious consideration. But one point is immediately evident. This a hugely impressive and argued piece of work, in many ways much more so than the Calman Commission’s final report of a year ago. (As examples, look at the discussion of how to calculate reductions in the block grant in chapter 5, of the implications of partial devolution of income tax in chapter 6).
It’s worth asking why this is so. Is it because the remit of the Commission was more limited, confined to economic and financial issues, and not extending (as Calman’s did) to the whole structure of devolution? Is it because of the composition of the Commission, consisting simply of a small number of distinguished experts who were seeking to avoid political issues, rather than encompassing a wide range of political interests and broader society, like the Calman Commission? Both factors seem to have been pretty important in their work, to judge from my own dealings with them as well as the papers and reports they’ve produced. The overall composition of party politics may be a factor as well, but only to a limited extent – the report is of a piece with the way the Commission has approached its task since it was set up.
How the UK Government responds to such a careful report will be very interesting to watch. The big issue for the white paper on Scottish devolution finance due in the autumn will now be as much whether it applies to the other devolved administrations as well, not just what it says about Scotland.