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Society, Politics & Law

The National Conversation, Calman and ‘Devo Plus’

Updated Tuesday 30th April 2013

Article six of ten: Ways to open up discussion on all possible options for developing the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish National Party’s (SNP) victory in the 2007 elections was completely unexpected and was generally regarded as presenting a wider threat to the Union – even a minority SNP government carried the possibility of further constitutional challenges. The latter came in the form of a SNP-backed public consultation process called the National Conversation, launched in 2007. Its aim was to open up discussion on all possible options for developing the Scottish Parliament. Consequently, in December 2007 Labour proposed and passed an opposition motion establishing a Commission on Scottish Devolution to examine the track record and future for Scottish 'devolution'. This body was named the Calman Commission after its chair, Sir Kenneth Calman. The Conservatives and the LibDems supported the motion while the SNP opposed it. That the main unionist parties were even prepared to debate the future for devolution was of course driven by their fear of Scottish independence. However, it also betrays the view that devolution could not ‘stand still’ and that the establishment of more devolved powers for Scotland would have to be explored. ‘More powers’ became a well-versed political catchphrase.

The SNP viewed the Calman Commission as a counter-active move to contain the agenda on Scotland's future, where further devolution was the only option. Calman, accountable to both Westminster and Holyrood, had the remit of assessing the success of devolution and proposing limited extensions to powers. A core aim was to examine ways of improving the 'financial accountability' of Holyrood. It was felt that decisions taken by the Scottish Government should be directly related to taxes raised in Scotland, especially when an SNP government could gain political credit for spending budgets 'raised' by Westminster.

Calman published two reports. The first in December 2008 ruled out full fiscal autonomy arguing it was not compatible with the constitution of the Union. The final report in June 2009 made 14 recommendations. The key one was that income tax paid in Scotland should be reduced by 10p in the pound and the equivalent amount removed from Westminster grants. Scottish governments could then raise income tax, over and above the amount UK governments charged Scottish taxpayers. These recommendations became known as 'Devolution Plus', or Devo Plus. They offered a broadly supported alternative to independence, but one aimed at providing protection (from each other) for politically opposed UK and Scottish governments within the Union. Independence still appeared unlikely at this time. Some of these recommendations were introduced in the Scotland Act, passed by the UK Coalition Government in 2012, amending in the process the 1998 Scotland Act, or the devolution settlement as it became widely known.

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