In his announcement the Scottish First Minister said that he believed that there was a consensus for change on the issue of Scotland’s constitutional future, a belief that is seemingly not shared by his opposition colleagues. The white paper announced has risen out of the SNP’s national conversation on the issue of Scotland’s constitutional future, and will canvass four possible options for the constitutional evolution of Scotland:
1. The Status Quo
2. The Calman Commissions recommendations – this would see minor changes to devolution and possible tax powers given to the Scottish parliament.
3. Devolution Max - The Devolution Max option would devolve almost all powers to the Scottish Parliament giving them almost complete financial autonomy, except Scotland would still rely on the union for defense and foreign policy.
4. Full independence
The final option is obviously Scotland’s first minister’s favoured option.
However Alex Salmond's proposals have been met with opposition from the majority of the opposition parties. Both Labour and the Lib Dems have condemned the announcement as irresponsible, stating that the SNP should be focussing on securing the economy and peoples jobs rather than raising the distraction of independence.
The government has brought forward potential legislation to undermine the referendum argument in the form of the new Scotland bill, which will set out a number of powers that they wish to see devolved from Westminster to Holyrood. The bill is to be published after the general election, as part of its response to the Calman commissions review on devolution. Under the governments proposals Westminster would devolve more tax varying powers to the Scottish parliament, at present the Scottish parliament is able to vary the standard rate of income tax by up to 3p. However under the new proposals Holyrood would also have control over stamp duty, aggregate levy, and landfill taxes. The parliament would also be given powers of on capital borrowing, giving Scotland greater financial autonomy. Scottish secretary, Jim Murphy said in his speech to the commons ‘Since the first day of devolution, the Scottish government has been accountable for how it spends taxpayers' money, under today's proposals, they will also be held to account for how they raise it.’ As part of the bill new powers would also be given to the Scottish parliament, such as powers to change Scotland drink drive limit and Scotland’s speed limits, powers which at present are orchestrated from Westminster.
The tactics seem to be working, a recent Ipsos MORI poll showed that although 75% would like to see a referendum on independence, only 25% would like to have one put to them at the earliest possible opportunity, while 50% believe that it is not a priority at this time. What’s more the same poll showed that only 20% wish to see Scotland independent from the union, 32% wanted to retain the status quo, and 48% wish to remain part of the union but with increased powers like those set out in the Calman commission report.
Why is Alex Salmond pushing this referendum? Well the window of opportunity is closing fast, as the Scottish elections of 2011 come on to the horizon 2010 may be Alex Salmond’s last chance to put this question to the public before the SNP are once again banished to the political wilderness.