Sunday, July 11, 2010

Could the greatest challenge to Calman's timidity come from Wales?

Interesting to read in yesterday's Herald the suggestion that, if the Holtham Report is implemented in full, the Welsh Assembly would all of a sudden hold more extensive fiscal powers than the Scottish Parliament is set to receive under Calman. On the face of it, this is excellent news - the detailed economic arguments over Calman would be more than superceded by any perception that we are for the first time being left behind by our Celtic cousins. The pressure to beef up the proposals would become irresistible.

However, I'm more inclined to fear that the end result of this divergence may instead be that the Welsh proposals are watered down. As we all know, the default setting in both Whitehall and the Tory party is to relinquish as little power as they can possibly justify.


  1. It's interesting to look at the remit of Calman against the remit of Holtham.

    "To review the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998 in the light of experience and to recommend any changes to the present constitutional arrangements that would enable the Scottish Parliament to serve the people of Scotland better, improve the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament, and continue to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom."

    The Commission's terms of reference are to:
    look at the pros and cons of the present formula-based approach to the distribution of public expenditure resources to the Welsh Assembly Government; and
    identify possible alternative funding mechanisms including the scope for the Welsh Assembly Government to have tax varying powers as well as greater powers to borrow.

    Calman was a response by the opposition UK unionist parties to the nationalist government in Scotland and was designed from the outset as a method to try and distract attention from the SNP's aim of independence while the Holtham report was a commission set up by the Welsh Assembly to look at future funding methods for Wales and the Welsh Assembly. It is there in black and white in Calman that the Union is a prime consideration in any recommendations it makes.

    From the outset Calman was always going to try and move the smallest distance possible towards fiscal autonomy of any kind which in Scotland is always viewed with alarm by the UK parties as a step nearer independence while Holtham was free to look at more radical proposals because Plaid Cymru is not a real threat in Wales to the integrity of the UK.

    It's no surprise that Holtham is more radical while Calman is a dog's breakfast.

    In Scotland the opposition conservatives were reluctant members Calman commission and in Wales the Welsh Assembly is a Labour/PC coalition so I think your inclinations are correct and I can't see the Conservatives going any further than Calman and they'll only do that reluctantly.

  2. Doug, one vaguely related point that intrigues me is that even the Welsh Conservatives are opposed to holding the AV referendum on the same day as the Assembly elections next year. (Or they were the last time I checked, there's always a chance they might have been nobbled since then!) But it's strange that the Welsh Tories seem so much more at ease with going their own way than their Scottish counterparts.