Let’s remind ourselves what The Calman Commission actually was, because it’s all too easy to forget. It was cobbled together by the three unionist opposition parties in an attempt to sidetrack the SNP Government’s attempts to get more powers for Scotland. It was a pre-emptive strike to control the direction and pace of change to a unionist agenda, and remove control of Scotland’s destiny from its elected government. The driving force behind it was Wendy Alexander – remember her? Here’s what I wrote in June 2009 -
MORIDURA BLOG 14th JUNE 2009
The Sunday Times, that bastion of Unionist values, carried an article by Gillian Bowditch entitled Sleepless over Scotland, with the sub-heading Sir Kenneth Calman is stressed about devolution.
Sir Kenneth has been taking flak in his capacity of Chancellor of Glasgow University over his chairmanship of the Calman commission, perceived as a 'dirty commission' by many - including me - and he doesn't like it.
The worthy knight of the realm (the UK realm) does not consider himself political.
No, the Commission is not at all political, Sir Kenneth, and the fact that it includes one knight and three peers of the realm - the United Kingdom realm - should not be taken as evidence of lack of objectivity about Scotland's place within that realm, nor about its claims for independence of that realm, nor about its wish to let the People of Scotland makes their wishes known, nor as having a vested interest in the continuation of the realm that ennobled them.
Heaven forfend that anyone should entertain such thoughts.
Political? Of course not - no knight, peer, baroness or Dame would stoop to such activity.
I was at it again on 24th June of that year – here’s what I wrote -
MORIDURA BLOG 24th JUNE 2009
Wednesday, 24 June 2009
The Calman Commission, an invention of the Unionist Opposition Parties in Holyrood, specifically set up to strengthen the Union and frustrate the progress of the Scottish People towards full independence, has made its report.
Anyone who doubted the thrust of the Calman Report only had to look at who commissioned it (the Unionist Opposition Parties) and the composition of the Commission itself.
Its fifteen members included -
The three non-ennobled, non-knighted or non-gonged members included -
A youth activist and former member of the Scottish Youth Parliament
A professor of Islamic studies from Glasgow University
The Chief Executive of the Telegraph Media Group
For those who don't know what the BE part of CBE, OBE, MBE etc. means, it stands for British Empire. This committee was firmly in the grip of the British Government and the UK Establishment, through the power of patronage. But it reported honestly, within its overarching constraint, to protect and preserve the Union - and within its Unionist mindset - and most of its recommendations are relevant and useful.
Most of Calman's recommendations have been accepted by the Scottish Government, and can be implemented immediately, but its tax proposals are causing concern to independent commentators across party lines, and the SNP government has problems with them.
This has rather taken the wind out of the sails of the Unionist Opposition, and they have cobbled together a so-called Steering Group to try to wrest control of the implementation process from the elected Government of Scotland.
They argue that the Calman proposals are a package. They are not - as stated unequivocally by Calman in the report - and no 'steering group' is required to implement those measures on which all parties are agreed.
The Unionist versus Independence debate is at its starkest on this issue. Jim Murphy, the Scottish Secretary, and the Unionists can't abide the spectacle of the elected government of Scotland actually governing - they see control inexorably slipping away from Westminster towards Holyrood.
Devolution is a process - a process towards full independence and a nuclear-free future for Scotland.
Fast forward to the present -
SEPTEMBER 2011 – CALMAN, MOORE and the TAX DEBACLE
Yesterday (14th Sept. 2011) The Scotsman’s front page carried the banner headline Triple blow for key SNP policies, which turned out to be Professor Tom Devine complaining about the anti-sectarian legislation, the Institute for Public Policy Research questioning the value of giving the SNP Government control over corporation tax and Professor Calman - who else – weighing in on corporation tax and extra powers backed by – God help us – Iain McMillan of the CBI.
(Professor Devine, an eminent Scottish historian, gives further proof that historians should stick to the past, and rarely have much of value to say about the present (other examples – Niall Ferguson, David Starkey, et al), The Institute for Public Policy Research’s Director is Nick Pearce, former head of the Downing Street Policy Unit at Number 10 for two years of the Labour Government that wrecked the UK economy and widened the poverty gap, and other directors of IPPR have held similar UK government policy roles. The less said about Iain McMillan and the CBI the better – it has all been said over the last week or so.)
Back to Sir Kenneth Calman. The Scotsman, after all the front page hooha, carried a tiny piece on page 6 that was, shall we say, economical with the actualité. It refers to the “bad-tempered exchange with nationalist MSPs at a Holyrood committee”, but gives little detail other than Prof. Calman’s criticism. Fortunately, we are no longer reliant on the likes of The Scotsman to tell us the facts about our nation – Scotland – and NewsnetScotland, that indispensable source of the truth about Scottish political life, carries a piece by G.A.Ponsonby, Blow for Scotland Bill as Calman admits tax figure based on ‘guesswork’ that tells us what really happened.
It reveals that the key tax proposal, the cut in the block grant of 10p to offset the Scottish Government’s tax-raising powers, in an admission by Prof. Calman, was a figure that had “no evidential basis”.
This prompted the following comment from Stewart Maxwell, the MSP who questioned Sir Kenneth -
“The more we discover about this tax plan the more it looks like it was drawn up on the back of an envelope.
“The Calman Commission and the Labour, Lib Dem and Tory Governments who have endorsed this tax bombshell simply picked a figure out of thin air.
“There is not a shred of evidence behind this 10p plan they are so desperately clinging too, if they have evidence for the 10p rate then they must produce it.
“The tax plans from the UK Government look increasingly like they are intended to push income tax in Scotland up and to cost the Scottish taxpayer a fortune to run.”
And what of the Scottish Colonial Governor, Michael Moore, Scottish Secretary?
What was he saying on the 27th of January 2011 in Westminster on Calman and The Scotland Bill? Here are some excerpts from his speech -
After the first decade of devolution, it was right to review the Scotland Act, to assess how devolution was working, and to ensure that the Scottish Parliament had the right powers to deliver for people in Scotland. In December 2007, the Commission on Scottish Devolution was established by a vote in the Scottish Parliament. Chaired by Professor Sir Kenneth Calman, the commission included Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat representatives, but it was independent of any political party and embraced representatives from business, education, the wider public sector and across civic Scotland. It gathered evidence from a wide range of sources and engaged directly with people in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, through detailed consultation, public engagement events, oral evidence from a spectrum of interests in Scottish public and business life and survey evidence. Let me record my thanks to Professor Sir Kenneth Calman and his commissioners for their thorough, inclusive and well-evidenced work. I would also like to acknowledge the impressive and detailed work of Professor Anton Muscatelli and the independent expert group on finance, which supported the commission.
Thorough? Inclusive? Well-evidenced? More from Moore -
The Scottish Parliament can determine policy on a wide range of subjects and how and where money is spent, but at present it cannot be held effectively to account for raising the money it spends. The commission recognised this imbalance. The Bill addresses that imbalance by providing a package of taxation and borrowing powers that will see the Scottish Parliament become accountable for more than a third of the money it spends. In doing so, the Bill represents the largest transfer of fiscal powers from central Government since the creation of the United Kingdom. It is a radical but responsible step. Most significantly, we will create a Scottish income tax. We will create that tax by cutting 10p off the basic, higher and 50p rates for Scottish taxpayers, adjusting the block grant in proportion and allowing the Scottish Parliament-indeed, obliging it-to apply a Scottish income tax at a level of its choosing to meet its spending plans.
If the central figure, the core of the tax proposals was plucked from the air by Kenneth Calman, and could just as easily have been 15p - or the circumference of Michael Moore head - how can this most fundamental of the provisions of the Scotland Bill be well-founded? And how can a Scottish Secretary stand up in Parliament and say that it is?
I won’t rehearse again the trenchant criticisms of the tax proposals in the Scotland Bill – they have been comprehensively set out by others. Suffice it to say that the Calman Commission was set up by a unionist opposition to defend the Union and to limit and inhibit the elected Scottish Government. In spite of that, and in spite of its solidly unionist composition, good things came out of it, because responsible unionists are not strangers to the truth or oblivious to facts. But on this most central of provisions for the growing autonomy of our nation – Scotland – they are deeply flawed, because they serve the agenda of another, dying nation state – the United Kingdom.