By Jim and Margaret Cuthbert
It is always a pleasure to cross swords with our old sparring partner, Jim Gallagher, particularly as he is such a master of metaphor – national treasures, forsooth. But in his critique (Bella, 10th December) of our note on the Smith recommendations, (Bella, 4th December), he relies too much on turn of phrase – and like Smith itself is light on detail. As a result, his criticisms of our paper are misplaced.
Let’s look first at the nub of Gallagher’s criticism – which, as we will see, is based on an illogicality. Gallagher states that there is no gearing problem, because the provision of paragraph 95.4(b) of Smith removes the problem. What we were saying, however, was that there would be a gearing problem if there were no provision like 95.4(b): and then we went on to criticise 95.4(b) on two grounds. First, that since it is so obscurely worded, and that since Smith does not spell out the gearing danger, then 95.4(b) could well be forgotten in implementation – in which case the gearing problem would indeed occur. But crucially, the second leg to our argument was that implementing the clause would inevitably lead to something akin to federalism – in a version which would certainly be unacceptable to rUK, or Scotland, or probably both. In other words, if the devil of 95.4(b) is in the detail of implementation, it is illogical of Jim Gallagher to attempt to answer our paper by quoting the principle of 95.4(b), without spelling out the detail of how it would be implemented.
It is disingenuous for Jim Gallagher to imply that the arrangements being implemented under the Scotland Act, to cope with the Calman reforms, would suffice: the situation under Smith is much more complex. As John S Warren and other commentators to Bella have pointed out, the arrangements as regarding the Block Grant under Smith are fundamental and have not been spelt out. (In fact, there are technical problems in Calman which have still not been resolved, as we pointed out in our submission to Smith).
Moving on to more ancillary points, it is worth noting that the examples Gallagher gives of countries such as the US and Germany, where states within them have tax raising powers with some central support, are all federal systems. When what we are arguing is that you would need to have something equivalent to federalism to make the Smith proposals work, it is bizarrely illogical for Gallagher to take the existence of successful federal systems as somehow being an argument against our position.
There is not much more to be said about Jim Gallagher’s critique that has not been covered by other commentators in Bella. However, we would like to emphasise that, in a very strange couple of paragraphs on power and responsibility, Jim Gallagher claims, among other things, that most of the long term tools for economic growth in Scotland are already devolved. This is just wrong: for example, corporation tax; competition policy; licensing for North sea oil and gas; immigration policy; relations with Europe; and a number of labour market responsibilities, are all reserved.