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UK Offers New Powers to Scotland — But Independence Campaigners Say It's Not Enough

Scotland's parliament has been given increased control over income tax, voter eligibility, and discretionary welfare payments.
November 27, 2014, 7:03pm
Image via Reuters

Scotland will be given increased autonomy and a new set of powers including control over income tax, in fulfilment of a promise made by the three main British political parties ahead of the country's recent independence referendum.

The details of the concessions were released on Thursday in a report carried out by the government-appointed Smith Commission, headed by Lord Smith of Kelvin.

The report has been scorned by the country's leadership, but created anxiety among some United Kingdom unionists, who believe that Wales and Northern Ireland will begin to demand greater autonomy too.

Once the outlined changes are brought into law, the Scottish Parliament will have the power to set its own income tax rates and to retain revenues raised in the country. It also allows the Scottish authorities to make discretionary payments in any area of welfare, and to extend the vote in the next election to 16 and 17-year-olds — something that proved controversial when implemented for the referendum.

All five main Scottish political parties — the Scottish National Party (SNP), Conservative, Green, Labor, and Liberal Democrat — were consulted in the production of the report, which promised to "strengthen the Scottish Parliament's ability to pursue its own vision, goals and objectives, whatever they might be at any particular time."

The Smith Commission report also noted that one of the major challenges facing both the Scottish Parliament and Westminster is "the relatively weak understanding of the current devolution settlement."

Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon was quick to shoot down the United Kingdom's newly announced concessions to Scotland, calling them an "opening offer."

She said that these measures were not "100 percent devolution, as spun by Westminster parties."

I welcome all new powers - and pay tribute to Lord Smith - but 70% of our taxes and 85% of welfare staying at Westminster not real home rule

— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon)November 27, 2014

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said that the new powers were welcome, but fell short of the promises that had been made. "The proposals clearly do not reflect the full wishes of the people of Scotland, and also fall far short of the rhetoric from the No campaign during the referendum."

We welcome new powers over tax but regret that powers to create jobs and control the welfare system have not been agreed. — John Swinney (@JohnSwinney)November 27, 2014

Swinney said Gordon Brown, the former prime minister and one of the leaders of the "No" campaign against independence, had promised the UK would move much closer to a federal state, with the introduction of "nothing less than a modern form of Scottish Home Rule."

"This isn't Home Rule," Swinney opined. "It's continued Westminster rule."

Scotland Wraps Up a Historic Day of Voting as First Referendum Results are Declared. Read more here.

British Prime Minister David Cameron responded to the release of the report by saying: "We are keeping our promises and we are keeping our United Kingdom together. I always said that a No vote didn't mean no change. We made a vow of further devolution to Scotland and today we show how we're keeping that vow and will continue to keep that promise.

"The Scottish Parliament is going to have much more responsibility in terms of spending money, but it will also have to be accountable for how it raises taxes to fund that spending, and I think that's a good thing."

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addressing 12,000 SNP members in Glasgow on Saturday. Photo via Facebook.

Membership of the Scottish National Party has increased at a phenomenal rate since the referendum in September, and currently amounts to more than 92,000. Alex Salmond, who had led the "yes" campaign, resigned as first minister the day after losing the vote. Since taking over the leadership position, Sturgeon, his successor, has embarked on a nationwide tour of the type more akin to that of a musician than of a politician.

Most recently, she sold out Glasgow's Hydro arena, a venue with a capacity of 12,000.

The independence referendum engaged a new generation of Scots, and heralded an unprecedented political awakening in the country. Many voters — particularly those from the yes side — have remained involved in campaigning.

"Yes" campaigner Matt Lygate told VICE News that the new parliamentary powers will do nothing to stop their quest for independence. "It's a complete propaganda whitewash. They are changing the words around and hoping people fall for this shit…

"It's a ticking clock and everyone knows it. The no vote was the best thing that could have happened to Scotland. The referendum awoke a sleeping giant."

On Monday, a new daily pro-independence newspaper named The National launched, with an initial print run of 50,000 and the aim of "giving a voice to the 1.6 million people (who) voted yes to independence on September 18."

The UK government now has a deadline of January 25, 2015, to draft clauses implementing the agreements outlined in the report.

Scotland's First Minister Resigns as No Vote Leads to Hostility. Read more here.

_Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: _@sallyhayd