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Conservatives have emerged from the shadows to enhance devolution

THE Conservative Party is having a good referendum campaign.

The Tories are emerging from the shadows of Scottish politics to find not only that they have something important to say but that they are on the right side of the argument.

Yesterday Ruth Davidson unveiled and endorsed the recommen­da­tions made in the Strathclyde Commission's report on the Future Governance of Scotland. The Prime Minister and Chancellor are also enthusiastic. The proposals will be written into the Conservatives' manifesto for the General Election.

The plans advocate a new, responsible devolution in a spirit of what might be called New Unionism. They start from a recognition that the Scottish Parliament is already powerful. Since 1999 it has been responsible for more than 60% of public spending in Scotland, on a par with the Canadian Provinces and giving it greater spending powers than the Australian States and the German Lander. But Holyrood has been responsible for raising only a fraction of what it spends.

The headline move is that the Scottish Parliament should become responsible for setting rates and bands of income tax in Scotland. It is not the only tax which should be devolved. So too should VAT, but this would be contrary to EU law.

Air Passenger Duty should be devolved. The commission realises that to make this change would require no new Act of Parliament. Scots Ministers can make the case to the Treasury that smaller taxes should be devolved. This is a power granted in the Scotland Act 2012, legislation taken through Westminster by the UK Government, underscoring Tory commitment to flexible and ongoing devolution.

Desire for a similar flexibility may be seen in welfare recommendations.

Scots see the value in the UK's welfare system being paid for through tax receipts from the whole country. But from time to time there is concern some reforms to the welfare budget are unwanted here. The so-called "bedroom tax" is maybe the most notorious example. The Tories propose a solution: if Holyrood wants to supplement UK welfare entitlements from its own budget, it should do so. Why not? Either you believe in devolution or you do not.

The New Unionism advocates a more flexible Union, but in flexibility there is not weakness but strength. Moreover, what the Tories want is what most Scots want: a powerful Parliament for Scotland in a secure UK.

Scots want Holyrood to have control of income tax; so do the Tories. Scots want to the Scottish Parliament to raise a larger proportion of the money it spends; so do the Conservatives. Scots want Holyrood to be able to make changes to our welfare entitlements when it considers it is in Scotland's interests. So does Ruth Davidson's party.

What we saw yesterday was devolution's coming of age. This will be lost in the event of a Yes vote. But we now know what a No vote will mean: responsible devolution in a renewed Union.

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