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Vital questions on further devolution

The Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael has been speculating that, after a No vote in the referendum, having a more visible UK Government presence in Scotland would help silence demands for another independence poll in future.

He also suggests that Whitehall has allowed the SNP to "hollow out" the UK Government's presence north of the Border.

On the second point he is correct. The UK Government has not done enough to send either ministers or officials north to engage with Scots. Voters have a real sense of connectedness with Holyrood. The UK Government departments, by contrast, have failed to maintain a meaningful public profile in Scotland, making them seem ever more remote. To have ministers and senior officials from Whitehall departments coming to Scotland more regularly, not just to make announcements but to take soundings, has to be better for Scotland. Voters want to see Holyrood taking more of its own decisions after the referendum and having the UK Government increasing its profile could arguably jar with that, but in general it is a matter of good governance for UK officials to be engaging more in Scotland.

No number of extra visits by the permanent secretary of the Department of Transport will head off the risk of another referendum, however; on this point, the Scottish Secretary overstates the case. The independence question will be settled in the long term by something much more fundamental, namely what happens next with further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament.

The SNP Government may well have played down the UK Government's role in Scotland, but what it has done to even greater effect has been to adopt a policy of laying responsibility for Scotland's budgetary and economic problems at London's feet. This is possible because the Scottish Parliament is not responsible for fundraising and has never used its very modest income tax-raising powers; instead, it receives its funding in the form of a block grant from Westminster.

The three pro-UK parties are of one mind in recognising that Scotland must take more responsibility for raising its own finances, and this will indeed be essential if they want devolution to win out over calls for independence in the long term. But it will be crucial to ensure the parliament takes responsibility for raising a very substantial degree of funding and on this point, as yet, there is no unanimity. The Liberal Democrats go furthest in the amount of funding they say the Parliament should be able to raise, followed by the Tories and then Labour. Important first steps will be taken in 2015 and 2016 when the Scotland Act of 2012 comes into force, giving the Scottish Parliament responsibility for raising 10p in the pound of income tax and borrowing up to £2.2 billion a year, but that does not go nearly far enough.

If pro-UK parties want a No vote on September 18 to head off the risk of another poll in a few years' time, their work to enhance devolution will begin on September 19.

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