Fiscal Policy

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The much-anticipated report of the Commission on Local Tax Reform may take Scotland one small step closer to the end of Council Tax but, says David Eiser, agreement on a replacement is just as far off as ever.

Council Tax should be abolished and replaced with an alternative form of local tax that is fairer and that strengthens local democracy. That is the key recommendation of the Commission on Local Tax Reform, which delivered its report on Monday 14th December.

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In headline terms, the Spending Review looks little different from the public finance forecasts in the summer budget. The Government will achieve a fiscal surplus by the end of this parliament (the first time that this has been achieved since 2001). And total public spending as a percentage of GDP will fall from 40% currently to 36%.
 
But Osborne has managed to achieve this whilst simultaneously being more generous on the spending side.
 
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The Scottish government’s block grant allocation between 2015-16 and 2020-21 was set in the 25th November spending review delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Current spending will increase from £25.9 billion now, to £26.5 billion in 2019-20. This represents a 5% real cut (equivalent to £1.3 billion). In contrast, due to the UK government’s decision to increase capital spending by £12 billion compared with its plans last July, Scotland’s capital budget will increase from £3 billion to £3.5 billion by 2020-21, an increase of around 10% in real terms.
 
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The proposals within the Scotland Bill - as well as the associated fiscal framework currently being worked out by the UK and Scottish Governments - represent big changes to Scotland’s political system, says Nicola McEwen. However, has enough room been left for the public at the negotiating table? 
 
“With great power comes great responsibility” – in Uncle Ben’s memorable last words to Spiderman. But is the reverse also true? Do great responsibilities bring great power?
 
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Popular pressure for further fiscal devolution from Westminster to Holyrood is less a matter of wanting to pursue a different policy agenda, says David Eiser, and more a matter of who the electorate trusts. 
 
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Why should Scottish MPs vote on English issues, when the same matters are devolved to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh? The famous “West Lothian question” became a major theme for the Conservative Party during an election (2015) that might have seen SNP MPs holding the balance of power. Following its victory, the Conservative government produced proposals for “English votes for English laws”. 
 
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  • 22nd January 2019

    The UK is increasingly polarised by Brexit identities and they seem to have become stronger than party identities, a new academic report finds. Only one in 16 people did not have a Brexit identity, while more than one in five said they had no party identity. Sir John Curtice’s latest analysis of public opinion on a further referendum finds there has been no decisive shift in favour of another referendum. The report, Brexit and public opinion 2019, by The UK in a Changing Europe, provides an authoritative, comprehensive and up-to-date guide to public opinion on each of the key issues around Brexit. CCC Fellow, Dr Coree Brown Swan contributed a chapter on "the SNP, Brexit and the politics of independence"

  • 22nd January 2019

    In the papers accompanying the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill published at the end of 2018, the UK Government says that it is “exploring opportunities to co-design the final proposals with the devolved administrations.” There are clear benefits in having strong co-operation and collaboration across the UK in the oversight of our environmental law and performance. Yet the challenge of finding a way forward in terms of working together is substantial since each part of the UK is in a different position at present. Given where things stand today, it may be better to accept that a good resolution is not possible immediately and to revisit the issue at a later stage - so long as there is a strong commitment to return and not allow interim arrangements to become fixed. Colin Reid, Professor of Environmental Law at the University of Dundee examines the issues.

  • 17th January 2019

    Richard Parry assesses a memorable day in UK parliamentary history as the Commons splits 432-202 on 15 January 2019 against the Government's recommended Brexit route. It was the most dramatic night at Westminster since the Labour government’s defeat on a confidence motion in 1979.

  • 17th January 2019

    What is the Irish government’s Brexit wish-list? The suggestion that Irish unity, as opposed to safeguarding political and economic stability, is the foremost concern of the Irish government is to misunderstand and misrepresent the motivations of this key Brexit stakeholder, writes Mary C. Murphy (University College Cork).

  • 17th January 2019

    Brexit is in trouble but not because of the Irish backstop, argues the CCC's Michael Keating.

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