'Confusing and complex' proposals may not work in practice, experts warn

Published: 23 January 2015

Article in The Herald, 23 January 2015

DRAFT legislation designed to significantly strengthen the Scottish Parliament will need to be carefully scrutinised to ensure proposed laws work in practice, it has been warned.

The Centre for Constitutional Change, a collection of academics looking at further devolution, called the settlement "confusing" and claimed the proposed legislation "raises more questions than it answers in several areas". The Law Society of Scotland welcomed the proposals, but said it was vital that they were closely examined and potentially revised before they become law.

Nicola McEwen, a Professor of Politics at the University of Edinburgh and Associate Director of the Centre on Constitutional Change, said much closer working between the UK and Scottish Governments would be necessary if the settlement was to last.

"Unless such joint working can be conducted on the basis of equality of status and mutual respect, the complexities and interdependencies are likely to create new sources of tension and dissatisfaction, and lead to growing pressure for a further revision of the devolution settlement," she said. "The Prime Minister's hope that [the] announcement will lead to 'an enduring settlement' may seem forlorn."

Alistair Morris, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said the draft legislation would give Holyrood "a range of significant powers in important areas of law and policy" but also warned that devising an effective system was no easy task.

"Tax law is a complex and difficult area. We will need to study the clauses closely to ensure that they will work. Welfare law is also a very complex area, and the draft clauses will need significant scrutiny before the eventual Bill is introduced into Parliament," he said.

The Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) issued a warning over the difficulties in delivering a coherent and effective system and said that employers with cross-border staff may face increased administrative costs. Martin Potter, leader of the IFoA's Scottish Board, said: "Differing tax rates in Scotland versus the remainder of the UK will make a very complex system, especially in terms of tax relief on pensions savings.

"Through the new legislation, tax rules could end up being far more complex than currently envisaged. That complexity costs time and money. The Government also needs to take into consideration lead-in times for changing payroll systems and the extra costs of two divergent systems being supported by software providers."

Concern over rising costs for business as a result of different tax systems was also expressed by the British Chambers of Commerce. The CBI welcomed the command paper, saying it brought to life the "ambitious" cross-party consensus delivered by The Smith Commission.

Bodies that previously expressed their disappointment with the Smith Commission proposals were equally underwhelmed at the latest step towards transferring further powers to Holyrood.

The Scottish Trades Union Congress warned that the draft clauses "will not match the intentions of the Smith Commission" and stated that "it is unacceptable that the Scottish Parliament should require Westminster approval to create new benefit entitlements in Scotland".

Martin Sime, Chief Executive of The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, labelled the draft clauses "disappointing and incoherent offerings" that he said would not "create an enduring settlement or the fundamental change and greater social justice that so many people in Scotland want".


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