LABOUR’S Malcolm Chisholm has broken ranks and called on the party to back a much bolder increase in the powers of the Scottish Parliament, going well beyond the proposals in the current Scotland Bill.
The Edinburgh North & Leith MSP said the Calman Commission, whose recommendations formed the basis of the Bill, had failed to tackle Holyrood’s lack of financial powers.
And he claimed some Labour supporters would opt for independence if the Calman package was the only alternative on offer. Mr Chisholm, a former Scottish Cabinet minister, argued Labour should instead advocate some form of “Devo Max”, where the Scottish Parliament’s tax powers were significantly increased.
And he said such a scheme should be presented as another option in the SNP’s independence referendum.
Writing on the Labour Hame website, he said: “Scottish Labour is currently caught on the Calman hook and needs to get off it fast if we are to create a parliament with meaningful financial powers.”
He said former Labour leader Wendy Alexander had identified the lack of financial power and accountability as the great weakness of the original devolution settlement, but the Calman commission had “failed to address it in any significant way”.
He said the current devolution arrangements were ideal for the SNP to boost its popularity. “All problems can be blamed on Westminster, with a great deal of justification in many cases, while the Scottish Government can claim credit for any improvements that do take place,” he said.
“Scottish Labour must respond by developing a Devo Max position.”
Mr Chisholm said that did not have to mean “the greatest possible devolution” – the transfer of all taxes and revenues to Scotland – and suggested “Devolution Plus” as advocated by think tank Reform Scotland, should also be considered.
Reform Scotland has said that since Holyrood is responsible for about 60 per cent of Scottish public expenditure it should have access to a range of taxes that covers about 60 per cent of Scottish tax revenues.
Mr Chisholm said: “I believe that Devo Max in some form is the right position for the good governance of Scotland.
“Those who are not convinced of that should perhaps reflect that nailing our colours to Calman and the Scotland Bill will boost the independence vote in the forthcoming referendum, as evidenced a few weeks ago when two well-known Labour figures told me they would vote for independence if the alternative was Calman.”
The SNP has criticised the Scotland Bill, claiming the limited increase in tax powers could result in less money for Scotland.
Mr Chisholm’s comments come after former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish also called for the party to support Devo Max.
A source close to First Minister Alex Salmond described Mr Chisholm’s comments as “potentially very significant”.