James Cusick

Labour’s credentials in Scotland may be about to be shredded

The party’s policy on tax is crucial – but when it comes to Scotland, Ed Balls risks losing control 

Share

Voters in Scotland are interested in predictions for the future.  And they should be.  It’s where they will spend the rest of their lives.

Close to six months from September’s leave-or-stay poll, most unsubstantiated economic prophesies have come from the nationalist camp. Challenges to the utopian  vision of  imminent independence  – such as this week’s veto by the Chancellor and others on Scotland still using the pound in a currency union - are dismissed as Westminster  bullying and campaign rhetoric.

But a small and barely reported late afternoon vote in Wales’ National Assembly earlier this week is threatening  to shred the credentials of Labour, the dominant unionist force in Scotland,  when it comes to promises and predicting what the future will look like north of the border if the Yes campaign fails.

Hard-edged and clear assurances on Scotland’s future from Labour leader, Ed Miliband, and the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, have been pencilled in as the key message supposed to  come out of the party’s spring conference in Perth in just over a month’s time. But instead of a show of unity and joint purpose in the fight against independence, the Perth gathering is now likely to resemble a blood-bath of division, insurgency and uncertainty over who exactly in the party calls the shots in Scotland.

The small ripple with large chaos-heavy consequences for Ed Balls came on Tuesday night in an amendment  tabled by Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalists. The aim was the removal of any restrictions that Westminster could place on the Cardiff assembly’s future ability to vary income tax.

That may sound politically complex and a bit dull. It isn’t. 

The motion passed with the help of Labour AMs, signalling an end to previous policy which states that any tax competition between the nations and  regions of the UK would prove to be destructive. The Welsh First Minister, Carywn Jones, called the restrictions on the assembly’s tax powers “pretty much useless” saying  such outside controls made “ no sense at all.”

If the challenge to Ed Balls’s authority had been contained in Cardiff, the fall-out from the mini-insurgency would have been minimal.  If the Welsh want to run more of their own show, Whitehall has time to talk about more fiscal power - later. But in Scotland there isn’t much time left to talk. The referendum is in September  and strong words of support for Mr Jones’s open revolt from sources close to Labour’s leader in the Holyrood parliament,  Johann Lamont, points to the UK-wide authority of both Ed Miliband and Ed Balls being severely  tested next month in Perth.

Scotland has been handed enhanced responsibilities on tax that will come into force in 2016. Measures proposed and adopted by Professor Sir Kenneth Calman  gives  Holyrood the power to vary the direct rate of income tax in Scotland by 10p in the pound, with the block-grant sent north by the Treasury (calculated by the long-standing Barnett formula) reduced by an equivalent amount.

The political idea is that Scotland’s parliament  takes  a greater control over what it both raises and subsequently spends. But to avoid the overall tax burden being different between Scotland and England, a “lock” rule was agreed that would mean if Holyrood chose to  vary income tax, they would need to re-adjust others taxes to keep the playing field level across the UK.

Labour in Wales and Scotland have now effectively dumped the “lockstep” agreement, leaving Ed Balls in only partial control of his party’s devolved tax policy. It is an almighty mess, and the thousand or so Labour delegates who will gather in Perth for the Annual Scottish Conference, are unlikely to welcome any appeal  for calm. Backstage in Labour’s ranks there is a simmering uncertainty not experienced since the early days of Tony Blair’s reforms.

So why the insurrection? Why risk a civil war that threatens to hand the SNP an ill-timed,  pre-referendum gift of disunity and in-fighting?

That is not how Lamont and others close to her currently see the situation. Labour in Scotland is a party evidently struggling to find a purposeful  and winning identity.  It almost openly worries that its post-devolution strategy has been too careful, too risk-averse, and still too London-centric.  All of which has handed the SNP the largely unanticipated gift of being seen as the authentic voice of Scotland.

The Welsh appear to have given Labour in Scotland a taste for  revolt.  The challenge to Balls and Miliband’s authority suggests that however late,  they think voters can still have faith in what devolution, not that far short of independence, can deliver. 

Are they right? In just over six months we will know.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions
Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions