What powers does Scotland have now, and what could it get if it votes 'No'?

10 September 2014

With days to go and polls showing the Yes and No campaigns for Scottish independence as neck-and neck, this week the pro-union parties have agreed to offer new powers to Scotland to help secure a No vote.

The three parties announced a timetable for new devolved measures—but not which proposals would be put forward. Scotland's power over setting income tax is however likely to be extended in some form.

There's no definite set of powers Scotland would gain in the event of a 'no' vote

Earlier this year the Scottish Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties set out different proposals for extending powers to the Scottish parliament, but at the start of this week the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised to detail an actual "plan of action". That was followed by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown's speech on Monday which set out a timetable for legislation, starting the day after the referendum and culminating in a draft law published in January next year. No new proposals for specific powers were set out though and any exact changes will need to be subject to negotiation.

Scotland currently controls a majority of spending and a minority of tax income

The Scotland Act 1998 set devolution in motion. It set out which powers the UK government 'reserved' for itself, such as immigration, defence, benefits and foreign affairs, while everything else became a devolved matter for the new Scottish Parliament. The Scotland Act 2012 extended further powers, mainly over taxation.

The Scottish Parliament outlines the broad areas in which powers are devolved:

Powers devolved to Scottish parliament Powers reserved by UK parliament
Agriculture, forestry and fisheries Benefits and social security
Education and training Immigration
Environment Defence
Health and Social Services Foreign Policy
Housing Employment
Law and order Broadcasting
Local government Trade and industry
Sport and the arts Nuclear oil, coal, gas energy
Tourism and economic development Consumer rights
'Many aspects' of transport Data protection
The Constitution


Spending by the Scottish Parliament and local authorities on all the areas it controls is at least £38.5 billion, out of total identifiable spending (spending which can be attributed to a particular country in the UK - so excluding defence etc.) of £56 billion.

In other words, the Scottish Parliament and local authorities control around 70% of identifiable spending in Scotland.

In addition, while the UK government retains most tax-raising powers, devolved powers include council tax, local business rates, landfill tax and stamp duty land tax. In addition, from April 2016 the Scottish Parliament will be able to vary income tax rates by up to 10% below the UK rates and an unlimited amount above.

Combining the income from these sources, at the moment, the Scottish Parliament controls about 16% of all revenues in Scotland (assuming that Scotland takes a geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenues).

What change could look like

The Scottish Labour party wants the Scottish Parliament to be able to vary income tax rates by 15% rather than the current 10%, as well as devolving housing benefit and attendance allowance and delivering the Work Programme.

If the Conservatives' proposals are adopted, "the Scottish Parliament should be responsible for setting the rates and bands of personal income tax in Scotland" (not including the setting of the personal allowance), and would also give Scotland greater responsibilities over housing benefit and attendance allowance.

The Liberal Democrats say income tax should be "almost entirely" the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament - that is - the Parliament would be able to set rates and band thresholds for income tax but wouldn't be able to affect the personal allowance or taxes on savings or investments.

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