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Scottish independence has sympathetic ear in rest of UK

 Reuters 13 May 2019

Proposals for Scottish independence enjoy stronger support in the rest of Britain than they do in Scotland itself, a recent poll showed. (1176 Words) - By Keith Weir

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Reuters_Scottish independence has sympathetic ear in rest of UK

Scotland's First Minister and Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond and his Deputy Leader, Nicola Sturgeon, pose for a photograph during the launch of their Scottish Parliament election campaign poster, in Edinburgh Photo: REUTERS/David Moir

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The poll was released ahead of talks between Alex Salmond, leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), and Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, in which greater devolved economic powers were discussed.

"The talks were candid, forthright and constructive," a secretary of state spokesman said afterwards.

The SNP won a majority in the devolved Scottish parliament for the first time in an election on May 5th and has pledged to hold a referendum in Scotland within the next five years on breaking away from the United Kingdom.

Salmond, seen as one of the nation's canniest politicians, plans to hold off on a referendum until late in his five-year term as he seeks to translate the SNP surge into stronger support for breaking away from London.

More immediately, the party is concentrating on securing greater devolved tax and borrowing powers in the Scotland Bill, currently going through parliament in London.

It wants devolution of Crown Estates, the power for Scotland to levy its own rate of corporate tax and greater borrowing powers. "On the capital borrowing powers front, the secretary of state made plain that the UK government was amenable to bringing forward the timetable," the spokesman told Reuters.

Crown estates evidence

Moore asked the Scottish government for further evidence to support its case on Crown Estates and corporation tax. The Crown Estates commission owns half of Scotland's tidal areas and most of its sea beds out to 12 nautical miles.

The recent SNP triumph is seen as less a demand for secession than a vote of confidence in Salmond's management of a minority SNP government during the previous parliament.

Only 29 percent of Scottish adults back independence, according to a YouGov poll published in the Sun. That compared with 41 percent of adults in England and Wales who said they believed Scotland should be independent.

That figure reflects a view in parts of Britain that Scotland is gaining financially from the current UK set-up, which gives its devolved parliament power over issues like health and education, funded by a 30 billion pound grant from central government coffers.

The SNP says that view does not take account of North Sea oil revenues, which flow to the Treasury in London.

Prime Minister David Cameron, leader of the Conservative party which won only 15 seats in the 129-member Scottish parliament last week, has vowed to defend British unity with "every single fibre that I have."

Scotland and England were joined by an act of union in 1707. A devolved Scottish parliament, with limited powers, was restored in 1999 after a referendum.

The YouGov poll questioned 1,175 Scots and 2,159 English and Welsh adults this week.

Factbox - Details of the Scotland Bill

Scotland's parliament will gain powers to raise up to 35 percent of its annual budget through taxes and be able to borrow up to 2.7 billion pounds under legislation under scrutiny in the British parliament.

The Scotland Bill has returned to focus after the pro-independence Scottish National Party became the largest party in the country's national assembly following elections on May 5th.

SNP leader Alex Salmond has called for extra powers to be ceded to Scotland from the United Kingdom in the legislation.

Below are key details of the bill and amendments sought by the SNP.

Legislation

The bill amends 1998 legislation which established the devolved Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and its powers to run health, education and prisons in Scotland.

The new legislation is based on recommendations of a review of Scotland's devolved status published in June 2009.

The bill is subject to the consent of the Scottish parliament.

Taxation and budgets

The legislation aims to reduce Scotland's dependence on 30 billion pounds of direct funding a year from the British government and to make it more responsible for the money it spends.

At present the Scottish administration is only responsible for raising around 15 percent of its budget.

This will rise to 35 percent, which will bring it in line with devolved legislatures in Belgium, Italy, Spain and Australia, the British government said.

Scottish income tax

Under the proposals, the 30 billion pound "block grant" from London will be reduced by around a third, with the difference made up by a specific tax on Scottish residents.

Standard British income tax rates will be reduced by 10 pence in the pound to create three basic bands of 10 percent, 30 percent and 40 percent, depending on income.

Scotland's parliament will decide how much extra to levy on top, with the money going directly to the Scottish government.

Borrowing powers

The Scottish parliament will be given limited borrowing powers, but will not be able to issue bonds.

For capital spending it will be able to borrow up to 2.2 billion pounds.

It will also be able to borrow up to 500 million pounds to cover short term spending shortfalls, repayable within four years.

Scotland will have to borrow from the National Loans Fund, part of Britain's Treasury. The borrowing limits can only be amended by the British Chancellor with the consent of the UK Treasury and the approval of the British parliament.

Other taxes

Scotland will also be able to take charge of two land taxes currently administered across Britain, and will be able to request new forms of taxation, subject to approval by both the Scottish and British parliaments.

Other powers

The Scottish parliament will also gain control of air guns, licensing of prescription of controlled drugs to addicts, drink drive limits and national speed limits.

What the SNP wants

Greater borrowing powers

The SNP wants Scotland to have immediate access to greater borrowing powers so it can spend more on capital projects to boost the construction industry and sustain jobs growth.

As the bill stands, Scotland's capital borrowing powers would not come into full effect until April 2015, although some borrowing will be allowed for specific projects with UK Treasury consent.

The UK government has indicated it will look at an earlier start date for the borrowing powers, but is less sympathetic to increasing the initial borrowing limit.

Crown estates

The SNP also wants responsibility for the Crown Estate Commission, which owns half of Scotland's foreshore and most of its sea beds out to 12 nautical miles, transferred to the Scottish government so that income from wind farms and other renewable energy sources can go directly to Scotland.

The UK government is expected to resist this.

Corporation tax

The SNP wants the bill to give the Scottish parliament the power to levy its own rate corporate tax to allow it to set a lower level to attract overseas firms and jobs.

The UK government is also expected to oppose this.

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