by Nicola McEwen, ESRC Fellow, University of Edinburgh
It used to be called the DVLA question. A vision of Scottish independence which is embedded within the British Isles, with lots of cross-border arrangements and services jointly delivered. In the White Paper published this week, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency is in fact one of the institutions that would be replaced by a Scottish body after independence, but there are many more where the Scottish government wants continuity and shared service delivery.
Designing an appropriate system of benefits and social protection is an important task for any modern state. The first thing the White Paper does is set out the broad principles that the Scottish Government says would guide its long-term approach in an independent Scotland. These include the better integrating the design of taxes, benefits and public services, and an emphasis on a ‘preventative approach’ that is hoped to reduce costs and improve outcomes. These are laudable aims.
The general aspirations for the tax system set out in the White Paper, such as wanting ‘a simple and transparent tax system’, are admirable. But all governments espouse such goals. The question is what specific changes an independent Scottish government would implement that would make it more successful in achieving those goals than successive UK governments have been.
Not unreasonably, the White Paper postpones most such specifics, proposing ‘a more significant review of the tax system in the early years of independence’. Radical reform should not be rushed.