DEFEATED at the polls last May after eight years as the Lib Dem MSP for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, Jeremy Purvis this week stepped back into the national political spotlight, writes Andrew Keddie.
The 37-year-old, who lives in Galashiels, was announced as the leader of the Devo Plus group, launched in Edinburgh on Tuesday to “inform and enhance” the debate leading up to the referendum on Scottish independence.
With members drawn from the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dem parties, as well as leading non-nationalist Scottish reformers, the new group favours neither full independence or so-called Devo Max – where all taxes are raised in Scotland with Holyrood paying a grant to Westminster for reserved services – nor the status quo.
Instead, Mr Purvis outlined the Devo Plus formula which would see taxes, including Income Tax, Corporation Tax and a share of oil revenues, transferred to Holyrood, but with Westminster retaining National Insurance, VAT and other small taxes such as TV licences.
“The choice ahead for the people of Scotland is a clear one,” said Mr Purvis, who was his party’s finance spokesman before losing to long-time SNP rival Christine Grahame last May.
“It is whether to continue to be part of the UK or to leave it. Each political party, alongside trade unions, community and civic bodies will debate and discuss, but the people will ultimately make the choice.
“That choice can be an enriched one, if it is not simply a contest between separation and the status quo and, to secure a stronger Scotland within the UK, we believe there can be a better way forward.”
Mr Purvis said the fundamental principle of the new group was for a long-term sustainable relationship to exist between the two parliaments and, to achieve that, there must be further reform and a shift from Scotland being almost totally grant dependent on Westminster.
“In other words, if Holyrood is permanently not responsible for raising its funding, there will never be any real incentive for it to improve the tax base in Scotland as it will not gain from this improvement. Similarly, there would be no negative consequences to bad decisions made in Holyrood that damage the tax base.
“It is clear a sizeable number of people in Scotland are not looking for independence or the status quo, but for the best way of securing a strong Scotland within the UK for the long term,” said Mr Purvis.
“Devo Plus will offer precisely that. It is not a compromise solution, but it is the best solution – regardless of the referendum.”
Not surprisingly, Mr Purvis’s prescription drew criticism from Ms Grahame.
“This heralds the launch of yet another Lib Dem/Tory coalition with the prime aim of tying Scotland down,” said Ms Grahame. “Here we have the Lib Dems yet again betraying their core principles: in this case federalism.”
Ms Grahame said she was intrigued to see her “old adversary” heading up Devo Plus.
“I wonder how this campaign fits in with the various other flavours of devolution that the Lib Dems seem to be offering, such as the Home Rule Commission set up by Willie Rennie [Scottish Lib Dem leader] and the Scotland Bill currently being steered through the House of Commons by Michael Moore MP.
“Mr Purvis tells us he will vote ‘no’ in the referendum, yet he wants that to be a positive vote for change. The last disastrous Lib Dem/Labour coalition, including Mr Purvis, which governed Scotland up to 2007, failed to make any positive impact for the benefit of our nation.I would respectively suggest a similar cobbled-together alliance of the unionists will be bad news for the Scottish people.”
However, The Scotsman reported yesterday that a Scottish Government source had indicated, after Mr Purvis’s announcement, that Devo Plus, which acceded to SNP demands for the devolution of Income Tax and Corporation Tax, could be on the referendum ballot paper as a more viable alternative to Devo Max and that Mr Salmond could agree to include the new option if a strong body of opinion lined up behind it.