Alex Salmonds bold stroke to propose replacing council tax with an extra 3p on the basic rate of income tax is the real business of government the main parties in Stormont should turn to once theyve got over their crisis of confidence and the other parties come out of deep freeze. Powers to raise taxes which Stormont doesnt have but could bid for, matter far more to peoples real lives than the macho struggle over P&J. There are two ways of responding to Salmonds gambit. One is to do what the Treasury foolishly did yesterday and threaten to withhold a £400 million payment to Scotland. This looks peevish. After all, it was New Labour which legislated to allow the Scottish government to do precisely what the SNP are proposing when they set up Home Rule in the first place. The Conservatives are cannier than the increasingly panicky Brown government and are prepared to enter the game. And its looking more and more likely that its with them that Salmond will deal if as is equally likely he wins the next Scottish election. In the meantime the Stormont executive might start getting their heads around what to do when the ticking time bomb of the rates freeze goes off.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London