To protect the Union, recast the Scotland Bill

A strategy for recovery for Unionism in Scotland comes from the unexpected source of John McTernan, a New Labour strategist much respected in Cameron’s Downing St. He’s here talking about a revival for the Scottish Conservatives whose low vote is actually underrepresented  in  both Parliaments. But he could just as easily be talking about the Lib Dems and even Labour, mutatis mutandis.

The unspoken dimension of the debate about more powers for the Scottish Parliament is that Scots will be willing to pay higher taxes. Not true now, and in 2015 after four years of squeezed living standards the idea looks preposterous. Yet that is precisely when the SNP plan to hike income tax by 5p when they introduce local income tax.

Equally it could be said that demands for more powers and a differential  corporation tax for Scotland (a demand that could  complicate  NI’s bid by the way, having already been rejected by Downing St) is playing fast and loose with the block grant on which Scotland’s  large public sector still relies so much.

Alex Salmond has begun battle by calling independence “ inevitable” in spite of smothering the case for it in the campaign. He now foreshadows   a referendum late in the SNP majority government’s new  term. Alex may call such a referendum –  who can stop him? – but legally it can only be advisory, authorising  the Scottish government to negotiate separation with  Westminster . The SNP are a constitutional not revolutionary party and they will not attempt to pull off a Sinn Fein 1918 (not that SF’s UDI in the First Dail succeeded) .

My colleague the devolution expert Alan Trench puts the case for a second referendum approved by Westminster to vote on the terms of the negotiation. So far, the SNP have resisted this conclusion.

Alex’s demand for more taxation powers is designed as a win: win strategy leading towards independence. If denied, he will cry wolf and denounce Westminster for frustrating the will of the Scottish people. If agreed,  another step will have been taken towards the full taxation powers of a sovereign government.

In response, Alan also makes a powerful case for recasting the whole of the Scotland Bill at present frozen in Westminster. The borrowing powers offered are not enough even to satisfy the  unionist parties and should be raised from the  of present amounts of £500 million for cumulative current spending, unchanged from the 1998 legislation, and £2.2 billion for capital spending.  He argues:

To tackle the situation now, and assuming it doesn’t wish to lose the Union by default, the UK Government needs to start by recognising (at least privately) that the Calman process is effectively dead… Come the early autumn, it must have a clear plan. That must include a much more ample scheme for enhanced devolution, capable of securing agreement at Holyrood, and which provides the sort of constitutional arrangement that the Scottish people want.

The present Scotland bill will form part of that; to the extent the rest needs legislation, that will need to follow later in this Parliament, soon but not immediately. But when he lays out the plan for this, the Scottish Secretary has got to set out a clear timetable, so that by 2014 this model is before Parliament (or better, on the statute book even if not yet in force). There is no room to get this wrong now; the UK has used up all its margin for error already.



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  • If there was a referendum in Scotland on whether to go independent, the main argument from Nationalists would be that they would be financially better off because the North Sea Oil revenues would be greater than current net deficit of revenue raised from Scots taxpayers against overall public spending in Scotland (the “Scottish fiscal deficit”).

    Indeed the Scottish Nationalists have been using that argument for 40 years. It was actually the discovery of North Sea oil which gave them their political “leg up.”

    In the 1980s, the revenues from North Sea oil and gas were huge. There is no doubt that if Scotland had been independent back then, they could, by now, have been in a similar position to Norway.

    For Nationalists, this argument is dwindling. North Sea Oil and Gas are running out. The revenues generated now only just exceed the Scottish fiscal deficit. If you factor in that continued decline, it wont be long before Scottish independence is of net financial benefit to England.

    If you take oil out of the equation, what argument have the Nationalists got left? Answer – they will be exposing themselves to an identity argument. That means arguing that the British identity is redundant and has no place in Scotland’s future.

    The SNP professes to be neutral on the position of retaining the Queen as their head of State. It is not difficult to understand that it is in the SNPs interests to keep Royalty out of the debate. The Monarchy is the largest and most important component of those which culturally binding the constituent parts of the United Kingdom and retain the British identity. The SNP uses ‘buzz phrases’ such as “continued social union” between England and Scotland. They pretend that they welcome strong support for the monarchy in Scotland.

    The union and the Royal Family are inextricably bound. King James VI of Scotland (I of England) was the original unionist and a Scottish historical hero. He worked exceptionally hard to bring the two nations together. He is the “Jack” that the union flag is named after.

    Whether the SNP likes it or not, many Scots will be of the view that Scottish independence under a monarchy will not hold and that, in reality, they will be voting about a big stepping stone towards a Scottish Republic.

  • Dewi

    “The Monarchy is the largest and most important component of those which culturally binding the constituent parts of the United Kingdom and retain the British identity”

    Strange – I’ve nothing against them at all but if that’s your most important component I reckon you’ve lost already. Nothing else?

  • HeinzGuderian

    The ability of a *foreign* bank ( The Bank of England) to step in and save from oblivion the RBS………….

    The last poll conducted on Scottish Independence returned a Yes 30% NO 70% ………..Now,I’m no mathematician,but even those who stood up and cheered that historical farce * braveheart*, must be able to take the hint ??

    By the by………………………good to be back amongst my dear friends and colleagues…….still no idea why I was Red Carded…………..a case of playing the man and not the ball………………I trust that will not happen in the future !! 🙂

  • Mick Fealty