Scottish referendum: ‘Devo more’ could be a unionist runner

 

On the subject of greater powers for Holyrood, there’s something of a right wing split between the Telegraph newspapers and the darling of the Tory grass roots, blogger Tim Montgomerie of ConservativeHome. The Sunday Telegraph leader dealt with the subject with a knowledge of the subject that would disgrace an unpaid intern:

To concede greater powers to the Scottish Assembly is always to raise the question: why should they not be given more?

This kind of  condescension is an English question all of its own. How can a reputable paper still write this sort of stuff, as if we were living in about 1979? Montgomerie, agree with him or not, has a considered view much closer to a workable outcome that would command wider appeal, leaving aside the tenderness towards  the party he loves.

Cameron has an opportunity to score a triple crown of political victories. By offering to extend Scottish devolution he can be the Conservative leader who saves the union. By promising to balance Scottish devolution with a commitment to new arrangements for the government of England, he can radically improve his own party’s electoral prospects. And through these changes – with the introduction of city mayors and greater localism – he can be the PM who replaces one of Europe’s most centralised states with a political architecture fit for the 21st century.

But if Scotland is to get further devolution it is also time Cameron addressed the West Lothian question or, as Conservative MP Harriett Baldwin has correctly renamed it, the English question. The quid pro quo for introducing devo plus north of the border must be English votes for English laws south of the border.

Report Scotland’s proposal is an appealingly neat one, alhtoiugh it implies  a radical rethink of  tax and spend and accountablity throughout a UK which would resemble a federal more than a devolved State.

The proposal was based on the principle that each layer of government should be responsible for what it spends. As a result, we came up with a model that saw the majority of revenue powers transferred to Holyrood, leaving Westminster primarily with VAT and National Insurance.

For Westminster the other side of the equation, the English question, would be as  difficult to solve.. Meanwhile a credible voice of devo more has spoken out.  Alistair Darling has declared his support for the general idea. As a former Chancellor he should get down to picking his way through the minefield and mantraps over precisely which  taxation powers to devolve.

 

 

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  • Mick Fealty

    They don’t have enough Scots in the building is my reckoning Brian… and I’m not trying to be facetious about it…

    They get dispatches from Alan Cochrane who’s now extremely war weary, but there’s not enough of anyone who’s roots are unambiguously from outside London…

    Andthat’s a problem replicated down the road in the Palace of Westminster…

  • DougtheDug

    The problem with all forms of devolution which go beyond the current devolved Scottish parliament is that they require changes in the central government of the UK.

    Scottish devolution is already just about at the limit at which central government can remain unchanged. Scots Law was already separate as was the Scottish education system. The much vaunted “British” NHS was created as an English (and Welsh) NHS and a Scottish NHS from the start and was also separate at the time of Scottish devolution.

    What happened with Scottish devolution was that all the Scottish bodies under the control of the old Scottish Office with all the already separate institutions of Scotland were handed to the Scottish Parliament and funded via a block grant which was based directly on English public spending via the Barnett Formula, no changes were needed at the centre to accomodate these changes.

    Calman was an object lesson in how not to do anything while making a lot of noise. Under the Calman proposals Scotland will still get funded to the Barnett Formula level and the only change is they run part of the grant through HMRC first and they’ve changed they never used 3p in the pound Scottish variable tax rate to 10p in the pound.

    Further changes will require changes in Westminster and perhaps even in the country’s constitution. In other words for the sake of about 8% of the UK population the entire machinery of government in the UK will have to change.

    The MP’s elected for English constituencies will simply not wear it. If devo-max is defined as the maximum amount of devolution that Westminster is willing to devolve to Scotland then Scotland is already at the limits devo-max with the current settlement.

  • Brian Walker

    Mick, surely to draw firm conclusions at this stage is to write off a unionist campaign that’s only just forming, and therefore premature. They surely have to do better than this against an SNP target that is not as hard to hit as it thinks.

    There’ll be much, much more on this. Campaigners will be found if their case is based on real choices that strike a chord with the public – or should I say publics.

    Much debate will be new and lively, (not just about identity which is more like preaching than rational argument) . It will about tax and spend liberated from the dry technicalites of Barnett or even Calman,

    Are the Scots prepared to fund almost all their own spending and hang their case on “Scotland’s Oil”?

    Will the English continue to be prepared to subsidise them even on the declining Barnett curve? .These are real world questions. I think the answer is no to the first and yes – just – to the second, provided something can be swung for poorer English regions where all three UK parties compete for votes.

    Doug, , A mistake to be too dogmatic about this although you’re right to draw attention to the English dimension, as I have already.

    Finally, much will depend on how much the English political class want to keep the UK united. Whatever the polls show, my feeling is that they would see Scottish independence as a calamitous defeat, just as they were not prepared to quit NI under IRA duress. (Another example of pride of the political class is the reluctance to give up the nuclear deterrent.)

    National pride has a deep but unacknowledged place at the core of all the main UK parties, well beyond purely rational politics. For them this is where identity politics comes in. To their surprise they are having to explain the Union over again, not only to their public but also to themselves.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Devo More = Devo Same.

    Look this government has got in because one coalition party lied to the students, one coalition party lied to its manufacturing sector.

    Heck even if Scotland voted Yes this government would say No.

  • Dewi

    “Will the English continue to be prepared to subsidise them even on the declining Barnett curve?”
    Brian – Scotland subsidise England. In all this nonsense that’s about the only fact you can find.

  • Alanbrooke

    Dewi

    “Scotland subsidise England. In all this nonsense that’s about the only fact you can find.”

    misguided nonsense. Until the national balance sheet is split nobody knows who subsidises who. At present nobody knows and everyone is lying.

    You of course omit to say if oil is subsidising anything it’s Northern Ireland the subsidy junkie king and its runner up partner Wales.

  • Alanbrooke

    Future Physicist

    “Look this government has got in because one coalition party lied to the students, one coalition party lied to its manufacturing sector.”

    this government got in because enough people didn’t want five more years of Gordon Brown.

  • Dewi

    “You of course omit to say if oil is subsidising anything it’s Northern Ireland the subsidy junkie king and its runner up partner Wales”

    I did omit it because it’s off topic, I agree completely with you.

  • Dewi

    Along with London of course.

  • Alanbrooke

    Dewi

    “London”

    hmm, not so sure about that one, the whole SE economy is driven by London. I suspect that’s more of an issue on how the taxes are collected, most of the cash is sat in the commuter suburbs outside Greater London.

  • Brian Walker

    dewi, Independence supporters might like to believe the case that an independent Scotland would become more prosperous but they have it all to do, particularly at a time of recession. ..And somehow Scots know that the pure Scotland’s Oil arguments won’t prevail. A less productive economy than the English south east which insists on a high rate of public spending and whose finanical sector is shrinking is clearly under pressure.

    Clever people can play with figures in the fog of “facts. ” But the theoretical arguments are unlikely to convince against experience. As an emotional spasm I understand the appeal of the Braveheart case. Buit what is the question independence is supposed to answer?

  • galloglaigh

    Can anyone tell me if this is correct:

    Big multinationals, such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s (who have a headquarters in London), give a tax contribution taken from the entire UK, which is entered into the Barnett Formula as revenue raised in London. In other words, London’s return from the Barnett Formula is unfairly offset by contributions given in other regions.

    I’ve searched the internet, and can’t find an answer. Can anyone put me right on this?

  • DougtheDug

    Aw naw Brian, you’ve brought “Braveheart” into the discussion. What is this unionist obsession with Braveheart?

    But what is the question independence is supposed to answer?

    Fairly easy to answer and it’s odd you haven’t worked it out. It’s one of identity. Scottish nationalism and isn’t driven by a desire for regional power with the UK, it’s driven by those who identify themselves as Scots not British and who want to live in an independent Scottish state.

    The question independence answers is, “Do you want to carry a Scottish passport and control your own affairs?”

  • Dewi

    “As an emotional spasm I understand the appeal of the Braveheart case”

    Strangely enough the emotional case in the debate is coming from the Unionist side. “Stronger together”, “Won a lot of wars”, etc, It would be quite useful if a rational Unionist case could be presented – seen nowt yet.

  • Dewi

    galloglaigh: Barnett is about spending not revenue.

  • galloglaigh

    Barnett is about spending not revenue

    Yes, money spent in other areas, that is represented as money spent in London. So I’m guessing I’m not far wrong then: London’s contribution is unfairly offset by money spent in other regions?

  • FuturePhysicist

    this government got in because enough people didn’t want five more years of Gordon Brown

    Better the devil you didn’t know on that one.

    Frankly, if English people were so annoyed and wished to blame Gordon Brown, why not just exile him to Scotland permanently, along with Alistair Darling, Ann McKechin and the rest by backing an Independent Scotland.

    Oh but what about the others … oh George Galloway, Charles Kennedy and David Mundell? Severely doubt it.

    Frankly I think the SNP perhaps are being counterproductive, their methods of reducing unemployment have made the union look good. Perhaps the union is simply England’s best way of keeping the economic positivity from the SNP.