Scotland Bill, and the perils of building legislation via pressured negotiation…

One thing we may see happening more often in UK politics has long been a feature in Irish politics where referendums are constitutionally de rigueur, and that is the problem of what happens when the contagious politics of the big idea meets small politics of administration.

Professor Paul Cairney of Stirling University puts his finger on a particular open sore when it comes to the proposals, by channeling a nameless, everyman politician (those of you who don’t like well researched hyperlinked text, look away now)…

  • The new Scotland Bill represents the final devolution settlement.

  • This is the last chance to get devolution right before the next independence referendum.

  • Instead, it is a horrible mess, produced in a hurry and driven more by political negotiation than good sense (which is the usual story).

  • No-one can understand it and it will be almost impossible to hold any single government to account for many decisions (particularly since the Scottish Parliament will diminish even further in importance)

  • The fiscal framework underpinning the new settlement is a shambles and not worthy of support (David Bell and colleagues use the phrase ‘may not be workable’ when the plan contains contradictory principles).

  • The idea of a powerful Scottish Parliament overseeing incredibly high fiscal autonomy is absolute nonsense, because the Scottish Government does not have the ability to decide who should win and lose from the tax and spending regime (Bell and colleagues say ‘these taxes do not give the Scottish Government a great deal of flexibility in reality’).

  • Politicians would rather discuss their back of the envelope plans in private because they know that they would not stand up to scrutiny if they had to explain them to the general public (Nicola McEwen uses the phrase ‘After the democratic engagement of the referendum campaign, it is disappointing that debates on the Scotland Bill have largely excluded the public’).

Of course, not everyone thinks that referendums themselves are ‘a good thing’…

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