Posted by Euan Bennet on 22/10/2014
The Smith Commission on the “future of devolution” is inviting responses from the public here: https://www.smith-commission.scot/have-your-say/. You have until 5pm on the 31st of October to make a contribution. I would urge everyone, especially those who voted No in the expectation of more powers, to make a submission and tell them what you want to see. Below is my own submission. I don’t expect my wee contribution to have much of an impact, but if you don’t have your say you can’t complain if the eventual decision falls far short of your preference! And if enough people demand the same things, maybe we can achieve a miracle and actually secure meaningful reform.
My Submission to the Commission
I appreciate the opportunity to engage in good faith with your process as a member of the public. I hope you are able to take all views expressed by the public into account, and in doing so you recognise that these issues are too important to be the exclusive preserve of politicians and political parties.
Let me begin by saying that for any settlement short of Scottish independence, I believe all powers with some limited exceptions should be held by Holyrood. This is what was explicitly promised by all major party leaders in the week before the referendum. Anything less than this will prove, in the long run, to be unacceptable to all of those that voted yes and many of those that voted no and will therefore be ultimately unworkable.
It has been clear for some time that the present system of asymmetric devolution is not a stable settlement. The only realistic solution to this is to return all powers concerning Scotland to the Scottish Parliament, and the Scottish Parliament would then devolve back power on shared issues such as defence, foreign affairs, currency etc.
I believe that the Commission should hold true democratic accountability for the United Kingdom as its core aim. Anything less than this will not last, as recent history has shown.
The Commission has an opportunity here to use a bit of joined-up thinking and solve several long-running issues simultaneously. Here are my suggestions:
1) The Scottish Parliament becomes responsible for all powers except defence, currency and monetary policy. All money raised in Scotland is spent in Scotland by the Scottish Parliament. Needless to say this includes the Crown estate and oil and gas revenues, both of which are determined on a geographic basis. This is what was previously known and understood as “Devolution Max”, or “Full Fiscal Autonomy”. This level of responsibility is normal for constituent parts of unitary states, therefore it is hard to argue against it being appropriate within a Union state.
2) Repeat 1) for the Welsh Assembly – reconstituted as a Parliament. Northern Ireland is a slightly different case, so I make no suggestion here.
3) The House of Commons becomes the English Parliament. This solves the English Votes for English Laws issue that has been much discussed at Westminster recently, as well as solving the West Lothian Question. The English people should be consulted on electoral reform for their Parliament and offered the choice of proportional representation.
4) The House of Lords becomes a ‘federal’ chamber of sorts. It should be reformed to be wholly-elected, possibly through indirect elections such as the systems used in the Senates of e.g. France or Germany. It should contain representatives of each nation in the United Kingdom, in such proportion as one nation cannot outvote all the others combined (e.g. 5 from England and 2 each from Scotland, Wales, and NI as the basic multiplier numbers).
The form of the Scotland Act 1998 means that the mechanism for achieving point 1) is simple: remove the relevant areas from the list of reserved matters. Where the Commission wishes powers to remain on the reserved list, they should have clear and accountable reasoning for each power to stay reserved.
Doubtless there are many details to arrange within my brief outline sketched above, but many areas are outlined in greater detail by the Scottish Government’s own submission (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0046/00460563.pdf). At a philosophical level, any of these details will become less complex if it is remembered that the Union between Scotland and England is intended to be a partnership. If the Union is a partnership then it is time that it started acting like it, for the benefit of everyone in these islands.
Finally, I would like to remind the Commission of a few things. Firstly, that 44.7% of those who took part in the democratic decision to remain in the United Kingdom, do not want to be part of the United Kingdom. In the years before the referendum, “Devolution Max” as defined above was by some distance the most popular constitutional preference of people in Scotland. The latest opinion poll on the matter returned similar results, showing support for “Devo Max” at 66%, with 19% opposed. Support for control of taxation was at 71%, while support for full control of welfare was at 75%. Support for the control of all oil and gas revenues from Scotland’s waters was at 68%, with 21% opposed.
Should the Commission fall short in delivering these powers, it is not just the 44.7% who have expressed a preference for leaving the United Kingdom that they will alienate: it will be a clear 2:1 majority of the population of Scotland. This salient fact should be at the front of the minds of the Commission members as they consider the options. Members should ask themselves if alienating the United Kingdom from two thirds of voters in Scotland is likely to be a sustainable solution. I would suggest that it is not.
I wish you luck in reaching a conclusion that satisfies all the people of the United Kingdom.
Dr Euan D. Bennet