By George Kerevan
IT IS no great surprise that only hours before the Salmond-Darling television debate, the leaders of the three main unionist parties at Westminster published a joint declaration promising – or seeming to promise – more powers for the Scottish Parliament.
And the catch? Scots voters have to reject taking sovereignty into their own hands at the referendum on 18 September.

There you have it folks: reject self-government – admittedly an option that carries risks. Reject the bracing air of being responsible for your own destiny.

Instead, rely on Messers Cameron, Miliband and Clegg to offer you unspecified powers over “fiscal responsibility and social security”. But only after you have surrendered the one card that forced these gentlemen to make their joint declaration: Scotland’s first and only sovereign vote in 307 years. For three years you have been told – on a daily basis – that Alex Salmond has not spelled out in enough detail what independence would entail.

Yet suddenly the Westminster Dynamic Trio want you to give up the prospect of self-government in return for…er, completely unspecified extra powers for Holyrood.

Buyer beware. Here exactly is what the Westminster parties are promising:

“The Scottish Labour Party, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats have each produced our own visions of the new powers which the Scottish Parliament needs. We shall put those visions before the Scottish people at the next general election and all three parties guarantee to start delivering more powers for the Scottish Parliament as swiftly as possible in 2015”.

So we have three conflicting versions of enhanced devolution which will be voted on at the 2015 general election. These packages will be voted on by the entire UK electorate as part of wider party manifestos. We have no idea of who will form the next UK government or even if they will have a working majority.

Currently, the opinion polls favour a narrow Labour majority. But Labour is offering the weakest devolution package, largely because its Westminster backbenchers are hostile to surrendering more of their remaining influence to Holyrood. More significant still, Labour MPs in the north of England and Wales are jealous of the funding that goes to Scotland (though it is allocated on strict population grounds).

Prognosis if Labour wins in 2015: modest enhancement of income tax powers for Holyrood in exchange for significant reduction in baseline Treasury grant, with cash being reallocated to north of England (where Labour needs to win back seats) and Wales.

Do not expect Chancellor Ed Balls to give too much away when it comes to devolving control over business taxation or welfare rules.

All this counts double if the SNP is voted back as largest party in the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016. Scotland will be told to impose student fees, prescription charges and more means testing.

If the Tories win next year, there is the possibility – amazingly enough – that Cameron will transfer greater local control over taxation to Holyrood than Labour presently contemplates. There has even been loose talk of handing over greater autonomy for welfare spending. Once again, buyer beware.

Any such radical transfer of fiscal responsibility will come with a price tag.

The Tories are more willing (on present form) to devolve fiscal powers because they have little support in Scotland, and therefore little to lose. They can safely trade more devolution for a cut in Scottish representation at Westminster; i.e. a cut in Labour MPs from north of the Border. Result: social democratic Scotland will be trapped in a permanently Tory UK.

Roll on a decade or two and the Tories will have put out the English NHS to private tender. Scots will be told that if they want a state-funded welfare system, they should increase their own taxes. Of course, devolved Holyrood will have no control over the Scottish economy, and so will be unable to grow the wealth needed to fund a proper welfare system.

This assumes that a Tory Party triumphant at next year’s general election will, in fact, deliver on its promise of more devolution. It’s just as likely that the Tories will tear themselves apart over Europe.

Meanwhile, in any hung Westminster Parliament, expect backbench Labour MPs to do what they did in the 1970s and sabotage giving Scotland more power, especially if they think it will weaken Labour’s long-term prospects of gaining power at a UK level. In other words, the pious declaration from Cameron, Miliband and the hapless Nick Clegg (who is unlikely to be re-elected to parliament next year) is not worth the paper it is written on. Power devolved – as Enoch Powell rightly said – is power retained in London.

Am I being too cynical? Clearly, the Scottish referendum debate has stirred interest in a federal solution to London’s iron grip on power and wealth.

The Tour de France seems to have revived Yorkshire nationalism. And the Tories have even begun to flirt with the idea of developing the Greater Manchester conurbation as an economic counterweight to the congested English south-east. All this is to the good.

Unfortunately, federalism in the UK is a non-starter. England is a nation of counties and lacks the evolved political and economic structures necessary for cohesive federal units. I dare say they could be conjured up but it would take decades.

Which is why the solution on offer via the Scottish referendum makes more practical sense: a de facto confederation of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each with a sovereign parliament but sharing a common head of state, currency, free trade area, and defence policy.

Of course, all this is already implicit in the SNP’s independence proposals and been comprehensively rubbished by the same Unionist parties who are now offering enhanced devolution.

The difference in the two approaches is that the SNP project offers the prospect of a structured, stable partnership of sovereign nations within the British Isles. The latest unionist plan for asymmetric devolution – even if ever implemented – will only create the seeds of its own destruction.

Courtesy of George Kerevan and the Scotsman


# thejourneyman 2014-08-08 22:14
All the talk of extra powers is now academic, such is the limited and diverse nature of proposals from 3 parties, none of whom can say with any certainty that they can guarantee being in power, never mind staying true to their word.
What is now self evident is that independence is Scotland's only way of having the remotest chance of creating something different. Better we take the chance to have all the responsibility than risk some half way house that turns out to bear no resemblance to something that is already not very clear.
With independence we have it all in our hands to do with what we will and never again have to say, " if only we could do this or that then we may be able to achieve what we want."
No, let's have it all and do it all now!
# andrew-reid 2014-08-08 22:35
Scottish Labour Leader, Johann Lamont, said recently[1] that the things she wanted from the income tax proposals were “fiscal accountability … sharing in resources … and (avoiding) unnecessary tax competition.” The devolution proposals are not therefore intended to provide opportunities for creative investment to support the development of the Scottish economy. They are not to help us find ways to improve our NHS, education and other public services. They are designed to deliver the means to shift the blame for the UK budget cuts planned by all three Westminster parties on to a newly “accountable” Scottish government, even though Westminster will still more than control 70% of Scottish tax revenues. They are designed to prevent any boost to the Scottish economy involving tax differences with other areas of the UK. They are designed to ensure that, as one of the UK's wealthier areas, Scotland will be still sending our resources to Westminster to subsidise priorities, which are not ours.
# jjmac 2014-08-08 23:45
More the fools us if we fall into this trap.
O/T I find it hard to believe that Alex Salmond didn't challenge Darling about his standing ovation at the last Scottish Tory party conference.
I believe this could have been a game changer. Hopefully this will be fully addressed at the next debate.
# Tinyzeitgeist 2014-08-09 00:54
The 'Union' is already finished, no matter the outcome of the referendum.
# Breeks 2014-08-09 05:39
I respect those who had faith in devolution, but devolution always was an empty promise. From the outset, it sought to steal the clothes of an independent country. A parliament is defined as the sovereign seat of government, and the government we call the Scottish Government has power to decide very little when compared to a true government.
Our Scottish Parliament is actually a devolved assembly pretending to be something it is not.
For a time, I held that as a grievance, but then as it bedded in, did it actually matter what it was called?

Now however, I am happy devolution stole the airs of independence because we are now very comfortable with having a Scottish Government, and sovereignty has the feeling of a formality. Let us hope it comes to pass. A growing number of us are realising Holyrood is the poke that never had a pig in it.
# gus1940 2014-08-09 06:35
The Scotland Act which gave rise to the crestion of the Devolved Scottish Government only came to pass as a reaction to pressure from The SNP for Indpendence.

The Calman Proposals subsequently heavily diluted by Westminster were yet again a reaction to the election of the first minority SNP Government.

Now we have the 'promises' from the 3 Westminster parties of further devolution if we are daft enough to vote NO on 18/9.

There is one common factor running through all 3 above - never have any of these 3 parties wanted Scottish Devolution or believed in it - the only reason for what we currently have is their fear of Scotland voting for Independence with their latest 'promises' being a final act of hypoocritical desperation in the face of a rising tide of support for YES on 18/9.

However, they can't promise to persuade a majority of MPs to support any proposals for further devolution which they may put before parliament if we vote NO.
# Leader of the Pack 2014-08-09 06:48
Devolution has many flaws but its greatest and most significant is the fact that its ceases to exist at all when you have the same party in power in both Parliaments.

What is any level of devolved power worth when the Govt is the same across the whole of the UK?

How safe is our NHS & Water supplies from privatisation if Labour rule both Parliaments?

The often reported myth that there are Scottish Labour Scottish Lib Dem & Scottish Tory parties is being presented as some kind of working Devolution set up.

We only have a Devolved Parliament when the SNP are in power in Hollyrood. Even having Labour in power in Hollyrood & Cons in power in Westminster will see the same ideology policies and dogma driven home in both Parliaments.

Devolution itself is the con not the promise of more powers.
# millie 2014-08-10 13:16
You are right. The thought of Labour/Conservatives being in power at Westminster and Labour in power at Holyrood doesn’t bear thinking about. They all read from the same sheet- they are all ‘Better Together’.

We don’t have to look too far to see what Labour would do with our currently publicly owned Scottish Water.

This from 2006, (Gordon Brown Prime Minister) – just prior to the SNP being elected to Holyrood,- and during a time of ‘plenty’, before the ‘crash’.

As far as I’m aware, it is widely held that our publicly owned Scottish Water is now the best water authority in the UK.
# Breeks 2014-08-10 14:30
My Aunt, now deceased, used to be quite an active canvasser of public opinion, petitions, and similar such things. Se was quite used to public indifference being very much the norm, even hostility or an unopened door from people who felt a couple of minutes at the front door represented a nuisance.
When she was taking signatures to stop the privatisation of Scottish Water, she very often didn't need to ring the bell before people were there on the doorstep ready to sign. On a couple of occasions, she was met half way up the path, and didn't even need to explain what the signatures were for. People knew.
Such was public resistance to water privatisation, which if I remember correctly was 98%.
# Langspoon 2014-08-09 08:13
Where did the shared defense policy bit come from George? I don't recall that being on the cards for an independent Scotland. That would be a recipe for retaining Trident on the Clyde and continuing Mother England's imperial pretnesions abroad.
# Abulhaq 2014-08-09 18:18
A percipient few amongst us suspected we were a colony. Many considered us paranoid, crazy nats obsessed with "victimhood". The recent response of unionist central to sterling, the media bias and the ongoing black propaganda campaign indicates that the few are vindicated.
# Marian 2014-08-10 09:29
At the Accord Hospice charity dinner event in Paisley during 2013 Andrew Neil of the Politics Show said:-

"Devolution, the Calman Commission, the Scotland Bill, the Edinburgh Agreement, all of this and more you have, is because Westminster parties are scared of the SNP. If you vote NO you massively change the balance of power and they will not only give you nothing, but will probably take powers away from the Scottish Parliament".

Honest words indeed from a committed unionist and leading expert on Westminster politics.

Consider this scenario: would a Tory/UKiP coalition after the 2015 UK General Election be likely to have extra powers for Scotland on its policy agenda when they may have not have one single representative here?

Or when they are pre-occupied with the larger constitutional issue of leaving the EU to tackle?

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