It is a shame that there is no direct link to the speech that John Major gave recently in which he made his arguments for Scotland having more powers. It is not really clear from the various reports whether the calls are a positive strategy for Scotland or rather negative tactics for the United Kingdom.

Major’s intervention comes hot on the heels of the two political leaders sitting side by side at Wimbledon in what is surely (surely?) a mere coincidence. Mind you, had Rory McIlroy been sitting one seat further forward, perhaps the golfing complex at the Menie Estate might have had a new, more popular, figurehead (albeit with as dodgy a hairdo as the current leader).

But it is John Major’s points that are of most interest and two of them stick out for me; one in which the former PM makes a lot of sense and one which has long frustrated me, and continues to do so, as unionists seek an alternative argument to the SNP’s persuasive overtures.

Part of Sir John’s speech includes the lines:
“The present quasi-federalist settlement with Scotland is unsustainable. Each year of devolution has moved Scotland further from England. Scottish ambition is fraying English tolerance. This is a tie that will snap – unless the issue is resolved. The union between England and Scotland cannot be maintained by constant aggravation in Scotland and appeasement in London. I believe it is time to confront the argument head on.”

The above passage is excellent, Sir John couldn’t really have phrased it better. The referendum that resulted in a Scottish Parliament is as good as ancient history as the political parties position and posture over what powers should and should not sit either side of the border. With no meaningful constitution or agreement to work with, it is a bit of a free for all with broadcasting, the Crown Estate, gun control, speed limits and countless other policy areas up for grabs. It is an ongoing and endless dialogue that the public don’t ever really get a say in (was the May 2011 result a mandate for Holyrood to have broadcasting powers? Discuss).

The second reading of the Scotland Bill on the 8th of September is no doubt the next opportunity that these issues will get a formal hearing and, as Sir John recommends, a reduction in the number of Scottish MPs coupled with a transfer of powers to Holyrood is the best move in this election-less window up to the independence referendum expected around 2014 as it will provide a more robust Scottish Parliament and a better equilibrium between Scotland and the UK.

However, what Sir John does not explain is why these moves are necessary other than to suggest that they will be a successful way to head off the supposedly inevitable destination of independence. Much like Calman, the thinking seems to be that it makes sense to give Scotland a little more in order to stop them wanting a lot more. This is at odds with Major’s strategy when he was in Number 10, opposing devolution for Scotland as he saw it as a stepping stone towards independence, so it is to the SNP’s momentum’s credit that this position has changed so significantly.

The two problems that I have, and have had for quite some time, are these:

1 – What, presicely, makes the union so precious that politicians have to give goodies that they don’t want to give in order to protect it?
2 – Which Parliament do the leaders of each of the main parties believe is best placed to make fiscal, broadcasting, speed limit, gun law decisions and other areas that remain reserved at Westminster?

John Major is making welcome proposals but for all the wrong reasons, he doesn’t even really believe what he is proposing but is rather just trying to find a way, any way, to block independence from happening. The funny thing is, down here in London, it is quite easy to exaggerate what Scotland’s appetite for independence is, even I’ve been guilty of it when I should really no better. A majority SNP Government with a minority of the votes and many, many voters supporting them at the ballot box but not being in favour of independence does not add up to the freefalling towards independence that many down here believe to be the case. Recent polling has suggested that the appetite for Scottish independence is as strong south of Gretna as it is north of it.

The SNP will, of course, bank any extra powers and any moves towards fiscal autonomy that it can get and it is no wonder that it is so delighted with John Major’s unnecessary intervention over the weekend. The unionists have inexplicably put themselves over a barrel when really all they need to do is wait for this coming referendum, campaign in a positive manner for the union, win said referendum and then go about their business as they so please without worrying about the supposed SNP thorn in their sides. Unfortunately, they are struggling to put even one strand of this simple strategy into operation.

Sir John Major is a respected politician either side of the border and is in a position to speak his mind without fear of reprisal so, for me, it is telling that his thinking on the subject is do depressingly shallow and what he proposes (more powers) does not, according to him, have merit in itself but is merely a way to block something else (independence). I really don’t mind either way whether Scotland is independent or part of the United Kingdom but the sheer absence of an argument from the unionist side can only lead me, and presumably others, into that Yes vote in 2014.

Indeed, going back to the supposedly random seating arrangement at Wimbledon, I daresay Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy could make a better fist of explaining why Scotland should stay in the UK but that’s another story and probably not even for any another time.