Sir John Major gave a speech on Saturday at the Ditchley Foundation Annual Dinner. The section on devolution and Scotland created a few headlines (and I blogged about it on Sunday, albeit in a ‘churnalism’ sort of way) but the full text of Sir John’s speech was not available online.

Until now that is…

The full transcript of the ‘Devolution of Power’ section of Sir John Major’s speech is shown below (and note the calling for two referendums near the end):


There are options (to making Westminster less over-burdened):

Pass fewer laws – which is attractive, and to be hoped for: though I’m not holding my breath.
But we could contract more to local government and devolve more to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies. In a cautious and incremental way, the Coalition is taking action to do this. I welcome that and encourage them to go further.

Some years ago, I opposed the creation of local Mayors. I was wrong. Mayors do put in place a dynamic and – as successive Mayors of London have shown – they can be effective megaphones for our big cities. But under present plans, Mayors will only inherit the existing powers of Council leaders: in future, I hope their remit can be widened.

There is one caveat: their power of decision should be real, not illusory, and this implies a funding responsibility to pay for – at least the majority of – their policies. When next we look at local authority finance that should be the objective.

Devolution can also reduce the Westminster workload. But there is some groundwork to be cleared first. 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.

I opposed Devolution because I am a Unionist. I believed it would be a stepping stone to Separation.
That danger still exists. Separatists are proud Scots who believe Scotland can govern itself: in this, they are surely right. So they point up grievances because their case thrives on discontent with the status quo. But even master magicians need props for their illusions: remove the props, and the illusion vanishes.

The props are grievances about power retained at Westminster. The present Scotland Bill does offer more power to the Scottish Parliament. But why not go further? Why not devolve all responsibilities except foreign policy, defence and management of the economy?

Why not let Scotland have wider tax-raising powers to pay for their policies and, in return, abolish the present block grant settlement, reduce Scottish representation in the Commons, and cut the legislative burden at Westminster?

My own view on Scottish independence is very straightforward: it would be folly – bad for Scotland and bad for England – but, if Scots insist on it, England cannot – and should not – deny them.
England is their partner in the Union, not their overlord. But Unionists have a responsibility to tell Scotland what independence entails.

A referendum in favour of separation is only the beginning. The terms must then be negotiated and a further referendum held.

These terms might deter many Scots. No Barnett Formula. No Block Grant. No more representation at Westminster. No automatic help with crises such as Royal Bank of Scotland. I daresay free prescriptions would end and tuition fees begin.

And there is no certainty of membership of the EU. Scotland would have to apply, meet tough criteria, await lengthy negotiations and would find countries like Spain – concerned at losing Catalonia – might not hold out a welcome for Separatists. And, even if Scotland were admitted, they would find their voice of 5 million is lost and powerless in a Union of 500 million.

But it must, ultimately, be their choice.

(attribution – The Ditchley Foundation)