Another guest post from our pal Duncan Thorp on the Smith Commission report. Thanks Duncan!
Broadly speaking, the Smith report is what we could have predicted. It’s somewhere between the radical demands of the maximum devolutionaries (“everything but war/money/foreigners”) and the counter-revolutionaries.
It’s fair to say that the result was not weak and tokenistic but it wasn’t even in the next village to Home Rule either. It somehow feels reluctant and slightly miserable, with an occasional spark of genuine enthusiasm.
There may also be a hidden sting in the tail in areas such as Income Tax; the package could be a mixed blessing. With devolution of certain financial powers but not others, an awkward settlement might leave a Scottish government simply forced to implement Westminster cuts. We’ll wait and see.
Also why was the process like 1979 and not like 1997? I.e. it was about a list of powers to be devolved – as opposed to a specific set of powers retained at Westminster, and then everything left over was devolved.
There are many additional policy and tax powers that could make more of a difference and improve lives, like corporate and employment law and regulation. Smith was absolutely right to say that we should have “powers with a purpose”. There wasn’t enough of that specific thinking.
Here are some examples where the devolution of company and employment law could have huge benefits for everyone, gradually achieved over time:
- Statutory CSR and beyond for businesses (phased legal reform to genuinely balance profit with social/environmental concerns).
- 50/50 gender equality on all company boards.
- A living wage (end state subsidy for in-work benefits – plus no tax paid by anyone earning it at a 35 hour week or less).
- Pay ratios (pay of CEO linked to lowest paid worker in the business).
- Right to employee ownership (democratic vote to ask the workforce if it wants a co-operative).
- Employees and customers elected to sit on the boards of all large businesses.
- FOI laws to apply to any business delivering public services (this could already partially happen in a devolved context).
- Better regulation for harmful industries like tobacco and weapons.
- Minimum of 1% of the workforce of all big businesses from hard to reach groups – ex-offenders, long term unemployed etc.
Many of these ideas are now mainstream as we simply seek to build a more prosperous economy and more profitable and ethical businesses. Policies that are not that radical anymore and not “right wing” or “left wing” either.
Devolution needs to be more of a revolution after the Smith report. Real change will only happen if the process doesn’t stop at the doors of The Scottish Parliament too – it’s about genuine localism, neighbourhood democracy and local community empowerment.
The unspoken point underpinning this whole process is “why devolve anything else at all?” Indeed why do we have devolution in the first place? Why can’t or won’t the Westminster System of governance reform society? If a UK Labour government was elected why wouldn’t they just do these kinds of things?
The answer is that it’s not about political parties or their policies, it’s about continuing with a failed, undemocratic political-economic system that pro-actively prevents change. The centralised Westminster System is slow and conservative and always will be and it’s bad for everyone in the UK. Perhaps the revolution will happen after the next election in that London.
Political and economic power goes hand in hand. Both need to be relentlessly decentralised, shared, dispersed, spread and pulled downwards to streets and neighbourhoods across the entire UK. Proper devolution. Scotland is currently leading the devolution agenda – but there’s plenty more to come.
(N.B. If you don’t like the Smith report at least recycle it, burning is so bad for the planet).