Esteemed traitor Peat Worrier wrote today about the SNPs new mission: “the greatest autonomy possible within the Union.” based on another key phrase which was heavily used during the campaign: “Absolutely no one will run the affairs of this country better than the people who live and work in Scotland.”
As well as somehow escaping the gallows of retribution following the glorious No vote, I’m afraid Mr Worrier (if that is his real name. I have my doubts) is guilty of a fallacy common throughout the referendum: not even Yes thought that all the affairs of this country should be made in Scotland.
By arguing that a currency union was “common sense” (despite it not being obviously so to almost every economist that wasn’t on the Scottish Government advisory committee), that we would continue to share a common energy market across the UK and continue to funnel subsidies to non-Scottish renewable companies from the levies on English, Welsh and Northern Irish energy bills and the maintainance of EU membership (the potential terms of which no longer really matter) Yes conceeded that actually, no. There are times when it’s better to pool decision making across a broader population than those who live and work in Scotland.
It always was, and now remains, a rabble rousing slogan rather than a principle. It wasn’t even a policy.
That said the legal analysis in that post is worth paying attention to. Anything we’re talking about in terms of further devolution will be a textual amendment to Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act and given the time scales we’re working to as a result of the Vow it’s useful to bear that in mind.
I would agree that we should be aiming for “greatest level of Scottish autonomy within the United Kingdom” but I don’t think that necessarily extends as far as some assume it does. For instance, Corporation Tax and Air Passenger Duty are unsuitable for deciding at a Scottish level due to the pressure and temptation to compete within the UK on that basis. There are better, more easily targetted mechanisms, for encouraging specific industrial sectors to locate here through Scottish enterprise and subsidise flights to remote communities which can only be meaningfully serviced by air in under 8 hours from major population centres.
Sometimes we increase our autonomy by giving up our control (as I’ve argued in this blog before and, helpfully, seems the majority of Scotland agree).
Welfare is possibly more easily devolved within the context of universal credit as rates could be set, and funded by, the Scottish Government if it was devolved.
The timetable set out in the vow (and that’s all it was, no new powers were promised or even really hinted at) needs to be adhered too, and we need to have an open, inclusive process.
As a starting point we should be able to synthesise the three devolutionist parties proposals into common ground quite quickly alongside the framing set out in the Scottish Government White Paper and the Greens proposals to identify a base line. The currency, monetary policy,defence and so on are clearly off the table entirely.
A series of citizen juries could then be convened to consider and discuss the contentious areas where the various party proposals differ, allowing for them to be prioritised and ideas fed back into the main process to be turned into something concrete and implementable.
Finally, and this is the one major change I’d suggest we should make in addition to the proposals that are already on the table: the wording in Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act should be reversed. Rather than devolving everything but a few areas to Holyrood it should be reworded so that everything defaults to Holyrood except for the specified areas which are delegated from a sovereign Scotland which has taken a concsious, democratic and unequivocal choice that we wish to be part of the United Kingdom and to pool our decision making on certain areas with the other people of the UK.
That would mean that we can take a longer and more considered look at the balance of powers in future, would mean that further devolution can be initiated through primary legislation at Holyrood and then be consented to at a UK level.