You can’t have failed to notice that some that the UK unionist parties are having a mad period where they are offering new powers to Scotland in return for a No result on 18th September. To start bandying about these vague promises, on top of previous ones, might strike some as a desperate move by these English MPs*. To make matters worse, after Ed Miliband, George Osborne and Ed Balls made various statements about new powers; they had their parties’ Scottish leaders announce their backing for more powers for Scotland. The lesser-spotted Gordon Brown, ex-Chancellor and Prime Minister, has even weighed in, saying Holyrood should have greater control over finance, welfare and taxation. We’ll have more on Gordo later but isn’t it amazing that a man who barely attends the Commons can suddenly become so active again in Scottish politics.
What are these extra powers they want to offer us as a bribe for our vote then? Well, they are the same ones that are already enshrined in law thanks to the Scotland Act 2012.
- The ability to raise or lower income tax by 10p in the pound, applied equally across all tax bands.
- Other minor tax powers, including control of stamp duty and landfill tax.
- The ability to borrow money, up to £2.2 billion a year.
- Guaranteed Scottish representation in the BBC and Crown Estate.
- Legislative control over several more issues including limited powers relating to drugs, driving, and guns.
WOW! They are offering us what we already have then. You have to admire their generosity. I don’t know about you but I have a warm, glowing feel thanks to that and have decided that self-determination really isn’t worth the effort. Just look at the wonderful extra devolved powers we will have soon. Notice that first one on tax, a blunt tool to use against the whole population, just like Holyrood’s current tax powers. Not a targeted lowering for those who most need it or a hike for those who can most afford it but a tithe on us all. That’s what I’ve come to expect from Westminster politicians over the last few decades – a one-sized fits all approach to all issues.
Anyway, those are the guaranteed extra powers we’ll have. What about the ethereal pledges of extra powers. What do the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems propose slipping our way? Well, they haven’t said but they are all very keen for Scotland and Holyrood to have more powers, referring back to their individual commissions the parties have run recently. They are promising more powers but not guaranteeing it, making them not worth the paper their verbal promises are written on. No doubt in time they will become aspirations rather than guaranteed undertakings, the usual slippery politicking wordplay at work.
Gordon Brown, meanwhile, has said his set of proposed Mr Brown went on to restate what new powers Labour would be pushing for, in 12 policy areas. They included a non-profit making railway company, plus devolving powers over the work programme and housing benefit. He also thinks Holyrood should set and control a far larger share of income tax raised in Scotland. That’s quite interesting that he should want to increase Scotland’s income tax powers. Legend has it that the former Chancellor wanted Holyrood’s existing tax-varying powers removed from 1997’s devolution referendum, as he wanted sole control over that aspect. Now, as we all know, one of the defining aspects of a parliament is its ability to raise tax. He was never going to win that one given the swell of public opinion that wanted Scotland’s parliament re-established. In fact, Gordon Brown fought against all attempts to increase Holyrood and the Scottish Government’s powers, even more so after the SNP won the election in 2007 and formed a minority government. Let’s remember, this is a man renowned as a control freak, who has never cared for sharing power and begrudges anybody’s involvement in decision-making. Suddenly, he’s touchy-feely and wants our parliament and government to have increased powers. I would love to know what caused this Damascene conversion but I think it’s all down to poll results.
The UK parties have even talked about holding a constitutional convention to look into devolving more powers. They may not have noticed but, between 1989 and 1997, we had one – the Scottish Constitutional Convention. In Scotland’s Parliament, Scotland’s Right, its blueprint for devolution, the Convention sets out how to address the democratic deficit north of the border. From memory – my copy is somewhere in a box and I can’t find a digital one – there are still aspects of the document that are still missing from Holyrood’s toolbox. Given that, why should we expect a future convention, this one involving the UK Government’s involvement, to deliver anything worthwhile to us?
Of course, Scotland has been here before, back in 1979, the last time the country had a choice about its future. Back then, voters were told that if they voted No then the UK Government would devolve powers to the Scots. The electorate voted no and went on to live under eighteen years of Tory rule from London. I wonder if that’s the extra powers these politicians are thinking of. In fact, the only real change we saw was when my then MP and Scottish Secretary, Michael Bruce Forsyth, decided return the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey home, commissioned the restoration of Stirling Castle’s Great Hall and had the Scottish Affairs Select Committee meet across the country a handful of times. Not much of an increase in the democratic process I’m sure you’ll agree.
Lastly, if the UK parties are so keen on further devolution of powers, why does the current Westminster Energy Bill 2012-13 seek to remove powers over renewable obligation from Holyrood and bring them back under the control of Westminster? The Bill, which passed its third reading in the Commons with cross-party support on 4 June 2013, focuses on setting decarbonisation targets for the UK, and reforming the electricity market. All well and good, maybe even noble, but energy, in particularly renewables, is one of the devolved areas that Holyrood exercises control of. To make matters worse, this stealing back of power was done thanks to Amendment 54, which the vermin in ermine – my apologies, I mean of course our learned peers – inserted into the Bill to remove the Scottish Parliament’s powers in respect of Renewables Obligation in Scotland. Why does Westminster want to claw back control of encouraging electricity generation from renewable sources? Nothing to do with the Conservative’s distrust of all things green no doubt. Nor anything to do with the current UK Government’s desire to build nuclear power stations wherever they see fit, e.g. nowhere near their ancestral homes. I would say it is most definitely nothing to do with wanting to ensure that they can tell Scotland that they must have fracking sites, whether they like it or not. No, that would be a cynical reaction to such an under-reported roll back of Scotland’s powers.
Given all of that, you have to wonder why anybody would trust the promise of gifting extra powers over having them in your own control.
*They are all English and they represent English constituency. The term English is never used on this site as a term of abuse or an insult so please don’t read it as one.