Saturday, 18 February 2012

Scotland’s future: reduced to opportunistic tinkering and simplistic choices

Rather like the Prime Minister’s spurious and self-seeking arguments against electoral reform, the Scottish people have now been told they must have a “straight choice” over independence.

In other words, the prospect of any kind of constitutional settlement aside from staying in or out of the union – in other words, ‘devolution max’ – is considered so unpalatable that the Westminster elite would like any referendum to be as simplistic as possible. David Cameron’s recent hint that he might consider more powers for Scotland, in the event of a referendum deciding against independence can be considered as a mere sop to nationalist sentiment.

The Scottish National Party is minded towards holding a straightforward yes or no ballot, and although it is thinking about including a 'devolution max' question – an evolution of the current powers vested in Holyrood. Yet Cameron, playing his finest colonial statesman, has made it perfectly clear that he does not intend to endow such choice to Scotland’s voters.

That range of options, however, is something that should be self-determined by Scotland’s people, and not dictated by Westminster. After all, creating interest in a debate on Scotland’s future among English and Welsh voters would be an uphill struggle, to say the least. Yet Westminster politicians of all hues remain of the view that Scotland’s destiny is theirs to shape.

Holyrood and Westminster are currently negotiating on what form the referendum might take, and when it might be held. In the meantime, the Lords’ constitutional reform committee has already expressed its feeling that devolution should not just be a matter for the Scottish people. That might well be true, as any dis-entanglement would need to involve the other constituent parts of the UK to some degree. Its main concern is "the potential to create different and competing tax regimes within the UK". That may be true, but that’s the whole point. Further devolution or independence would invariably mean tax-raising (or lowering) powers, and internal revenue arrangements which would suit Scotland rather than the UK as a whole. The noble Lords’ argument is weaker still considering the haphazard constitutional tinkering which has blighted the UK for the last fifteen years in fact; a perfectly adequate way of describing the future of their own half-reformed chamber. We just don’t do constitutional consistency in this country, and that’s the way our politicians have always wanted it.

Meanwhile, establishment parties at Westminster plod on with the same, tired old view that Scotland’s future is a political plaything, influence over which will occasionally be swapped between competing elites. Cameron considers Scotland as a somewhat romantic appendix to England where he occasionally visits his posh mates to go shooting; he can’t possibly be seen as anti-union in his party. Ed Miliband is petrified of losing Scottish MPs after Labour’s Holyrood wipeout in 2011. Nick Clegg doesn’t really seem to have a particularly distinctive view of his own, aside from saying that he believes in "greater discretion" and "freedom" for Scotland, pulling out antiquated labels like “home rule”. Political elites are doing their patronising best to ensure the status quo is retained. Every one of them is going against the grain of popular opinion. Good luck to the SNP.

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