Devo Zero, Devo Minus, and Devo Mini: Our Pro-UK Principles-Led Advice to the Smith CommissionTweet
The following was submitted by Alistair McConnachie to the Smith Commission for its closing date of 31 October 2014. It was published on this site on 3 November 2014.
This submission is divided into 6 Sections. You can click on any of the topic headings below to jump to the appropriate part of the text.
SECTION 1: THE CONTEXT
10 points to put the situation in context, before we move on to consider matters at length.
SECTION 2: OUR GENERAL VIEW ON DEVOLUTION
4 areas which explain "where we are coming from". Devolution has always been a party-political reaction to an ideologically-driven demand. The Smith Commission is another example of this process in action. Devolution has never been a response to a real physical or practical need.
SECTION 3: OUR PRINCIPLES-LED POSITION – 8 BASIC UNIONIST PRINCIPLES
8 Principles upon which we stand and from which we judge Policy.
SECTION 4: EXAMINING THE SUBMISSIONS OF THE LABOUR, CONSERVATIVE AND LIB DEM PARTIES
We examine 13 areas and make several policy suggestions. We conclude that further Legislative Devolution to Holyrood will compromise the integrity of the United Kingdom. Devo Zero must be our baseline. As Unionists, the only kind of devolution which we might support is Administrative Devolution where power is operated, in a two-way street, directly between the UK Parliament and Local Authorities, bypassing Holyrood entirely. Devo Minus should be implemented in those cases where devolved powers are corrupting the Union relationship. If there is a pressure to devolve which cannot be resisted, then Devo Mini – the absolute minimum – should be our guideline.
SECTION 5: OUR PRINCIPLES-LED STRATEGIC APPROACH to POLICY CONSIDERATION
6 Strategic Approaches to Policy Consideration based upon our Basic Unionist Principles.
SECTION 6: OUR 10 POLICY PROPOSALS
10 Policy Proposals based upon our Basic Unionist Principles, which supplement our suggestions throughout this document.
SECTION 1: THE CONTEXT
We ask the Smith Commission to be mindful of the following 10 points, which help to put the situation in context, prior to consideration of further matters.
1. We Voted No to the Breakup of the UK. We did not Vote for "More Powers"
The question on the ballot paper was "Should Scotland be an independent country?" It was not, "Should Scotland get more powers, or should it get 'Home Rule', or should Britain be federalised?"
We voted to keep the UK together, and for nothing else.
It was a philosophical vote for the principle of No to the breakup of the UK.
Please remember that the people spoke, and the people said No.
It was not a vote for any party or its policies. Nor was it a vote for a collective party statement for "more powers". We urge our politicians not to try to turn it into a vote for their party or its policies on devolution, or for any collective party statement on devolution.
2. Many People do not Know what Powers Holyrood has; nor do we Know what Powers it will Receive from the Scotland Act 2012. So, where is the Mandate for "More Powers"?
This is proven by the fact that the SNP managed to exploit the matter of the NHS at the referendum – even though the NHS has been fully devolved since 1999. It was apparent that many people, especially those who supported the nationalists, did not even know that power over the NHS in Scotland was already devolved.
Many of us also do not know what powers are to be devolved under the Scotland Act 2012.
Therefore, in this atmosphere of unknowing, we urge our pro-UK politicians to take "opinion polls" claiming that a majority of people in Scotland want "more powers" with the pinch of salt that such an uninformed context deserves.
3. There is No Need to Obsess with delivering "More Powers" because "More Powers" may Not have been a Deciding Factor for No. A promise of "More Powers" might just as Easily have Moved People to Yes
For every wavering voter who was leaning to Yes, but chose No if it meant "more powers", how many other waverers looked on and made the obvious conclusion that if "more powers" is a good thing, then, "Why not go all the way and have all the powers."
If there were any "undecided" who voted No because of "more powers", then there are likely to be just as many who voted Yes because they reasoned correctly that if you want "more powers", then why not follow the inevitable logic and direction of that argument and go for "all powers".
We are convinced that such a percentage exists and we are convinced that it relentlessly drove down the No vote over time. We are not aware of any research being done on this though – but it seems logical and politically obvious to us. (1)
Anyway, virtually all the polls before the referendum indicated that it was going to be a No.
4. No Voters can Live without "More Powers"
Please do not imagine that there is a majority of No voters who are in a dirty rush to see "more powers". SNP supporters and Yes voters may be keen, but over 2 million people who voted for No are not in a rush to see more powers. If we were, we would have voted Yes.
5. Nationalism Can Never be Satisfied, so Don't Imagine you can Outflank it
You may hear the argument that if you devolve more power to Holyrood then eventually you make "independence" and the SNP irrelevant. We see no merit in this, because such an approach would also render the "Union" irrelevant.
It would not be devolving the Union, it would be dissolving it.
Furthermore it fails to comprehend the nature of the nationalists.
The SNP is not a normal political party. It is a party dedicated entirely to the destruction of the UK. That is its entire reason to be.
The SNP, and Scottish nationalism in general, is an insatiable tiger which can never be satisfied. Too often, it seems, the Labour Party, Conservatives and Lib Dems fail utterly to understand the nature of Scottish nationalism.
It is the Tiger with the Bottomless Stomach. Throwing it chucks of devolved meat only keeps it prowling around your village until one day you run out of meat to throw it, and then it eats you.
6. Complete Devolution, and even Independence, will still not Satisfy the Nationalists
Many nationalists, and the hardcore especially, want to break away from the UK for social and cultural reasons related to their antipathy towards the British identity. So, no amount of devolution will ever satisfy them.
Even "independence" would never satisfy the nationalists. They would continue to blame "England", "the English", "London", "Westminster", "Labour", "Tories" or anything else, for the myriad problems which would befall them.
7. Do not be Afraid of "a Backlash"
Some commentators are saying that there will be "a backlash" against the Union if extensive new powers are not delivered.
But please remember that whatever the Smith Commission decides, the nationalists will never be satisfied and will attempt to exploit the result for their own anti-UK agenda.
There is nothing that unionists can do which will stop nationalists from complaining. Too much will never be enough for them, and it will always be too little too late.
Therefore, any concern to appease them should be put out of our heads.
In any case, we are not marionettes dancing to the nationalist masterminders. We are not perpetual hostages to the SNP and its agenda. We don't walk on eggshells, lest we upset them.
We believe in the UK, and we can make a case for it. Concerns of any nationalist "backlash" do not bother us. We can tell the nationalists where to go. We can hold "the whip hand" too! They can be the ones to feel the "lash" on their "backs" for a change!
8. In that regard, do not be Hassled by Journalists, and Pay Little Heed to the Editorial Positions of The Herald and The Scotsman Stables
Neither of these papers will be satisfied with what you do. Both these papers are aggressively, even militantly, for "more powers".
We suspect that the writer(s) for the pro-devolution editorials in The Herald is the same person(s) who writes the pro-independence editorials for its sister Sunday Herald. They sound the same.
The Herald has said that it "backs Scotland staying within the UK at this stage." But any "fudge" or if you "stitch it up" or "fail to deliver far-reaching further devolution" then you will lose another referendum. (our emphasis, Editorial, The Herald, 16-9-14, p. 14.)
In this sense, the Herald stable is playing a clever game – continuing to push for more and more devolution with one hand, yet never being satisfied. And with the other hand, pushing for independence.
Furthermore, The Scotsman and its sister paper Scotland on Sunday, are promoting more powers aggressively. The Scotland on Sunday has claimed, quite wrongly, that "There can be no doubt" that the No side "won the day" because of a "heightened expectation of a powerhouse Parliament". (Editorial, Scotland on Sunday, 28-9-14, p. 34).
We urge the Smith Commission to understand that these papers speak in this way because they have a commercial interest in appealing to people who voted Yes.
9. Unionists are not as Loud as Nationalists
We expect the number of submissions from nationalists to the Smith Commission will outnumber the submissions from unionists. This is because nationalists always like to tell you about it, whereas unionists appear to be more reserved.
Consequently, we urge the Smith Commission not to regard a large number of noisy nationalist submissions as representative. Please remember that over 2 million people voted to stay in the UK.
10. Finally, the Nationalists will Never Thank You for any Powers which you Devolve
So, don't seek their approval. The nationalists will never give you a round of applause. They will always take what they can get from you and then use it against you.
Therefore we urge our unionist politicians to interpret the so-called "vow" regarding more powers, very casually.
Politicians should never make "promises" anyway. It is absurd beyond words, and politically incompetent beyond measure that they should have built such a trap for themselves. (2)
SECTION 2: OUR GENERAL VIEW ON DEVOLUTION
This details 4 areas to help explain "where we are coming from".
1. There is no Physical or Practical Need for Devolution
Devolution has never been a response to a real physical or practical need. It has only ever been the consequence of ideology and party-political reaction.
That is, it is wholly the result of Scottish nationalist ideology forcing the non-nationalist political parties to maneuver for their own perceived advantage. It is the consequence of party-political reaction to an ideologically-driven demand.
The Smith Commission is another example of this process in action.
To illustrate our point: Consider that during the late 1940s to 1960s, 5 entire new towns were built in Scotland. Those were East Kilbride (designated 1947), Glenrothes (1948), Cumbernauld (1955, extended 1973), Livingston (1962) and Irvine (1966). They included schools, hospitals, police stations, fire stations and all amenities – and they were all built without the help of a single MSP!
In 1965, we opened the Cruachan Power Station, half a mile under the hills in Argyll. We managed that without a single MSP too! All the above was done by one Minister of State and the civil service.
Similarly all discussion for "more powers" today is nothing but a response to the nationalist ideology which continues to drive political debate in Scotland and which forces the political parties to maneuver on this road for their own perceived advantage.
It is not, and has never been, the result of any real physical or practical need. We urge pro-UK politicians to keep this in mind.
Consequently, we should aim to avoid any changes which continue to be driven by nationalist ideology, or any sense of our own party-political advantage.
2. Devolution has been a Disaster for Unionists
We were told that it would "strengthen the Union" but there were no powers built into the Scotland Act 1998 – such as those we suggest below in Section 6 (Policies 7 and 8) – which would ensure that happened.
Those of us who voted against devolution in 1997 believed it would do nothing but strengthen the hand of the nationalists. We have been proved correct, in spades.
We find now, in 2014, that over 1.6m people have just voted to end the Union. That cannot be described as anything other than a terrible indictment of devolution's ability to "strengthen the Union".
What can be gained by conceding even more ground to the nationalists?
Objectively, it seems crazy on its face – and politically suicidal – for unionists to be sitting about deciding what new powers to give a Parliament which is presently dominated by those very nationalists, who will use those powers to promote Scottish nationalism.
3. We Advocate Less Devolution, No Devolution, and the Least Devolution Possible
Devo Minus, Devo Zero and Devo Mini are our guidelines.
As pro-UK people we believe that the more matters which are legislatively devolved to England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales then the more this will undermine the unionist case for the UK, which depends upon shared political institutions; and the more it will fuel the nationalist fire.
4. We would support Administrative Devolution, but not Legislative Devolution We can recognise a case for some "Administrative Devolution" directly from the UK Parliament to Local Authorities. This form of devolution would not create any new law-making executive bodies, or devolve any substantial new law-making power. Power would be retained centrally by the UK Parliament, which, crucially, would avoid giving any new law-making power to Holyrood.
We elaborate upon this when we study the proposals by the Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem parties, below.
We oppose "Legislative Devolution" which creates new law-making executive bodies; or devolves substantial new law-making power to bodies such as Holyrood, which will, forever after, seek the expansion of its power at the expense of the UK Parliament.
SECTION 3: OUR PRINCIPLES-LED POSITION – 8 BASIC UNIONIST PRINCIPLES
We welcome the Smith Commission taking a "principles-led" position. We suggest eight of our own.
These are the Unionist Principles upon which we stand and from which we judge Policies.
Basic Unionist Principle No 1: The Nature of a Union is Joint Commitment to a Greater Collective Good
Once you join a union, you give up a part of yourself to the other, or others, in that union. You submit yourself to a wider concern, a bigger project, a greater good.
Morally speaking, the union is our primary concern, not ourselves as individuals.
Morally speaking, demanding more powers for oneself is inconsistent with membership of a union.
If we want to continue in a union relationship with anybody, or anything, then we have a moral obligation to ensure that everyone in that relationship is happy with what we are doing. We must seek mutual agreement.
Basic Unionist Principle No 2: We Cannot continue to Demand More Powers and Expect to Remain in Union
At present, from a unionist perspective, the Principle behind more powers is an immoral one. The unionist parties are saying to the rest of the UK, "I don't want to divorce you but I want to continue to get what I want and you'd better lump it."
That is guaranteed to end in acrimony. In Practice, it leads to more powers leaving the centre, on a one-way road out the Union.
All the unionist parties have accepted this attitude and approach, which in essence is a nationalist, separatist frame. All the various proposals for "more powers" are conceived within it, morally and practically.
Our approach to the Union is entirely different from, for example, newspapers like The Scotsman or The Herald and their Sunday equivalents. These papers obsess about what is right for Scotland on its own and make blatant anti-Union statements like, "Scots must be the architects of the new Scottish politics, with our relationship with Westminster decided here in Scotland, on our own terms." (Editorial, "Poll Warning to unionist MPs", Scotland on Sunday, 15-9-13, p.18.)
No, that is not how a union works. Our relationship with our Union partners must be decided in union with our partners, with everyone's interests considered, and to the mutual benefit of all.
That is what will bring peace. If we continue down the road suggested by the Scotland on Sunday, it will bring nothing but division and animosity in our UK home.
In any kind of relationship, whether business or matrimonial or political, it is not right to claim to want a union but at the same time think you can do what you want, without regard to anyone else. The Union must always be the main context, which is right up front; not us and our own personal interests.
It is morally wrong, and practically mistaken in the long-term, to imagine that we can eat our cake and still have it – to imagine that we can do whatever we want within the Union.
As unionists we really must stop pretending that, in a partnership, we can keep demanding more and more.
Basic Unionist Principle No 3: Unionists have a British Frame of Mind
A true unionist position is based on the principle of what is best for Scotland and the UK (not Scotland alone). We put everything into an overall British context.
For example, we are concerned about "what Britain voted for" and "what is best for Britain". We don't think only in terms of "what Scotland voted for", or "what is best for Scotland" or "what England voted for" or "what is best for England" and then compare those things against the other.
We don't think in terms of "putting Scotland first" or "putting England first". We think in terms of putting us all first.
We think in terms of Britain. Britain is our context – which is our shorthand for "the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland."
For us unionists in Scotland, the English, Northern Irish and Welsh are not "neighbours". They are family (sometimes quite literally) and that informs our entire view on the matter.
It has only been since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament that people in Scotland have been encouraged to see everything from the nationalists' "Scottish-only" perspective.
It is the nationalists' perspective which dominates political discourse at the moment and all unionist attempts to come up with "more powers" are driven by, and are subservient to, that nationalist view of things – whether they will admit that or not.
Following on from having a British Frame of Mind...
Basic Unionist Principle No 4: Unionists are Concerned with the Implications of Policy for all the UK, not just for a part, whether England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales We understand that if something is likely to introduce unfairness or division in the context of our UK relationship then it should never happen, or if it has happened, it must be reversed.
Student funding; whereby students resident in Scotland get university fees paid, but English, Northern Irish and Welsh have to pay, is a prime example of the extent to which a particular power – which should never have been devolved in the first place – has led to inequality, unfairness and resentment within our social union. We consider how to address this in Section 6 (Policies 7 and 8) below.
Basic Unionist Principle No 5: Unionists understand that if "Devolution is a Process" which is "Intended to Strengthen the Union", then it must be a Two-way Process
This means that powers can, and should, be returned to the centre, where necessary to strengthen the Union.
This is a point which we need to start hearing from the unionist parties. It is absolutely crucial to a proper understanding of "devolved" powers in any political state.
For example, if devolution is to "strengthen the Union", as the Labour Party always told us, then there must be safeguards built in, which will prevent or reverse policies which would corrupt the union relationship; for example, when devolution introduces inequality of opportunity in a British context (student funding for example).
A true unionist position would ensure that devolution leads to ever-closer union not ever-further-apart separation.
For that to happen, it requires in practice a two-way road, where it is natural for powers to be moderated, adjusted, rescinded or returned to the centre, where appropriate.
These are the things we should be hearing from unionist parties. Devolution is not, and should never be, "one way". It is a two-way process.
Two-way devolution is "Union friendly". One-way devolution is "Union hostile".
There is nothing controversial about this. From a unionist perspective, it is obvious. (3)
We don't hear these things said, at present, because the political discourse in Scotland is driven entirely by the nationalist side and their view of things. The unionist parties do nothing but react to, and appease, the nationalist agenda.
The fact that some unionists may find our proposals controversial simply demonstrates that they have lived for too long under the dominance of the nationalists' frame of mind.
Indeed, so consumed by the nationalist mentality have the "unionists" become that many are no longer aware that they are living within, and making decisions, in a personal state of "nationalist false consciousness".
The "we'll promise more powers" response is all part of that imprisoned mentality.
If you don't believe that many unionists in the political class in Scotland are in the grip of the nationalist false consciousness then consider this: Why is nobody asking the SNP what its plans are for more union since they lost the referendum on separation?
They are the ones who have lost. They are the ones who should be making the concessions. They are the ones who should be giving up the ground. They are the ones who should be backing down.
Yet, absurdly, only we, who support the Union, are being asked our plans for more disunion if we win. And make no mistake; nationalists see "more powers" as a step towards disunion. That is why they are demanding them from the unionists.
We are being asked our plans to further dissolve the Union even though we won the referendum to keep it together!
We are being asked our plans to give up on the Union even though the majority of people have indicated their overwhelming support for it.
We have developed the idea of devolution as a two-way process below, and we give a couple of suggestions on how this can be accomplished constitutionally, in Section 6 (Policies 2, 3, 7 and 8) below.
Basic Unionist Principle No 6: Devolution is Dangerous to a Union in the presence of an Aggressive Separatist Movement
This is not the United States of America where powers can be devolved safely to the individual States because everyone is relatively happy with the overall Union. This is Scotland – which has a hardcore national separatist party, where devolutionary powers will always risk being acquired by it in order to destroy the Union itself. (4)
Basic Unionist Principle No 7: Any Devolved Power can and will be Used by a Nationalist Administration for a Divisive Purpose in order to Further its anti-UK Agenda
There is no devolved power too small that it cannot be exploited by nationalists for their anti-UK agenda. For unionists, handing any kind of power to a Parliament which is or can be dominated by nationalists, is providing to them the tripwires which set ourselves up for a fall!
Basic Unionist Principle No 8: Scottish Separatism Cannot Ever, and Will Never, be Appeased
Here is the absolute, fundamental truth which should govern all political relations with the separatists: Scottish nationalism is like a voracious tiger with a bottomless stomach. It can never be appeased. Feeding it more juicy morsels just makes it stronger and hungrier.
"More powers" will never appease the nationalists. Independence itself will never appease the nationalists.
Here is how independence would actually make Scotland's relationship with England much worse.
Right now Scotland has a degree of control over which way the English elephant in the bed chooses to roll. Outside of the Union, we would still be lying in our Islands' Bed but this time Scotland would have no control over which way the elephant moves.
That would lead to all sorts of problems and would make the nationalists even angrier.
Every presumed slight, every presumed grievance, every snub, every disagreement, every contrary opinion, every rebuff, every frustration they met, they would lay at the door of "England", "the English", "London", "Westminster", "Labour", "Tories", "the rUK Parliament" and so on. There would, as usual, be no end to the imagined villains.
With every Holyrood policy that goes wrong, the people to blame would be found everywhere else but in Scotland. The south would always be the bogeyman. The south would always be the problem. The south would always be to blame.
Not only that, but if Scotland were to become "independent", then the debate would start to shift to other ways to distance Scotland from "England", or to cast off vestiges of Britain in the public space. The Republic of Ireland took only 27 years to remove the Monarchy.
You could fire England to the moon, and nationalists would still find a way to blame it for Scotland's woes. It is in their nature. Many unionist politicians do not even understand that basic fact about this particular ideology.
Blaming others is all part of the Scottish nationalist fundamental, philosophical world view. That will never change if the world is to last for another million years.
The best that can be hoped for is that, as we work to bring Britain closer together, the number of true believers decreases with time.
In the meantime, we should do nothing to feed them, because the tiger of Scottish separatism cannot be appeased by feeding it. The difference between appeasement and surrender is only ever a matter of time.
The only way to avoid being eaten by the tiger of separatism is to beat it decisively at the ballot box, and create the political circumstances which keep it wandering lost in the middle of the jungle, rather than throwing it juicy morsels which keep it prowling around in the middle of our village. (5)
SECTION 4: EXAMINING THE SUBMISSIONS OF THE LABOUR, CONSERVATIVE AND LIB DEM PARTIES
1. Do Not Entrench the Scottish Parliament
The Labour Party and Gordon Brown, in particular, has been promoting the idea of making the Scottish Parliament "permanently entrenched in the constitution and indissoluble" in law by Act of Westminster. (It is the first recommendation in the Labour Party's summary of recommendations to the Smith Commission.)
The Lib Dems also want "a declaration that entrenches home rule and the Scottish Parliament in advance of a full federal settlement." (Recommendation 14 in its submission to the Smith Commission.)
We regard this suggestion – the brainchild of a pro-devolution organisation called "Reform Scotland" from whom it has been lifted – to be, from a unionist perspective, one of the most thoughtlessly damaging, and politically naïve anti-UK recommendations before the Commission.
"Permanent" is a word whose definition has the potential to be stretched politically to "sovereign".
We can imagine a nationalist administration saying, immediately, that this means Holyrood is now a sovereign parliament. It would not be strictly-speaking true in law, but what happens to be "strictly-speaking true", can quickly become politically irrelevant.
All that would be required is for the nationalists to build up a head of political steam around the idea of the parliament now being "sovereign", and that head of steam will eventually push out whatever legal nicety was intended. The new definition will be enforced.
Once it was generally accepted that Holyrood was as "sovereign" as Westminster, it would be a small step for a nationalist administration to start to formulate its own legislation on matters which are presently reserved. It would also be easier for it to declare unilateral independence.
We do not believe any unionist could possibly advocate such a naïve idea when the inevitable political direction of its anti-UK travel can be clearly plotted.
We urge the Smith Commission to throw out the idea that the Scottish Parliament should be irreversibly entrenched in the UK constitution and thus indissoluble; and to throw it out in the strongest terms possible.
2. Management of Elections, Referendums, and the Franchise
We oppose all plans to give Holyrood responsibility and power over elections, referendums and the franchise.
Unionists must remember that the Scottish Parliament, at any time, risks being dominated by the nationalists. Consequently, from a unionist perspective it would be thoughtless, and dangerous, to give Holyrood powers over any elections or referendums in Scotland.
If such a proposal was coupled with declaring Holyrood "permanent", and therefore arguably sovereign, it would amount to unionists willfully disadvantaging themselves to a remarkable extent.
This is not a theoretical objection. It is made very real by the fact that prominent nationalists have already effectively suggested declaring UDI, and have also declared that a majority of MSPs would be a sufficient mandate to declare independence.
For example, Alex Salmond is on record as having said that one route to independence is for the Scottish Parliament to get more powers "until you have a situation where you're independent in all but name. Then, presumably, you declare yourself to be independent. Many countries have proceeded through that route." (Simon Johnston and Ben Riley-Smith, "Salmond: we can declare independence", The Daily Telegraph, 22-9-14, p.1.)
Jim Sillars, a SNP senior member, has tweeted that "Let Yes assert new indy rule – no more ref – majority votes and seats at Holyrood 2016 enough." (David Maddox, "We don't need referendum for independence – Salmond", The Scotsman, 22-9-14, p. 6.)
Given the reality of these prominent nationalists already playing fast and loose with the commonly accepted conventions of democratic change, it would be very dangerous indeed to give, or risk giving, such people any control over the management of elections, referendums, or the franchise in Scotland, whatsoever.
If such people are given any control over elections or referendums in future then they would have been given no end of opportunity to create anti-Union mischief.
3. Devolution of Taxes: Our General Principle
Before we examine the Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem policies, let us state our principle from which we judge the matter.
Our principle: The UK is a sharing and redistributive union.
We believe in the redistribution of money throughout the UK, from richer to poorer areas. As unionists we are keen to help to fund the rest of the UK, and we expect to rely on the rest of the UK when necessary.
This sharing and redistributive union has seen the average income per head between the 4 areas of the UK tend towards equality. This is in contrast to the USA, for example, where States raise their own taxes and where, in consequence, economic inequality between States is often severe.
We understand that the Labour Party, and Gordon Brown in particular, also believe in this principle.
We agree entirely with Mr Brown when he said:
"The proposal to devolve 100 per cent of income tax and then exclude Scottish MPs from voting on income tax at Westminster is anti-Scottish because by excluding Scots from voting on key matters it makes them second class citizens in the House. But it is also anti-British because, by abandoning income tax as a shared tax, it threatens to end the pooling and sharing of risks and resources that underpins the unity of the UK and it looks like the Trojan Horse for fiscal autonomy, which would split the Union and enable the SNP to get through the back door what they cannot get through the front door." (Michael Settle, "Brown steps up pressure over plans for devolving income tax", The Herald, 17-10-14, p. 7)
However, we cannot follow his, and the Labour Party's, logic which would nevertheless devolve a proportion of income tax, and other taxes.
Once we breach the fundamental principle of a shared and redistributive union, then there is no logical cut off point at which we should stop devolving taxes. Such a move is entirely incompatible with, and undermines, the principle of the UK as a sharing and redistributive union.
Therefore, we find no logic in either the Labour Party or Mr Brown's desire to devolve any further tax powers to Scotland. This would set us down the very road Mr Brown warns us against travelling!
Full Fiscal Independence
The Conservative Party argues that if people in England were no longer paying for matters in Scotland then it would address the matter of taxpayers in England paying for devolved matters in Scotland over which they have no democratic say.
Furthermore, it is argued that if Scotland were no longer paying for matters in England, then MPs from Scotland could safely be excluded from voting on Bills which were largely related to England because they would no longer have any Scottish financial interest to represent. In this sense, the Conservative Party sees Full Fiscal Independence as a necessary accompaniment to "English Votes for English Laws".
We are opposed to Full Fiscal Independence in principle and in practice.
In principle, as we have already stated "The UK is a sharing and redistributive union."
We also believe the principle that "There is no such thing as a law which affects only one part of the UK." Therefore, all our taxes should be pooled collectively in one HM Treasury, to pay for all matters anywhere in the UK.
In practice, from our unionist concern, we realise that Full Fiscal Independence would reduce the relevance of British MPs from Scotland. This would happen very quickly. It would only benefit the separatists.
In practice, the devolution of Income Tax is also dangerous to the economic and social cohesiveness of the UK. It could not ever be varied upward without inflicting a huge comparative disadvantage upon Scotland in relation to the rest of the UK – leading to an exodus of "mobile earners".
If it were varied downward, it would see "mobile earners" leaving the north of England to enter Scotland. This would harm the economies of northern England.
Moreover, tax parity throughout the UK is essential if Scotland is to create the confidence in its economy which will encourage people from the rest of the UK to come here to live and work. People will not come if there is a risk that taxes are going to increase over and above what they expect in the rest of the UK. They would not be able to plan confidently for the future.
a. Fiscal devolution is contrary to the principle of the UK as a sharing and redistributive union.
b. Even partial fiscal devolution tends, inevitably, to reduce the status and relevance of British MPs from Scotland in the British Parliament – thereby helping separatist philosophy and policy.
c. Devolution of taxes will inflict comparative disadvantages upon Scotland and the rest of the UK; and it will create nervous and unstable economic circumstances which will prohibit people planning for the long-term and moving to Scotland.
d. Any tax powers for Holyrood beyond the powers of the Scotland Act 2012 will destabilise the UK economy in the long term. (6)
The Notion that Tax Devolution will Bring Transparency and Accountability
The Conservative Party in Scotland argues that if Holyrood raises its own money then it would become transparent. They argue that people would see where their money was going and this would help them to hold the politicians "to account".
However, this fails to understand how most of us engage with politics. Most of us do not behave in this objective, technical, mathematical way.
We don't sit down, get out the figures as if we are accountants, and objectively say: "Ah yes, very well done. You raised 10bn and you spent it all, by the book. I must remember to vote for you again next year!"
We are far more likely to immediately take the debate off on our own subjective political prejudices: "How dare you raise 10bn and yet only spend £50,000 on spelling lessons for Gaelic schools", or "10bn raised but 250m wasted on a motorway extension in the Highlands. I'll never vote for you again!"
In other words, there will be no reward for the politicians who introduce this policy. Nobody is going to give them a round of applause because they kept within their budget.
The only people who will be holding them "to account", as usual, will be their political opponents. Politicians will continue to attack each other just as they do now, often with scant regard for the facts and on the basis of their own spending preferences. Most of us will look on with little care, and with little ability, or desire, to interpret the figures anyway.
e. People do not judge the Scottish Parliament on what it raises and spends. We judge it on what it spends its money on, regardless of where the money comes from. The notion that full fiscal independence, or even some fiscal devolution, will lead to greater democratic scrutiny of the politicians by the people is certainly idealistic, but it is not realistic.
f. A Nationalist administration will continue to blame Westminster for lack of money, regardless of tax raising circumstances, and many people will believe it; just as the SNP sought to blame Westminster for the state of the NHS at the referendum, and many people believed it, even though the NHS is devolved.
Our Recommendation on Taxes
There is no need to devolve any taxes. Rather, we recommend that the UK Parliament retains control over all tax powers and that, where possible, it applies them in a manner intended to boost the economy in certain areas. For example:
g. Air Passenger Duty should not be devolved. Rather, the UK Parliament could set different rates for different airports in order to attract to those areas more direct international flights and boost tourism.
h. A temporary "National Insurance holiday" could be granted to employers in areas of the UK which require investment and job creation.
4. Welfare System
It is a principle that the UK is a sharing and redistributive Union. This applies to the raising of taxes, and it applies to the redistribution of these taxes through the welfare system.
It means that if one part of the Union were to suffer an economic shock, then the rest of the Union will be there to help transfer financial resources, as necessary, through that welfare system.
Any attempt to devolve the welfare system, or elements of it, would be an ideological move away from the principle of the UK as a sharing and redistributive union.
It would start to introduce tensions and petty jealousies between people who may think others in the UK are getting a better deal.
Further, it could encourage "welfare tourism" within the UK as people move in order to receive higher benefits.
There would also be huge and unnecessary costs involved. For example, a UK Government Command Paper from the Department of Work and Pensions has stated that one-off IT costs to develop a new computer system for the delivery of social security in an independent Scotland could cost between £300m and £400m; and that annual running costs of the department alone could be at least £720m. (7)
5. Housing Benefit
The only reason this has entered the radar is because of the political conflict regarding "the bedroom tax". The desire to control Housing Benefit is nothing but a reaction by the political parties to a particular policy which they opposed. The political parties think that if they argue for devolution of Housing Benefit then they can win votes by saying that they will abolish "the bedroom tax"!
We do not believe that such party-political reactions, and short-termist vote-seeking, represent an adequate basis on which to devolve an entire area of the welfare system.
6. Local Authorities and "Local" Powers
We are open to the idea of powers for Local Authorities but only if such powers are devolved directly from the UK Parliament to these Local Authorities, ensuring that Holyrood is bypassed.
Local Authorities in Scotland must be responsible to Westminster, not Holyrood.
This would be a form of "Administrative Devolution", rather than "Legislative Devolution".
This is informed by our Basic Unionist Principle No 7; that any powers to Holyrood will risk being captured by nationalists who will use them to divide the UK.
As per our Basic Unionist Principle No 5, these powers must be a two-way street – forwards and backwards where necessary – between the UK Parliament and the Local Authorities, whether in Scotland or the rest of the UK.
Unfortunately, to date, devolution to Scotland has been a journey on a one-way street, whose direction of travel is heading out the Union!
Advantages of Administrative Devolution:
a) Local Authorities, answerable to Westminster, rather than Holyrood, would help to balance democratic power in Scottish politics. The Local Authorities would be a counter-weight to an over-centralised Holyrood.
We must emphasise again – because the point is crucial – that this would only be the case if power was devolved from Westminster directly to the Local Authorities. Otherwise Holyrood will be further empowered, and will ultimately control the Local Authorities.
b) Devolution directly to Local Authorities from the UK Parliament might also help to enable closer UK-wide cooperation between Local Authorities in all 4 parts of the UK.
However, if those powers were devolved to Holyrood then it would tend to prevent possible UK-wide cooperation between Local Authorities because the nationalists would, as usual, attempt to keep everything related only to Scotland.
7. Department of Work and Pensions Work Programme
It may be possible to devolve this to Local Authorities. Again we advise that it should be devolved directly from Westminster to Local Authorities and it must bypass Holyrood entirely.
It must be a form of Administrative Devolution for the Local Authorities, not Legislative Devolution for Holyrood.
Anything legislatively devolved to Holyrood would – as always – risk being captured by the nationalists; to be exploited by them for their own gain and the UK's loss.
8. Crown Estate
Crown Estate assets, and harbour, pier, foreshore and all similar rights should be retained by the UK Parliament. If devolved, they should be devolved directly to Local Authorities, who will remain accountable to the UK Parliament. Again, a form of Administrative Devolution rather than Legislative Devolution.
We cannot stress enough that any additional powers given directly to Holyrood will be used – immediately or at the time of another nationalist administration – for divisive purposes against the UK, as per our Basic Unionist Principle No 7, above.
9. Equality Legislation
This demand is being driven by a group of MSPs who want Holyrood to control equality legislation in order that they can introduce legal quotas to achieve a 50/50 ratio of females to males at Holyrood, in local government, and in the Scottish Government's public bodies. (8)
We do not consider this a sufficient reason to up-end the very extensive, very adequate, equality legislation which prevails throughout the UK, and which serves everyone equally.
Furthermore, it would lead to more unnecessary costs to businesses and would damage the nature of the UK single market which depends upon standardised laws.
10. Employment Legislation
This must be retained entirely by the UK Parliament since it is crucial to the efficient functioning of the UK single market. Different legislation throughout the UK would introduce a gross inefficiency into the market and would be a huge expense for businesses based throughout the UK.
Even a small amount of devolution in this field would represent a significant move away from the principle of a single UK market.
11. Health and Safety Legislation
As with Equality legislation and Employment legislation: This competency must be retained by the UK Parliament in order to ensure maximum efficiency for the UK single market.
Changes in legislation between Carstairs and Carlisle – often driven by the nationalist need "to be different for the sake of it" – would result in unnecessary expense for businesses throughout the UK, would compromise the efficiency of the UK market, and would result in an ideological move away from the very principle of a single UK market.
We find the Labour Party's claim, in its submission to the Smith Commission, that a separate Scottish Health and Safety Executive is necessary "to set and achieve the health and safety objectives of most relevance and importance to Scotland" to be risible, and akin to nationalist parochialism at its most foolish and excruciatingly worst.
Broadcasting must not be devolved nor should any control over the Internet. The referendum campaign illustrated the hatred which the nationalists have for the BBC, as a British national institution.
The nationalists know that the BBC helps to reminds us that we are part of a country called the United Kingdom; and that it has the potential to create a shared national cultural life; and a shared sense of British identity.
Devolving broadcasting would be a calamitous defeat for unionists and a huge gift to the nationalists' anti-UK agenda. (9)
13. The Rail Network
The railways represent the UK's arteries in the UK's body. They should be controlled by one UK brain.
We oppose any devolution of railways, or transport in general, because it is unnecessary and likely to frustrate crucial British-wide infrastructural development.
We advocate projects, such as a High Speed link between Glasgow and Liverpool, which will require British-wide planning. We do not want nationalists to have any chance of exploiting this for their divisive anti-UK purposes.
SECTION 5: OUR PRINCIPLES-LED STRATEGIC APPROACH to POLICY CONSIDERATION
Before we present a further 10 Policy Proposals, let us lay out our Strategic Approach to Policy Consideration, which is based upon the 8 Basic Unionist Principles, already stated.
Strategic Approach 1: As per our Basic Unionist Principles Nos 6 and 7, we understand that in a context where there is a significant national separatist movement, any devolutionary powers can, and often will, be captured by them and used against the UK. (10)
Strategic Approach 2: Consequently the guidelines must be firstly, "Promote the Union in principle and in policy – in philosophy and in practice", and secondly, "Do no harm to the Union". Do absolutely nothing which will, or which may risk, empowering the separatists.
Strategic Approach 3: The general political approach should be to marginalise the nationalists in the public and political space, because, as per our Basic Unionist Principle No 8, they can never be appeased.
Strategic Approach 4: We free ourselves from the national separatist consciousness under which political debate in Scotland is held at present. Instead, we adopt a UK Evolutionary frame – an Ever Closer Union mentality – which sees Britain and its people moving closer together with the passage of time; instead of a UK Devolutionary frame which sees Britain and its people increasingly fragmented, for the gain of the separatists alone.
Strategic Approach 5: This Ever Closer Union mentality requires us to:
a) As per our Basic Unionist Principle No 3, ask how we make things better for Britain at the same time as we make things better for Scotland – not how we make things better for Scotland with no regard for Britain.
b) As per our Basic Unionist Principle No 5, understand that for devolution to work within a union it must be "Union friendly", that is, it must be a two-way process, where powers can flow back as well as forth, where necessary. It does not have to be, and is not meant to be, and should not be, simply a one-way process of powers flowing from the centre outwards, never to return. "Union friendly" has regard to maintain the overall integrity of the Union and has regard for the constitutional position and concerns of all the partners in the Union. (11)
c) Reject one-way devolution, as per our Basic Unionist Principle No 5. It is what we have at the moment and it is "Union hostile". It is the only way of looking at devolution at the moment because the success and domination of the nationalists has imprinted that way of looking at things on everyone's minds. It is a short-term approach, conceived within a nationalist-addled frame of mind, and used as a way to appease separatists. It has no regard for its effect upon the overall integrity of the Union nor the constitutional position and concerns of all the partners in the Union. (12)
Strategic Approach 6: Let us put much more emphasis on developing the social and cultural elements of Britishness which in the long-term will create a more united Britain. We made some suggestions in our speech on 18 June 2013: "Ever Closer Union: Over 50 Suggestions to Promote the Social Union and the Cultural Value of the United Kingdom." Our work will be returning to this subject on a regular basis. (13)
SECTION 6: OUR 10 POLICY PROPOSALS
1. Devo Minus: Reverse the Devolutionary Process where Possible
The priority should be in those areas where the practice has created inequality of opportunity, and financial inequality among British citizens – tuition fees for example. This requires that we:
2. Accept the Principle that a Devolved Competence can be Rescinded by the UK Parliament
This should be clearly stated in statutory form in all Holyrood legislation, and in any relevant Acts of the UK Parliament pertaining to powers to Holyrood.
After all, if we accept that the Union must be maintained, and that the Scottish Parliament is intended to "strengthen the Union", and if we believe in the principle of "ever closer union" for the UK, then there should be no reluctance – in principle – to rescind a devolved competence if it is being used in a way which is damaging to our Union relationship.
There should be a presumption that it is possible. There should be nothing controversial about that presumption. It should be stated legally.
3. UK Parliament to Legislate to Rescind, or Override, a Particular Rogue Law
This possibility should be clearly stated in statutory form in all Holyrood legislation, and in any relevant Acts of the UK Parliament pertaining to powers to Holyrood.
Rather than targeting the entire devolved matter (ie Education), the UK Government could simply rescind the particular rogue law whose consequences are damaging the Union relationship, or override it with a new, more "strengthening" law. This possibility should always be accepted, and should be stated legally.
4. Devo Zero: No more Legislative Devolution
We should avoid all further Legislative Devolution to Holyrood. Any devolution should only be of an Administrative form to Local Authorities in a direct relationship between the UK Parliament and the Local Authorities, with Holyrood receiving no additional Legislative competences.
5. A Dual Strategy of Devo Minus and Devo Zero is also Possible
6. Devo Mini: Devolve as Little as Possible
If there is pressure to devolve Legislatively which cannot be resisted, then the guideline should be to devolve as little as possible. Any such Legislative devolution to Holyrood should only be in those areas which are as inconsequential as possible.
7. Establish a UK Constitutional Veto: Safeguard against Future Rogue Laws by additional Paragraph in Scotland Act
In order to safeguard against future devolved rogue laws which damage the Union, a further paragraph "c" should be added to Section 35 (1) of the Scotland Act 1998 (Power to intervene in certain cases) which should state something along the lines of:
"If a Bill contains provisions which the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds to believe would be incompatible with the principle of ever closer union for the United Kingdom, or contrary to the principle that devolution must strengthen the Union, or incompatible with the principle of equality of opportunity throughout the United Kingdom, he may make an order prohibiting the Presiding Officer from submitting the Bill for Royal Assent."
8. Institute a "Principle of British Equal Treatment" Law
It is a principle of Union that all British citizens are equal before the law and must enjoy equality of opportunity anywhere in the United Kingdom.
It is unacceptable that students, who are British citizens, from England, Northern Ireland and Wales should be treated unequally, and to their disadvantage, in the matter of tuition fees in Scotland.
The EU has a European Court to ensure the equality of EU citizenship throughout the EU. Britain should have something similar.
A Principle of British Equal Treatment would be adjudicated by the Supreme Court. It would ensure that no British citizen is prejudiced legally or financially or has their opportunities compromised by participation in any public or private matter as a consequence of devolution, and in comparison to another British citizen from another part of the UK.
The Supreme Court would strike down laws passed in Holyrood, Belfast or Cardiff which contradicted this principle of Union.
Sorting this out legally would not be difficult and would go a long way to getting rid of the unfairness which causes some people in the rest of the UK to be upset. It would help to strengthen the social and cultural Union which has already been damaged by such devolved polices.
9. MPs from England to have a Role in Holyrood Committees
The Holyrood Committee structure is badly designed and can be dominated by one party. We propose the introduction of MPs from England, Northern Ireland and Wales onto these Committees.
The MPs would not be elected to Holyrood, but would have a say in its affairs. Perhaps they could have voting rights in the Committees, or initially be observers exercising oversight on behalf of their constituents. Perhaps they could be from the northern English or Northern Irish constituencies in particular; or perhaps simply chosen by lottery from any constituency in the rest of the UK.
The aim is to make Holyrood more of a British Parliament, rather than a parochial "Scottish" one and to enable the voter in England, through his or her MP, to have a degree of oversight, and possibly a democratic say, about what happens in Holyrood, in the absence of them having any democratic say at Westminster.
10. A Ministry, and Minister of State, for the Union
To bring everything together we need Westminster to set up a specific Ministry, and a UK Minister, for the Union. This would be tasked to promote the social and cultural value of the United Kingdom, and to spot and prevent and defeat threats to the Union.
NOTE: We have not addressed any policies intended to make Holyrood more constitutionally accountable and democratically responsive. We have not addressed the important matter of the UK Civil Service having been used by the nationalists to break up Britain. For specific policies to strengthen social and cultural bonds within the UK, see reference (13). For specific matters related to devolution in the rest of the UK, see reference (14).
(1) We have considered this in more depth in our document, 20 LESSONS LEARNED from the OFFICIAL and UNOFFICIAL NO CAMPAIGNS: Or, Why the Vote was so Close and Should Never be so Close Again published on 11 October 2014 at www.aforceforgood.org.uk/strategy/lessons
(2) We think this article by Prof. Hugh McLachlan on the general subject of politicians and promises is making our relevant point. Hugh McLachlan, "Promises come distant second when duty calls", The Scotsman, 25 or 26 November 2010. www.scotsman.com/news/hugh-mclachlan-promises-come-distant-second-when-duty-calls-1-835899
(3) Alistair McConnachie, If Devolution is a Process then Powers should Flow Back as well as Forth, 29 August 2013 at www.aforceforgood.org.uk/devo/dm4
(4) Alistair McConnachie, The Danger of Devolution in the Context of an Aggressive Separatist Movement, 14 February 2013 at www.aforceforgood.org.uk/devo/dm3
(5) For consideration of further strategy see Alistair McConnachie, Devo-Danger, (Glasgow: A Force For Good Publication, 7 February 2014). Main section also available at www.aforceforgood.org.uk/devo/dm5
(6) See also:
Alistair McConnachie, Demanding 'Full Fiscal Autonomy within the Union' is Selfish, Inconsiderate and ultimately Damaging to our Social Union, 7 September 2012 at www.aforceforgood.org.uk/devo/dm1
Prof Hugh McLachlan, A Union of Convenience: Scotland cannot seek to stay within the UK 'marriage' but seek fiscal autonomy, argues Hugh McLachlan in considering what questions to ask in the independence poll, The Scotsman, 23 August 2012, pp.24-25 at www.scotsman.com/news/hugh-mclachlan-a-union-of-convenience-1-2482631
Ken Macintosh MSP, The Herald, 'Agenda' column, "A fairer Scotland with no need to cut off our nose to spite our face", 3 February 2014 at heraldscotland.com/comment/columnists/agenda.23314079
(7) HM Government, Scotland analysis: Work and pensions, Cm 8849, 24 April 2014 at p.12. www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/306086/scotland-analysis-work-and-pensions.pdf
(8) Tom Peterkin, "Legislate to give women equal say in Scottish public life", The Scotsman, 28 September 2014 at pp.6-7.
(9) Alistair McConnachie, The Patriotic Case for the British Broadcasting Corporation, 10 December 2013 at www.aforceforgood.org.uk/precious/bbc
(10) Alistair McConnachie, The Danger of Devolution in the Context of an Aggressive Separatist Movement, Op Cit.
(11) Alistair McConnachie, If Devolution is a Process then Powers should Flow Back as well as Forth, Op Cit.
(12) Alistair McConnachie, "If Devolution is a Process then Powers should Flow Back as well as Forth", Ibid.
(13) Alistair McConnachie, Ever Closer Union: Over 50 Suggestions to Promote the Social Union and the Cultural Value of the United Kingdom, published 24 June 2013 at www.aforceforgood.org.uk/vision/uk12
(14) For devolution in the rest of the UK, see our submission to the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee's Inquiry on "The Future of Devolution after the Referendum". Published 24 October 2014 at www.aforceforgood.org.uk/devo/evel
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