Smith Commission: A 'Scottish Trap' for the Labour Party

Alistair McConnachie Photograph is copyright of Alistair McConnachie

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In our second video examining the proposals of the Smith Commission, Alistair McConnachie says Labour cannot "out-Scottish" the SNP. It must return to the ideal of British solidarity if it is to beat the SNP, otherwise it will fall into a Scottish Trap where it will never measure up enough to climb out.

The transcript to our first video on the Smith Commission can be found at this link.

Posted on this site on 15 December 2014.

My name is Alistair McConnachie and I run the Pro-UK Project A Force For Good dot org dot uk based here in Glasgow.

The Labour Party in Scotland has just elected a new leader.

And in this video, I'm going to explain the one big thing which it needs to do if it is to avoid falling into the "Scottish Trap" which is being laid for it by the SNP.

And indeed, the Tory Party and the Lid Dems also should take heed lest they too fall into this Scottish Trap.

I'm also going to examine some of the proposals of the Smith Commission in greater detail.

Before we do that, let's explain a Political Fact!

Devolution has limits, or it leads to independence.

This is the lesson of the last 15 years of devolution.

The more you devolve power, the stronger the SNP becomes.

It becomes stronger in direct proportion to the amount of power devolved.

And that's something which all the Labour Home Rule advocates of the past, either did not understand, or did not want to accept.

But we know now, with the benefit of hindsight, how wrong they were, even though some of us told them this at the time.

More devolution leads to more Scottish nationalism.

It doesn't lead to "better government". It doesn't lead to "a stronger Union".

It leads to more Scottish nationalism.

And it leads to less of a United Kingdom, as surely as night follows day.

That's the lesson of 15 years of devolution, and we have to be very cautious about devolving any more powers at all.

So what can us unionists do when faced with a report that advocates more powers?

At this stage, the first requirement is simply, Damage Limitation.

This report will be turned into draft legislation by the 25th of January and then it will need to be debated and voted upon in the new British Parliament sometime after the General Election.

So, there's still time to remove or change the worst aspects of it, and crucially to introduce safeguards for the Union, which at the present time are entirely missing.

So, let's look at some of the problems with the policies it suggests.

TAX ENVY: Air Passenger Duty
In the last video we looked at the danger of devolving Income Tax.

We spoke about how tax devolution can compromise the Principle of the United Kingdom as a sharing and redistributive Union.

And we spoke about how this creates Tax Competition between different parts of the UK.

And that can undermine the UK single market.

But here is something else it creates: Tax Envy!

Under Recommendation 86, "The power to charge tax on air passenger duty leaving Scottish airports will be devolved." 1

This is going to lead to people in the North of England saying, "You've got the power to reduce that tax. Why don't we have the power to reduce it?"

And this can set people against each other.

So when we see that Air Passenger Duty has been, or is being recommended, to be devolved, we know: That's a recipe for Tax Envy!

The correct way of dealing with this; which is what we suggested in our submission to the Commission, is simply to leave this as a competence of the British Parliament.

And the British Parliament can either abolish the tax for everybody, or it can decide which airports throughout the UK should get a short-term tax break, in order to boost local commercial activity.

But there's no need to devolve it.

Devolving it can only lead to Tax Envy and Tax Envy can only help the nationalists.

WELFARE ENVY: Devolving Benefits
One of the key Labour arguments for the UK at the referendum was the existence of our shared Welfare State with common benefits for all.

The idea is that everybody who needs it can get help, and that help will be standard throughout the UK.

However, the Smith Commission recommends that elements of the Welfare State, including control over certain benefits be devolved.

Now this will mean that some people in one part of the UK could get more money, or be advantaged in some way, over people in another part of the UK, who are in the same situation.

This does 3 things:

One, it breaks the Principle that everyone who is a British citizen is treated equally within the UK. And it's that principle which helps our social solidarity.

Two, it will lead to what we call Welfare Envy between people in one part of the UK who are in the same situation, but who are getting more money.

And that sort of thing can only help Scottish and English nationalism, and;

Three, it will prevent Labour using the existence of our shared Welfare State, with common benefits for all, as an argument for the UK if there were to be another referendum.

So, the Labour Party must be very careful not to compromise two of its strongest cases for the UK. That is:

One, we have a sharing and redistributive Tax Union, and

Two, we have a shared Welfare State which ensures the same treatment for everybody.

We strongly caution all our MPs to think again about devolving anything related to our shared Welfare system.

Some people who don't grasp the pro-UK cultural struggle may not understand the significance of Recommendation 66 which urges, "Powers over all road traffic signs in Scotland".

Let me explain.

Road signs are extremely visible political banners.

It's not surprising that the SNP wanted full control over them.

And it's surprising that the pro-UK political parties don't appear to have seen the danger.

If we give the SNP control over road signs then let's imagine how this is going to play out.

Right now, only road signs in the Highland area are dual English and Gaelic.

The SNP could try to make all road signs dual language.

And then they'll want to brand every road sign with a Saltire, just in case we had forgotten that we were in Scotland.

Just in case we forget that the road sign was provided by the graciousness of their Scottish Government.

They'll invent new road symbols just to be different from English roads.

They'll probably want to change everything to metres instead of yards; and even though 'Measurements' are a reserved matter, they'll argue that they're doing it within a competence which is devolved. 2

You know, if they could change all the signs to kilometres, they'd probably want to do that as well!

All, or even some of this, could lead to a separate Highway Code for Scotland, which could lead to a separate Driving Licence for Scotland.

And we're really not joking when we imagine this!

This is what the nationalists do.

They create Difference for the sake of it in order to create Division for their own political ends.

BRITISH IDENTITY: British Transport Police
Recommendation 67 suggests that, "The functions of the British Transport Police in Scotland" should be devolved.

The British Transport Police is one of the few remaining public institutions in Scotland which has the word "British" in its title.

You know, here in Scotland we used to have "British Rail", "British Steel", "British Coal".

The name of those industries alone helped to create a sense of social and cultural unity among everyone in the UK.

Just hearing their names, often daily, gave everyone a shared sense of identity.

When we removed those industries, we not only lost the jobs, we also lost a sense of that identity.

No doubt the first thing the nationalists will do, if they're given this power, and perhaps even the Labour Party as well if it continues to remain clueless on these cultural matters, will be to integrate the British Transport Police with "Police Scotland".

The "British" name would be removed.

It would be devolved out of existence.

It would be another chip away at our British identity here in Scotland.

So we urge all our MPs to oppose this proposal when it comes in front of the British Parliament. 3

We said at the start of this video that we had some advice for the Labour Party in Scotland.

Here it is.

All our politicians and especially the Labour Party might think that they can out-Scottish the Scottish National Party.

They can't!

If you insist on playing at every fixture on the SNP's "Scottish" Political Football Field, then you're playing on the SNP's home turf, and you can't beat them there.

To think you can is to fall into the Scottish Trap where you'll never measure up enough to climb out!

Our advice to Labour is to stick with what you're good at.

Concentrate on your strengths.

Concentrate on your Unique Selling Point.

And Labour's Unique Selling Point has always been national, by which we mean British, solidarity among the working class, and with that a wider international solidarity.

Now, the definition of the "working class" has changed over the years, but the idea of British solidarity has not.

And it's that ideal of a wider British solidarity which Labour must return to; with appropriate job creation policies to match.

Concentrate on that Big British Picture, because you cannot beat the nationalists on the parochial Scottish stage.

DEVELOP an INSPIRING PRO-UK MESSAGE: The SNP can't compete with that!
The referendum proved that the majority of voters in Scotland are not just thinking about Scotland.

We're thinking about the rest of the United Kingdom too.

We're not just thinking about the welfare of people in Scotland.

We're thinking about the welfare of people throughout the United Kingdom.

Remember, the SNP has nothing to say about that Big British Picture!

So, Labour, change the ground that you play on!

Force the SNP to play on the Big British Political Football Field, and watch its attack, its defence and its goalkeeper flounder, because it cannot play that Away Game!

It's not interested in playing on a British Pitch because it knows it will always lose there.

It knows it has nothing to contribute to the British Game.

And let's remember that the 1.6 million people who voted for separation are not dyed-in-the-wool nationalists.

They're just people who did not hear a more inspiring pro-UK message.

The SNP mistakes these people for its committed supporters.

But they're not!

They can be won back again for Britain, not just for Scotland alone.

And the Labour Party has to learn how to do that.

However, if it insists on mimicking the SNP, or trying to out-Scottish the SNP, then it will fail, and it will fall into the Scottish Trap which the SNP is laying and from which there is no escape.

In our next video, we're going to ask why, since we won the referendum, there were no policies suggested by the Smith report which would reinforce and strengthen our United Kingdom.

And we're going to suggest some.

My name is Alistair McConnachie. You can check out our website at A Force For Good dot org dot UK And you can follow us on Twitter at UK a Force For Good.

If you appreciate the work that we do, please consider making a donation. And please contact me at any time, via the details on the website. Thank you for listening.

1 It should be pointed out that the language used throughout the Smith Commission Report is quite inappropriate for what amounts to a set of recommendations. For example, it uses the word "will" at all points – as in "will be devolved" – rather than the correct "could". After all, the reality is that we still live in a Parliamentary Democracy, and these recommendations will be debated, changed and voted upon in the British Parliament. Some of them may not be devolved! Therefore, it is inappropriate and undemocratic for the Smith Commission to speak in such demanding terms.

2 The precedent is the Welsh Assembly's attempt to set a minimum wage for Agricultural Workers. This was opposed by the Government on the grounds that the minimum wage legislation was a reserved matter. However, the UK Supreme Court said it was an agricultural issue, which was devolved. Likewise, an issue involving speeding fines was deemed to be about crime and therefore devolved, rather than a reserved road traffic matter.

3 Furthermore, how can a "British Transport Police" exist if it is only going to operate in England and Wales in the future?

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