Campaign for Scottish Home Rule

Henry McLeish speaking at launch

Henry McLeish speaking at launch of Home Rule campaign

by Jennifer Dempsie

If like me, as a frustrated independence supporter, have been trying to get your head round what Home Rule for Scotland could actually look like, then help might just be at hand.

Up against the ridiculously tight deadline of the Smith Commission, which Lord Smith himself has admitted has a time-table which is “challenging”, a number of experienced individuals from across the political spectrum and out with, came together to make the case for a meaningful settlement for Scotland.

The campaign wants to see three principles established.

Firstly, a Scottish Parliament becoming responsible for raising the £38 billion it currently spends, fairly straight forward. Not exactly full fiscal autonomy but much further than what Smith is likely to come up with.

Secondly, establishing mutual respect between Holyrood and Westminster, which steering group member and former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish said required a “written codified constitution” for Holyrood to entrench its place in the UK political set-up. This would be a Scottish constitution within the UK.

The pre-Indy ref ‘vow’ from UK party leaders said they wanted to see the Scottish Parliament made permanent. However, it’s difficult to see how this can happen without a written constitution for the UK or similar changes at that level without it being just tokenism. For those of us in the Yes movement, the idea of a Scottish constitution was an important part of enshrining who we are as a nation, so in the
absence of independence this may be a decent option benefiting all of the nations of the UK as each nation could look at this option.

Thirdly, calling for a presumption in favour of devolving responsibility to Holyrood. To me, this is the real golden nugget.

The campaign says that Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998 should be reviewed and the burden of proof for reserving a power rest with Westminster should it wish to retain that responsibility.  So basically, if Westminster wants to retain any powers it has to prove why. An interesting prospect.

This precedent was actually set in the original 1997 Act, but the implementation and practice of it has not exactly been in keeping with its original intent.

If you stop to look at it, a review of  Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act it is actually quite a lot and shows how far the cross-party steering group has politically travelled.

There are 70 categories in Schedule 5 ranging from child support, to financial services, broadcasting, currency, nuclear energy, foreign affairs, equal opportunities to some the more obscure such as time and outer space.

Even at present, the Scottish Parliament doesn’t have control over those reserved powers which are linked to current devolved responsibilities. That’s why the campaign is calling for, at the very least, the Scottish Parliament to have control over those reserved powers which are linked to current devolved responsibilities.

As is now increasingly becoming the mainstream view, welfare is a crucial area where this should happen as many of the other areas associated with welfare and reducing poverty, for example social inclusion and housing, are devolved. However, because the main powers to address this lie at Westminster, Holyrood can’t properly address the very real and serious problem of poverty in Scotland and can only
tinker around the edges.

According  to the Department of Work & Pensions publication, ‘Benefit expenditure & Caseload figures 2013/14’, £14.4bn was spent in Scotland across 18 benefits.

So on the principle that Holyrood should have control over those reserved powers which are linked to current devolved responsibilities, in relation to welfare, would mean key areas like Housing Benefit, Disability Living Allowance, Employment & Support Allowance  and Winter Fuel Allowance would be devolved, totalling  over £6bn of welfare expenditure to the Scottish Parliament giving the Scottish
Parliament a fighting chance of alleviating poverty.

Poverty has increased in Scotland for the first time in a decade and it is estimated 100,000 more children will be in poverty by 2020.

Whatever  package of more powers is agreed by the Smith Commission, if that doesn’t include welfare means they will be missing a trick.

It’s ridiculous that the Scottish Government has spent £35m on mitigating the bedroom tax. To any reasonable person, £35m is a lot of money better spent on tackling the problem rather than damage control for Westminster’s precarious welfare reform.

We know that devolution as it stands just isn’t working for Scotland.

It’s no wonder that member  of the campaign steering group, the Very Rev Dr Alison Elliot, a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, stated that Scotland currently “isn’t doing devolution properly”.

So, while I hope for the best that the Smith Commission delivers a  meaningful home rule settlement for Scotland, I sadly think it just won’t go far enough when you have Labour Party leader hopeful such as Jim Murphy resisting even devolution of income tax, totally out of touch with public opinion. Perhaps that’s why his party is now polling as low as 23% for Westminster election.

That’s why I think the campaign for Scottish Home Rule may be onto some thing, they are about to launch a consultation process to hear what powers included in Schedule 5 of the 1998 act people think should be devolved, or the justification for them remaining at Westminster.

It will be interesting to see how the political parties as well as the Smith  Commission respond to this, but as steering group member and former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson said at the launch of the campaign, ‘now is the time to build a bridge not dig a trench’.

This is too big and too important to be left just to politicians, that’s why I think this campaigns sensible moves to establish clear principles for a home rule settlement across the political spectrum and civic Scotland are a welcome step in the right direction.

To find out more go to www.homerule.scot



Categories: Commentary

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16 replies

  1. A careful read of Jim and Margaret Cuthbert’s article posted earlier in Bella raises concerns about the simplicity of the issues as presented here. The tax situation could – if not carefully considered – prove to be a fiscal trap, with many more important responsibilities taken on but not the fiscal levers to properly manage the required income and thus the resonsibilities that fall from such powers.

  2. Meaningless rhetoric coming from McLeish. They had all the time in the world, or at least 3 years solid, to have put forward meaningful proposals but opposed any action.
    it is downright insulting for Labour Noes to have any real place in the discussion, it carries no respect or credibility.

  3. I agree with you regarding what you call ‘the golden nugget’. My worry is with the constitutional aspect. To my mind, one of the main reasons why the UK has never had a written constitution is because there are basically two constitutions at work within the Union framework, and they are incompatible with each other. To put it simply, if somewhat schematically, within the UK there is one set of constitutional assumptions which is typically ‘Scottish’ and another which is basically ‘English’. Both these views have very long – pre-Union (pre-1707) – roots, and the Act of Union, which was mainly a Commercial Treaty, chose simply to ignore them. There has never been any attempt to reconcile these two different sets of assumptions, since that would be a messy and dangerous thing to do. Dangerous even to the Union, which prefers just to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’, rather than stir up something that might cause it all kinds of trouble.
    The ‘Scottish’ assumption, which I believe goes all the way back into the Middle Ages, is that the people are sovereign. This was certainly articulated during the Renaissance, but I think it was present a good two or three centuries before then. Demonstrating this has yet to be done, but I think it is possible, though it would take a long argument and much research to convince the academics.
    The ‘English’ assumption is quite different, namely that it is the King or, later, the King-in-Parliament or, finally, in more recent times, in practice (but still not in theory), the Parliament itself which is sovereign. Even when the elected part of the parliament – the Commons – became increasingly powerful, sovereignty still lay with the Parliament rather than with ‘the People’.
    To me, the sovereignty of the people is the only rational basis for government, whether in England, or Scotland or anywhere else. In England, however – or so it seems to me – the people give away, or even willingly ‘lose’ their sovereignty to their parliamentarians. You might say that they do so freely – by their own choice – therefore what they are doing is not invalid (though, from another angle, it might be irresponsible!). In Scotland, they don’t. Even as the parliament sits, and acts, the people of Scotland are still sovereign. The parliament does not lord it over us …
    Even the authority of medieval Scottish kings might have been conceived in this way – they never quite had the kind of authority that English kings had in England, or were shown the same degree of deference.

    The distinction between these two views is subtle, but it makes a big difference, not least in terms of underlying political attititudes. These are cultural facts which people hardly notice, but in my view, they really do play, creating two distinctive political cultures. My fear is that if we go for a written ‘British’ constitution, what I have called ‘English’ assumptions will prevail over ‘Scottish’ ones.
    The ‘anglicisation’ of Scottish politics is just what the Unionists would like best, and modern-day Unionism, even in Scotland, probably tends towards the English rather than the Scottish view anyway.
    In fact, insofar as there is a ‘British constitution’ it operates on essentially English rather than Scottish principles, and the last thing we want is to get these written down and put on the statute book as if they were cast in stone.
    What we really need, of course, is two constitutions – and two different states. That implies independence (which would be my option) but is not in fact incompatible with a Federal-style Union. Federalism not only permits but enshrines difference, and allows full freedom to the historical particularity of each of the entities that are included.
    Westminster, however, as presently constituted, is quite unable to embrace Federalism, or even anything ‘near’ it (no matter what Gordon Brown claimed in the final run-up to the referendum). Even his own recent proposals don’t come anywhere near the ‘near-Federalism’ he told us was a ‘done deal’. For the moment, the vagueness and unwritten nature of the ‘British Constitution’ serves us well in Scotland. It prevents the numerically greater part of the Union from stifling and suppressing the Scottish (constitutional) distinctiveness. If we try to get some kind of written constitution, in present circumstances, be assured that such suppression will be the main objective of all the Westminster parties (even the LibDems will go along with it, despite their avowals to be a pro-Federal party), and they will almost certainly succeed.

    Please note, also, the presence of Professor Adam Tomkins on the Smith Commission, for the Tories. He is a very bright boy – don’t underestimate him – essentially an English constitutional lawyer (I am using shorthand) living in Scotland and teaching at an ancient Scottish University, who blogs not from Scotland, but from North Britain. He has not been placed on that Commission for nothing, and deserves to be treated with every respect: that is, be wary of tangling with him, unless you are sure you can take him on (mere bluster will be shredded, and will not do!). There is no one else on that Commission to match him, especially on constitutional matters. The SNP and the wider ‘Yes’ movement – alas! – no longer have a Neil MacCormick to fight the cause, which would at least even up the contest.

    If we try to negotiate a written constitution we need heavy-weights in our corner – but where are they? If we lack them, this is not yet the time to go into the ring. Avoid pitched battles is old and good advice … unless you are sure can win them! On the topic of which, let me add that even holding a referendum was a huge risk, because it was indeed a ‘pitched battle’. On the surface it looks as if ‘Yes’ lost, but in fact it seems to have ‘won’. The battle turned into a campaign, and it has transformed what was very much a minority opinion into a mass movement, which shows many signs of growing and none of going away. Although not yet complete, the ‘Yes’ campaign was intrinsically ‘Scottish’, as a real expression of the innate sense that the people are indeed sovereign.
    The ‘No’ campaign thought that all it had to do was win, after which everyone would see that as the matter closed and go back to bed: they would leave everything over to the winners whom they had accepted as their political masters (simply by voting for them, or for what they wanted). David Cameron, as the winner, therefore thought he could say anything he liked the day after the referendum, because he thought the result meant that all power over Scotland remained in his hands. This can be understood as an expression of the ‘English’ constitutional assumptions at work, albeit in a referendum context. Yet it is not turning out that way. The referendum has not put the issue to bed for a generation. To the contrary, it has ignited it within the hearts of the people, and the fire is still blazing, and still spreading. Yes, the people really ARE sovereign in Scotland ……

  4. Reading all this stuff about “Home Rule” prompts the same question in my mind as other talk of “more powers”. Why? What is the purpose? And I cannot help but conclude that the purpose of all this flailing around trying to discover that elusive magic devolution formula has precious little to do with concern for democracy and good governance and a great deal to do with desperate efforts to preserve the structures of power and privilege which define the British state.

    Jennifer Dempsie gets all excited about the prospect of a presumption in favour of devolution. But if such a presumption is good in principle then why stop there? A presumption in favour of devolution is merely a timid, watered-down version of the truly fundamental principle that ALL powers pertaining to the government of Scotland should lie with the Scottish Parliament and that only the people of Scotland have the legitimate authority to limit or transfer those powers.

    It is time to acknowledge that devolution is dead. The reason that the Smith Commission and all the rest are having so much difficulty formulating a viable devolution settlement is that there is no viable devolution settlement. There is no form of devolution which does not immediately beg the question, why this and not more? Why these powers and not those?

    More importantly, there is no devolution settlement which does not leave unresolved the issue of who decides which powers are devolved and which are reserved. It will never be satisfactory for such decisions to be in the hands of British politicians in Westminster because this runs counter to the principle of popular sovereignty. And the only way such decisions can be fully and irrevocably vested in the people of Scotland – subject only to the terms of a written constitution – is with full independence.

    • Can I just say….WELL SAID….!!

      It will always come down to who has the final say and I find it very hard to except that Westminster will surrender that power willingly.

    • “Reading all this stuff about “Home Rule” prompts the same question in my mind as other talk of “more powers”. Why? What is the purpose? ”

      Because we lost the referendum Peter. Scots voted against independence. Like you I wish it had been YES but there’s no point putting our heads in the sand and pretending those who voted NO dont count. So until there is a Scottish Government elected on a mandate to hold another independence referendum – which may be in 2016 or more likely in 2020 – we should press hard for the full powers of Home Rule.

      KW

      • I agree with you Kevin. I hope we are not seeing the resurgence of fundamentalism among some of the members of the SNP. They would be forgetting that we are only in this position, having just narrowly lost a referendum on independence, because of the gradualist strategy. We did lose the referendum. Fighting this lost battle again is the sure fire way to keep losing in the future. I would support any scheme/programme that delivered substantial new powers for the Scottish parliament, provided there was no traps or obstacles to independence, if that is desired by the majority in the future.

      • “Like you I wish it had been YES but there’s no point putting our heads in the sand and pretending those who voted NO dont count.”

        And I think there’s no point putting our heads in the sand and pretending that we’ll get even a fraction of the powers Scotland needs to thrive. I entirely agree that we should continue pressing for Home Rule – but I remain extremely unconvinced that this is remotely an option given the people we are working with.

        Pressing for Home Rule is win-win, as far as I see it: either Westminster goes completely against type and does devolve significant powers (welfare, tax, broadcasting), or it makes a mockery of the sovereign will of the Scottish people, and further proves the point that only independence can deliver the powers Scots desire.

  5. Home Rule.The Scottish Parliament is responsible for everything except foreign affairs and defence.Westminster sends Holyrood a bill to cover these two things.Whats to discuss?

    • @Mealer – EXACTLY!!! Well said. Just another bunch of time wasters jumping on the bandwagon. They should have got on the Yes one and encouraged others to do so.

  6. I agree with Mike at 12.58, we lost the referendum and must now push for Home Rule, essentially the same level of economic independence we would have got with a yes vote, in order to build the confidence of the No voters and show them that we are perfectly capable of running our own affairs like other small European nations; then go for a second referendum probably after 2020.

    But I also agree with Douglas Robertson at 12.11, we should pay very careful attention to Jim and Margaret Cuthbert’s contribution. Devo-a-bit-mair is a trap, which will very likely lead to the outcome all the parties in England want- a drastic reduction of Scottish public expenditure per capita to around the UK average. This is true whether it’s a wee bit mair or a big bit.

    It’s also true for full fiscal autonomy, which nonetheless I support for the reasons above, to build confidence (and also because as a nation fiscal transfers should be across regions inside our nation, not to or from outside it). Though I support it, without a just settlement of liabilities, including UK liability for mis-selling us on oil- without which Jim and Margaret calculate we would be at least £148billion in surplus, not £80 billion or whatever in debt- we could get a real doing in terms of public expenditure (i.e. if oil prices remain low, we still have to pay £6billion a year to rUK for debt share etc.)

    However the No Campaign’s so-called ‘union dividend’ was actually a promise to subsidise, in their terms, Scotland to the tune of £7billion a year and rising (on the basis of their oil etc. calculations) so even a partially just settlement of the oil rip-off which led to Scotland sending 45% of its total non-oil GDP a year down to Thatcher, i.e. no debt, UK pays oil clean up costs, might not cost rUK more than what they promised us to secure the No vote, and would be absolutely essential to avoid fiscal disaster if we were able to negotiate anything like full fiscal autonomy. (All this assumes a favourable outcome in May of course. The Smith commission will give us half a chocolate frog and a picture of a deid horse, at best.)

  7. We never lost, we came second against the option of apathy stoked into a glow by angst. Now we have to let Westminster save ‘face’ in the conundrum it has set itself. Once it considers that is done, independence will come.

    It’s a ‘track’ well used by Westminster.

  8. Anything with McLeish in it is a straight forward con. He’s been on the fence so long he has a post wedged up his arse. This ;Home Rule’ meme is another smoke and mirrors mime act leading nowhere…ask the Lib Dems!

    Please ignore it and concentrate on the slightly more pressing non- event that is the Smith commission…at least it has some immediate ‘recommendations’ to deliver.

    No doubt they will be half thought out garbage, but at least it gives us traction with which to launch the next attack on the Union.

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