Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lib Dem News says Galloway a curiosity, rather than a serious candidate

I love Lib Dem News. Even though I can find out a lot of things going on in the party from other sources, it still tells me things I don't know.

In order to get out for Friday, though, the party paper's deadline has to be before the election results come through on a Thursday night/Friday morning. This week that was patently obvious.

On the Bradford West by-election, the writer of the "Jeanette says thank you" article had this to say about new MP George Galloway:
"The election was livened up by George Galloway, whose attention seeking actions made him a natural for the protest vote, but essentially he served as a curiosity rather than a serious candidate."
Remember President Dewey, anyone?

Well, the Chicago Tribune survives to this day, and so will Lib Dem News, but you have to admit it's funny.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Saying farewell to a lovely, clever, Liberal Democrat - RIP Dave Herbert

By the time you read this, I'll be in Dunfermline at the funeral of one of the first people I ever met in the local Liberal Democrats. Dave Herbert, Councillor for Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay, passed away last Friday.

Dave was a really clever man. He could explain difficult concepts in a way people could understand, but was never patronising about it. He was gentle and kind and worked so hard. Even when his health was getting worse he'd push himself to make sure he did his best for the people he represented. He was wise and calm and was such a good person to have around. We will miss him so much. The tributes paid to him in this week's Courier show how well he was regarded across the political spectrum.

In 2005, not long after I first met him, he had the good sense to marry Gladys and they have been fabulous together these last almost seven years. Gladys was one of only two people who were name checked in Willie Rennie's speech when he won the Dunfermline by-election. She'd never been involved in politics before, but she just got stuck in and was a very popular member of the front of house team at the by-election and subsequently organised all manner of dinners and fundraising events. She's an amazing woman and my thoughts and love are with her today.

Ian Liddell-Grainger shames the fluffy blogosphere

Animal bloggers are not that unusual. We have the eclectic Pink Dog and the ever wise Elephant for example, who bring joy, randomness and good sense to the internet.

However, Ian Liddell-Grainger, Conservative MP for Bridgewater in Somerset, allows an extremely ill-mannered cat to write a blog on his website, as Mark Pack showed us over at Lib Dem Voice yesterday. General rudeness aside, publishing a correspondent's home address without permission and in fact against their express wishes is way out of order. 

Liberal England points out what a lucky escape we have had - Liddell-Granger could be our King and Mogg would have the same status as the current royal corgis. Perish the thought.

But Mogg  really is letting the side down. 

Just out of interest, though, I wonder if this cat is in any way related to another reasonably local Mogg.

If Labour can't hold a seat in opposition, what hope is there for Miliband?

I went to bed last night not really believing rumours on Twitter that George Galloway had eased out Labour in the Bradford West by-election in a closely fought contest.

I wondered allowed if this was Labour talking his chances up in order to look good when they won the seat.

Actually not. When the result came through it wasn't close at all. The showman, probably best known for his cringe inducing portrayal of a cat on Celebrity Big Brother, gave Ed Miliband's Labour a bit of a spanking, winning by over 10,000 votes and 56% of the poll  Anyone who's been to a count will understand that that result would have been glaringly obvious to observers within half an hour of the polls closing.

In a week when the Government has really had some challenges on pensioners' tax allowance, pasty tax and the self inflicted own goal on petrol, Labour should have walked this by-election without even bothering. They didn't though. That might have been something to do with the fact that, despite making a  whole load of noise about George Osborne cutting the top rate of tax from 50 to 45p, Labour failed to vote against it this week, as Mark Pack showed.

This result will shine an even bigger spotlight on Ed Miliband's leadership. More activists will likely be Losing Faith as Alex Hilton powerfully wrote on Labour List recently.

There's no point in pretending that this was a great result for the Liberal Democrats, but it's consistent with the sorts of results we've been getting in seats like Bradford West before the Coalition was a twinkle in anyone's eye. I'm disappointed that we couldn't just have squeaked another 0.41% to retain our deposit, though but it's still a higher vote share than we got in 2008 in Glenrothes. I'm more encouraged by the weekly reports of Liberal Democrat wins in local government by-elections across the country including a victory in Burbage Parish Council in Hinckley and Bosworth, Leicestershire last night. That sort of steady progress tells you more about what is really going on.

One thing that absolutely disgusted me, though, was Galloway's reference to his victory today as the Bradford Spring. To equate it with the atrocities perpetrated by regimes across the Arab worlds surely shows a lack of, for want of a better word, Respect.

There is a certain irony in that Galloway's victory comes in the week of the 30th anniversary of the Glasgow Hillhead by-election which saw the SDP's Roy Jenkins returned to the Commons. Galloway wasn't a candidate then, but he won the seat back for Labour at the 1987 General Election.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Face cream and Farron

They say be careful what you wish for, because you might get it. I wonder if that's how Jonathan Calder is feeling today. Way back last September he said he wanted to hear much beloved Party President Tim Farron make an unpopular speech.  I disagreed with Jonathan at the time because I felt that Tim was hardly a shrinking violet at saying what he thought, especially as he'd waded into the most controversial debate at Scottish Conference when he was seeking election.

Well, our Beloved President has really been and gone and done it now. He's only teamed up with another couple of Christian MPs and written to the Advertising Standards Authority demanding that they overturn a ban on an advert claiming that God heals. Total Politics have printed the letter in full, and it contains much which makes me cringe:
You might be interested to know that I (Gary Streeter) received divine healing myself at a church meeting in 1983 on my right hand, which was in pain for many years. After prayer at that meeting, my hand was immediately free from pain and has been ever since. What does the ASA say about that? I would be the first to accept that prayed for people do not always get healed, but sometimes they do. That is all this sincere group of Christians in Bath are claiming.
It is interesting to note that since the traumatic collapse of the footballer Fabrice Muamba the whole nation appears to be praying for a physical healing for him. I enclose some media extracts. Are they wrong also and will you seek to intervene?
If I were a betting woman, I'd put my money on Muamba's life being saved due to appropriate and immediate medical attention we know is crucial in cases of cardiac arrest rather than divine intervention for a start. And media reports that some people were praying for the footballer are not advertisements. The worst bit of the letter for me, though, is the idea that because healing is faith based, there should be less of a burden of proof on claims made by religious organisations. Surely rules, or the law, have to treat everybody equally and if your claim can't be proved, it shouldn't be made in the context of an advert.

Face cream and baby milk companies are serial offenders when it comes to getting advertisements banned for making misleading claims. Jo Swinson has had a hat trick of victories against cosmetics giant L'Oreal and Nutricia and Danone have both had to change ads for formula because of claims that cannot be verified. Changing the paramters to allowing adverts based on the belief that something worked would deny the public the protection from unscrupulous advertisers that it deserves.

If I buy something that claims to work in a certain way, I expect it to work in that way. Not even the most passionate advocates of faith healing would suggest that if you ask for healing you would get it. If it were, we wouldn't need to spend billions on health care. There currently exists absolutely zero proof that even if God exists, this supreme being can heal the sick. And the onus is on the person making the claim to substantiate it. That's how our justice system is based - the prosecution has to prove that the accused is guilty of the crime, it's not the job of the accused to prove that they didn't do it. I worry, too, that lack of healing might lead people to think that they were in some way inadequate, that it was their fault for not being good enough, or faithful enough. You have to also take note of evidence from the New York Times that prayer can actually make things worse for the person being prayed for, even if it makes the people doing the praying feel better.

So, we've established that I think Tim and the other members of the All Party Christian Group are talking mince, to put it politely, on this. Jennie puts it so much better, in her own inimitable style. Martin Robbins in the Guardian is really quite cruel about it, but it's undeniable he has a point.

I was not impressed to see, however, people basically saying that Tim should not say these things because he's Party President. Don't get me wrong, if he'd done it as Party President, in my name, I'd have been first in the queue at his office door in a blind fury. But he didn't. He was doing it in a completely different capacity.

We say that we don't like identikit political clones who never say anything interesting - but then we jump down the throat of anyone who comes out with something controversial that we don't agree with. We really can't have it both ways. I would much rather my politicians to be human beings who speak their mind - even if they occasionally, in my view, get it hopelessly wrong.

In some ways, it's good that Farron and Co have brought this up - because it draws attention to the issue and the huge amounts of material out there refuting the idea and showing it to be based on no evidence whatsoever.

The controversy should have no bearing on his performance as President, which is pretty darned good. Mark Valladares over at Lib Dem Voice raised the issue of Tim's CARE interns. I will do my utmost to argue against any organisation which has any truck with the idea that gay people can or should be "cured", but there's something about showing them the sort of tolerance they fail to show to others that makes me wonder if it's so bad to engage with them in that way. I think that a spell in the liberal, questioning environment of a Lib Dem office and the exposure to Lib Dem ideas might just be good for the young people involved. That said, I don't feel comfortable with the idea at all.

And, finally, Mr Calder has realised he's finally got what he wished for and made some very wise observations on the issue of faith healing.

And, really finally this time, amid all the talk of face cream, this article on the BBC News website, entitled "Chocolate 'may help keep people slim'" amused me. It's a balanced piece of reporting, with fruit and vegetables not mentioned until the end. Clearly I'm not eating enough of the stuff and Mark Pack is. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Jo Swinson calls for responsible reporting of eating disorders

Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire, Jo Swinson has called for the media to be more responsible in the way they report eating disorders as the Herald reports today.

She believes that there should be similar practice as for the reporting of suicide, where the details of how someone takes their life are not written about in detail. That's not just out of common decency and taste and respect but to avoid people copying specific details of methods.

I think she has a point, specifically as families of people who have been very ill with eating disorders have said that they've used media stories showing skeletal figures as something aspirational.

Jo wants the media to abide by guidelines published by Beat eating disorders charity. There's some good stuff in there which can teach all of us about eating disorders. I was struck by the study of Fiji, where women were quite comfortable with their bodies until US tv with super skinny body images took hold. Lo and behold, eating disorders developed. With that sort of effect, the media does have to behave responsibly.

Media Minister Ed Vaizey agreed to meet with Jo after she raised this with him in the Commons yesterday. I felt he was a bit lukewarm in his response to her, but Jo won't let that phase her - she takes people on and wins, as she has now on several occasions with cosmetics giant L'Oreal.

The Conference Accreditation row slumbers no more

Remember that stooshie we had over the blatantly illiberal and actually discriminatory Conference Accreditation system for last year's Autumn event in Birmingham? For a refresher, have a look at the speech I would have made in the debate about it had I been there on time.

Well, that can of worms has been opened again by way of a BBC behind the scenes programme which followed the Police as they provided the security for the Conference. We saw a policeman fill and charge 2 stone worth of armoury before she went out on her shift. We saw the Police helicopter in action. We saw police in the water feeling the hulls of boats and going down the drains, all 750 of them. While we accept the need for physical security - after all, we do have some sense of self preservation, there was something quite sinister in that this programme, in the words of its presenter, was sending a strong message to Al Qaeda and their mates not to mess with our Conferences.  'Cos, obviously, BBC daytime TV is quite big in the terrorist training camps. You can watch the programme here.

You can tell where Liberal Democrats get their information from, because it the programme concerned was broadcast on daytime TV last Friday, yet it's only once it's reviewed in Private Eye that we notice.

It still upsets me greatly how easily our Federal Conference Committee buckled to what were unreasonable Police demands. Benjamin Franklin had a point when he said: Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Both Gareth Epps and Jonathan Calder have already posted about this and I agree with their comments. That programme sent the message to people in this country that political activity can be dangerous and must be heavily protected. That's not an altogether healthy message. Getting that balance right, making sure our liberties and values are not compromised, being sensible and proportionate is really, really important. We allowed our eye to be taken off that ball last year and it must not happen again.

There are FCC elections this year and I'm sure this issue will come into play. What I would say, though, is that we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Only one person, Justine McGuinness, voted against accreditation. There are lots of good people on that Committee who took a different view but who can be relied upon not to buckle to the Parliamentarians on policy motions. We need to keep that balance in mind when we're voting and not throw good people off just because of this.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My unhappiness with Danny Alexander....

...or his diary secretary, whoever they may be, knows no bounds right now.

Not that this is any of their fault, but I want to have a moan.

Right now, I should be out having dinner with my husband while Anna is at the cinema with her friend watching a preview screening of the Hunger Games. This is the latest teen sensation movie. Its subject matter is very, very dark and a reminder of why you need liberal values and people willing to fight for them. The kids have read all 3 books in the series and are engrossed in it.

So, Bob took them down in time for the start at 7:45 because I was busy listening to Danny Alexander's brilliant webinar on the Budget.  It had never occurred to me that the kids would need ID. They're obviously 12, Anna was wearing her school uniform still - and you can't get into secondary school up here unless you're 12. They were accompanied by an adult who could vouch for their age, but they still weren't allowed to go into the cinema unaccompanied. So, poor Bob, who hasn't had anything to eat, had to go in with them.

Now, if that Danny Alexander webinar had been an hour earlier, I'd have been able to take the girls down and I would have had Anna's passport in my handbag because we're off to Cardiff tomorrow for the Doctor Who convention. Her friend had her Young Scot card with her so she'd have been fine. And Bob and I would have been sitting together in Wagamama now over a yaki soba and some white chocolate chilli cheesecake.

Yes, I know that this is down to my own incompetence. I guess I'm just not used to this whole ID thing. She's seen 12A films before, but always with me. It's not a mistake I'll be making again, you can count on that.

On the upside, Danny was really good tonight. Relaxed, friendly, insightful, informative. The Party has to do more of these sorts of events with different ministers and key figures. Why not one with Lynne Featherstone during the Equal Marriage consultation, for example? Or with Shirley Williams just because she's her?

The other star of tonight? If Helen Duffett does not replace Dimbleby on Question Time, I'll be very disappointed. She was very good at making the whole thing sound exciting - and I liked the interactive polls that went on through it.

Seriously, if you think that this week's efforts on internal comms have been good, please let the people in the party who influence such things know. Farron would be a good place to start as would Chief Executive Tim Gordon ( Fill their inboxes up with happiness.

The Budget - a triumph for Liberal Democrat internal communications people

Danny Alexander talking right now to Party Members

I have got to say, I think the party has been fantastic in the way it's been getting information out to members about the Budget.

I still wake up in a cold sweat at the memory of some of the horrendous e-mails that went out in the early days of the Coalition, but these days I'm having more and more confidence that when I see a party e-mail in my inbox, all stress toys within the vicinity will be safe and the information within it will be useful.

The Party has bent over backwards to make sure that we have the information we need when we need it. No, I'm not going to tell you all that they've done, but there has been a willingness on the part of some Very Important Bubble People to actually talk to scumbags and lowlife like me to explain the thinking behind some of the stuff.

What was really good was an e-mail dropping in to our inboxes just in time for people going out canvassing tonight with detailed information on the age related allowances as the "Granny Tax" is more appropriately called. The only thing it didn't have in it was to say that Labour had been freezing this allowance themselves for their last couple of years in office as Sara wrote on Liberal Democrat Voice, but it was probably all written by the time that post went up. And if our friendly bureaucrat had got his post out earlier, then they might have been able to include his conclusion that nobody is going to really lose out because those on higher incomes don't get the allowances, those on the lowest don't pay tax and those in between will have their losses more than made up by the additional state pension.

And I'm just about to log into a "webinar" with Danny Alexander - just me and 1000 Liberal Democrat members from around the country.

So, I'm feeling kind of snuggly and cuddled and appreciated by the party at the moment. I only wish they'd thought about this for the Health Bill or the Welfare Reform Bill - we might have spared ourselves some resignations. I'm really feeling that them inside the Bubble are getting what we need to know and bothering to give it to us.

I suggested back in January that the party take note of what was happening for Obama's State of the Union and it seems that they have taken note. They've done really well on this. They can maybe think about how to extend it to engaging with the general public. So far in this webinar, Danny Alexander hasn't said anything he couldn't say in public, so maybe at least bits of it could find their way onto You Tube?

So, a big thank you and promise of ice cream and/or alcohol to everybody who has been involved in this excellent effort.

My Bob and the "Granny Tax"

My dear husband is not a Granny. And he'd better not be a Grandad for a very long time to come, given that our daughter is not yet a teenager. He is of an age to be affected by the so called "Granny Tax" eventually.

Now, you might, if you wish, feel a bit of sympathy for poor Bob. It must feel sometimes like George Osborne has pulled his name out of a hat and decided just to chip away at his income.

First he decided that in the year Bob reaches 65, the State Pension age will go up to 66 .

Then Gideon took his Child Benefit away, or will, briefly, due to a brief pre retirement spell at higher rate tax, the first such time in his life.

And now, he's going to have to get by on the same personal tax allowance as everyone else. He won't get an extra tax allowance for being over 65. When the starting point for paying tax was as low as five or six thousand, that was fair enough - but is a differential necessary when the tax threshold is significantly higher?

The figure I heard bandied about on the so called "Granny Tax" (what a cynical name, and patronising in the extreme) was that people stood to lose £83 a year. That's around £1.60 a week. This year alone, Lib Dem Pensions Minister Steve Webb, by virtue of his Triple Lock, has raised the State Pension by the biggest cash amount ever, £5.30 a week. In addition, pensioners will be getting £140 a week in a couple of years' time, up from the current round about £100 per week in State Pension.It's worth saying, too, that people who only have the State Pension to live on don't pay tax anyway. Pensioners also get free bus travel and a Winter Fuel Allowance from age 60 that many of them, including us, don't actually need.

Bob certainly grumbled about having to wait an extra year for his Pension, but he sees it as a necessary evil. He's also not wildly chuffed about losing Child Benefit especially when people who earn significantly more than he does will still get it. And the business of the tax allowance has barely bothered him at all. You see, he's heard me go on incessantly for the last year about how the sick and disabled are losing their benefits. When there simply isn't any spare cash for the Government to play with, the hit he's being told he has to take does not seem unreasonable to him. He might grumble a little, but he knows it's better than the alternative. And, unlike most pensioners, he's seeing it in the context of having to put a child through university when he retires. Mind you, I think he's banking on his much younger wife writing a best seller by then...

This whole "Granny Tax" furore, is inflated hyperbole and that relatively innocuous measure needs to be seen in context with the other benefits that pensioners have gained from the Liberal Democrat influence in this Government.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Budget slashes income tax for lowest paid and boosts key Scottish industry

There you have it. The front page of the Lib Dem manifesto from 2010. The very top priority, of raising the tax threshold to £10,000. By rights, if we were doing it in equal instalments, the tax threshold would have been raised to something like £8700 today. Lib Dem ministers, aware that people are struggling with increased costs, managed to successfully argue for a much bigger rise to £9205. In Scotland, that's 160,000 Scots out of Income Tax altogether and 2.1 million Scots getting a  tax cut. Across 

It's good stuff.

We were always going to take a beating for allowing the Tories to cut the highest rate of tax from 50p. However, I don't think we should be taking lectures from a Labour party who only introduced the  rate in the first place at the very tail end of their 13 years in office. Even next year that rate will still be 45%. The tax system Labour presided over allowed a super rich banker's marginal rate of taxation to be less than that of his cleaner on the minimum wage. In contrast, in this Budget, those on higher incomes will still be paying more tax with the Stamp Duty and Capital Gains measures.Those on incomes of more than £150,000 will be paying on average £1300 a year more in tax. Ultimately, this budget will yield five times more in taxes from the wealthy than the current situation.

If the Tories were governing alone, they'd have got rid of that 50p rate 2 years ago, they would have slashed Inheritance Tax and brought in their ridiculous marriage tax break. On tax, it's clearly the Liberal Democrats who are winning the arguments within the Coalition. 

It's also worth noting that the second pledge on that Lib Dem Manifesto, the Pupil Premium, is now implemented in both England and Wales. Maybe Willie Rennie should think about campaigning for it up here.

I still feel that I want more information on the rationale behind freezing the personal allowances for the over 65s. Thankfully, I'll have the chance to find out because I'm taking part in a special online Q and A with Danny Alexander tomorrow night. It's for party members only, and there are a limited number of places, but if you want to see if there are any left, you can do so here.  Looking at it, though, pensioners are already £500 a year better off from our first two years in Coalition. They've just had the biggest ever rise in the State Pension due to the triple lock and all the things they get like the Winter Fuel Allowance (much to my annoyance, but that's another story) and cold weather payments are intact. There is no cash hit for pensioners as a result of the personal allowance thing and they are better off because of other things the Government has done.

In Scottish terms, I'm really pleased about the video gaming tax relief which will be a huge boost to the industry, mainly based in Dundee. You might remember that my Anna has been a junior judge at Abertay Uni's Dare Protoplay event for the past few years. Just as an aside, Swallowtail Games, one of last year's winners, won the BAFTA they were put up for. I'm thrilled about that because their game was fantastic and they were led by one of the few women in the competition. This tax relief helps them to develop.

Some Liberal Democrats will feel uneasy about the tax breaks to oil and gas companies, but for Scotland there's a specific benefit. We did upset the oil and gas sector a bit a couple of years ago with a tax hit, but the measures announced today will give them the confidence to explore fields west of Shetland. They can invest safe in the knowledge that they will have tax relief for the eventual decommissioning - and it also gives Scotland the chance to become a centre of excellence for the decommissioning process. 

Willie Rennie had this to say about the Budget:
“This budget shows the value of Liberal Democrats in Government.
 “Liberal Democrats have delivered tax cuts for hard working people – for millions, not millionaires.
 “The Liberal Democrats are making this a fair government, whilst getting the economy back on track.”  

Guest Post: Ross Finnie's submission to Sir Menzies Campbell's Home and Community Rule Commission

Ross Finnie was Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP to the West of Scotland from 1999-2011 and Rural Affairs Minister in the Scottish Cabinet from 1999-2007. He's shared his submission to the Campbell Commission with me. I've put an extract on Liberal Democrat Voice but I thought you might like to see the whole thing in all its glory.


In order to provide some context to my submission I begin by stating my position on Home Rule, what I have understood Home Rule to mean and the policy positions of the Party which I have supported.  I have always supported Home Rule. I have always understood Home Rule to involve a new constitutional settlement giving equal status to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and thereafter each nation would promote what each considered to be the most appropriate governance arrangements within a federal state. For Scotland that meant not just the establishment of a Scottish Parliament but the transfer of the maximum amount of legislative, administrative and financial powers consonant with being a nation within a federal state.

Like most Scottish Liberals, I supported the Party’s policy position as set out in Jenny Robinson’s 1976 pamphlet on Home Rule: Scottish Self-Government. I was one of the overwhelming majority who voted for the motion passed at the 1982 Conference in St Andrews calling for ” … the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, elected by proportional representation, within a Federal United Kingdom … .”  I was Chair of the Scottish Liberal Party when the policy pamphlet Scottish Self-Government was revised and updated by Jenny Robinson and Margo von Romberg prior to the 1983 General Election.

I was also one of many Party members who, long before Donald Dewar coined the phrase that Devolution was not an event but a process, believed that establishing a Scottish Parliament, as a priority, was a first step towards bringing about federal Home Rule. With the benefit of hindsight, I think that in our pursuit of a Scottish Parliament, Scottish Liberals and Scottish Liberal Democrats have seriously underplayed the critical advantages of federal Home Rule over Devolution, often deferring to a Devolution proposal and, as a consequence have failed to make the case for federal Home Rule. In support of that contention, I give my take on the recent history of Home Rule/Devolution to illustrate the Party’s apparent reluctance to press the federal Home Rule case.

In 1976 during the Lib-Lab Pact, George Mackie and Russell Johnston were tasked to improve what became the Scotland Act 1978 and they did. There is little if any evidence, however, of   a more federal Home Rule settlement ever being considered. Likewise, although the Scottish Constitutional Convention’s report of 1995 Scotland’s Parliament, Scotland’s Right formed the blueprint for the excellent Scotland Act 1988, Scottish Liberal Democrat submissions to the Convention, sought to build a consensus which had the unintended effect of playing down their federal Home Rule content. The result was that the Convention’s report effectively accepted the sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament and called for it to “ … move a special Declaration before passing the legislation creating the Scottish Parliament … that the Westminster Parliament will not remove or amend the Scottish Parliament without consulting directly the people of Scotland and the Scottish Parliament itself.”  A reasonable protection, perhaps, but one that would have been unnecessary under a federal Home Rule settlement.

Jim Wallace spotted the Devolution trend away from federal Home Rule when he established the Steel Commission in December 2003 with a remit “to consider [amongst other things] how to move forward to a fully federal structure for the United Kingdom … “  The report of the Steel Commission: Moving to Federalism- A New Settlement for Scotland was adopted as Party policy in 2006 and the 2007 manifesto, under its section on Governance, called for the development of the Steel Commission’s proposals and specifically “a new system of fiscal federalism”. The Party appeared to be back on a federal Home Rule track. Nicol Stephen’s attempts to move the debate forward on an all party basis, however, got subsumed by the drive of the then leader of the Labour Party, Wendy Alexander to take Devolution further and somehow take the steam out of the SNP. This led to the establishment of the Calman Commission in 2007 with a remit which restricted it to considering improvements to the Scotland Act 1988 thus precluding consideration of anything remotely resembling federal Home Rule.

The Party then proceeded to endorse the interim report of the Calman Commission at the 2009 Scottish Conference and the final report at the Federal Conference the same year with its proposals for substantial improvements to the Devolution settlement. Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government then introduced the Scotland Bill, currently passing through the Westminster Parliament, incorporating and in many cases improving the Calman recommendations. In particular, the proposed financial powers for the Scottish Parliament represent the biggest transfer of fiscal powers from Westminster in the history of the UK. Welcome though the transfer of powers is, it is still a transfer to a Parliament that is subsidiary to the (now hybrid) Westminster Parliament. Scotland Bill or no Scotland Bill, Scottish Liberal Democrats are still a very long way from achieving federal Home Rule.

The conclusion I draw from the last thirty six years or so is that unless the Party sets out with a single-minded determination to achieve a federal Home Rule settlement, and is not fobbed off with further variants of Devolution it will continue to make no progress towards achieving that goal. Yet, as I write this submission, leading Scottish Liberal Democrats, Tavish Scott and Jeremy Purvis, have announced they are to play leading roles in the “Devo-Plus” campaign which whilst it would develop Devolution very much further than Calman or the present Scotland Bill will  still leave the need for federal Home Rule unmet.

The case for the UK
I will not dwell on the case for the UK but given the current independence debate in Scotland I think it is dangerous simply to assume the continuation of the UK. Both Steel (P48-50) and Calman (P63-64), particularly Steel, provide a well argued case in favour of the UK which I support. The UK enjoys a very high level of political and social cohesion. It is interesting that the SNP talks increasingly of retaining this important social union.  Underpinning the current social and political union, however, is the fact that despite the diversity of our respective nations we are all part of the UK. It is difficult to see how the same degree of cohesion could be maintained in the long-run if Scotland were to become Independent.

In my opinion, the present level of social cohesion is sustained by the UK’s ability to direct economic resources to where they are most needed and to make common provision for pensions and social security for individuals in most need. Given the high degree of economic integration within the UK, I can see no case for separate monetary policy for Scotland: a point apparently ceded by the SNP. In an increasingly interdependent world, the UK punches above its weight and enjoys more influence in the EU, UN and NATO than would an independent Scotland. A common policy on Foreign Affairs allows the UK to have united armed forces supported by a network of Embassies prosecuting the UK’s foreign policy and promoting UK trade. None of that is compatible with an Independent Scotland

The Steel Commission describes the UK as (P48) “one of the great success stories of the world” but the same Commission and later the Calman Commission pointed to serious flaws in the Devolution settlement including: the absence of an English dimension in a quasi-federal structure; a lack of constitutional equivalence as between the nations of the UK; and funding arrangements for the Devolved Parliament and Assemblies that lack accountability and control. I believe there is a powerful case for the UK but I also believe the present constitutional arrangements are unsustainable in the long-run.  

The case for a federal UK

I believe federal Home Rule offers the most logical basis for: modernising the UK’s antiquated and inadequate constitutional arrangements and thereby providing a stable platform for the future of the UK; giving equivalence of status amongst Scotland; England, Wales and Northern Ireland; allowing the respective nations to determine their own governance arrangements in a federal structure; and allowing each nation to have economic and fiscal powers consonant with that federal structure

A new written constitution
 Liberals and Liberal Democrats have consistently argued for the UK having a written constitution. It is not a topic that generates much public interest but in the context of the prospective referendum on independence it should. The threat of the UK’s current constitutional arrangements being undone by Scotland voting for Independence is real and, in my opinion, it is in everyone’s interest to consider not only whether our present constitutional arrangements are adequate in general terms but also whether they are adequate to resist the threat of Independence.

Scotland is a Nation: that is not in dispute. In common with many Liberal Democrats I make the same distinction, as was frequently made by Russell Johnston, between the nation as the symbolic community which provides one’s feeling of identity, nationalism as an emotional commitment to a nation becoming a nation state and the nation state as a political formation which rules over a given territory defined by its boundaries. A Nation, however, should not be subject to another Nation but that is the current position of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland within the UK.As the Steel Commission points out (p45) “Scotland is not afforded the same level of constitutional protection through the Scotland Act as is seen in many federal states… …  It is unusual in that it confers ultimate power to Westminster.” It may be unusual but it is the consequence of our constitutional arrangements and where sovereignty lies.

The Calman Commission, provides a useful summary of the UK’s constitutional conventions (p50):  sovereignty resides in the Queen in Parliament but in practice in the Cabinet comprising Ministers appointed by the Queen and legislation is made by the Queen in Parliament giving rise to the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty vesting with the UK Parliament The importance of this doctrine was stressed last year by Lord Hope, Deputy President of the Supreme Court, when addressing the  question of competence of the   Scottish Parliament: (Axa General Insurance and ors v The Lord Advocate and ors para 46) “The United Kingdom Parliament has vested in the Scottish Parliament the authority to make laws that are  within its devolved competence. It is nevertheless a body to which decision making powers have been delegated. And it does not enjoy the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament that, as Lord Bingham Said … , is the bedrock of the British constitution. Sovereignty remains with the United Kingdom Parliament.”

Although Calman highlights the issue the Commission appears to be satisfied that the use of legislative consent motions (formerly the Sewell Convention) “is the way of reconciling the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty.” In my opinion legislative consent motions are a hopelessly inadequate response to a serious flaw in our current arrangements. It may be that in practice the UK has not legislated in areas of the Scottish Parliament’s competence without recourse to legislative consent motions but the fact remains it is an unsatisfactory and in my opinion unsustainable arrangement. The Scottish Liberal Party policy pamphlet, Scottish Self Government was more blunt: “Scottish Liberals have never accepted the artificial unionist state which was imposed on Scotland in 1707…”  Our policy “… is for a revised Treaty of Union which would create a new federal relationship between the countries of the United Kingdom.” 
I believe there is an urgent need for there to be a new written constitution that recognises the geographic and cultural diversity of the nations of the United Kingdom As a minimum, (based on Liberal Democrat Policy Paper 40 as developed by the Steel Commission) the constitution should:  
(i)            establish the federal institutions of the United Kingdom as being a UK Parliament as the
federal state parliament and the parliaments/assemblies of the respective nations as the national parliaments/assemblies each ranking pari passu one to another;
(ii)           set out the right to self-determination of the peoples of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland;
(iii)          set, the powers and limits of the federal institutions, the specific powers reserved to the UK Parliament, the powers that are subject to formal partnership working, the powers of the respective cabinets, judges, courts and the Head of State; and
(iv)         entrench the Human Rights Act and the independence of local government.

I recognise that at least three major political problems are raised by this proposal: the call for a written constitution; the suggestion that there needs to be an English Parliament; and the creation of an asymmetric federal structure. Clearly, it is not our place to frame a new constitution on our own far less is it our place to tell the English how they should be governed but that should not prevent us developing and proposing a federal settlement for the UK. As Murray Leith says in his chapter in The Little Yellow Book: “Simply put, the lack of a written constitution is a problem that the UK has not addressed, and it is one that the country must consider if it is to survive as a political entity in the 21st Century.

In practical terms, the “West Lothian Question” and all the English governance issues that are wrapped up in that phrase need to be resolved. Calls for more legislative and economic powers for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly will only exacerbate the problem. The notion that the problem can be resolved by either restricting the voting rights of  Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish MPs or further reducing their representation at Westminster whilst it remains the Sovereign Parliament is preposterous.

As regards an asymmetric federal structure, this was examined by the Steel Commission and it concluded (P45): “Asymmetric federalism is not unusual, both in terms of the varying size of the component units and variations in the levels of power and responsibility afforded to them. … there is clear evidence that asymmetric systems can work …”

It is imperative that the Commission works with our Liberal Democrat colleagues across the UK on its proposals on federal Home Rule. Our Liberal Democrat colleagues need to be fully engaged in the process and to understand that, in the Independence referendum debate, Liberal Democrats must be seen to campaigning for a constitutional settlement that meets the needs of the nations of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland for the 21st Century and beyond and puts the case for the continuation of the UK beyond doubt.

Internal and external relationships    

Both Steel and Calman report that the workings between the Scottish and UK Governments and between the Scottish and UK Governments and the EU operate satisfactorily. That they operate satisfactorily is, in my experience, entirely down to the hard work and goodwill of certain individuals both ministers and civil servants because the institutional arrangements are profoundly unsatisfactory. I say this as a former Scottish cabinet minister who over eight years attended some thirty meetings of the EU Council of Minister on environment, agriculture and fisheries business and met with UK ministers and ministers from the other devolved administrations on nearly fifty occasions.

The problem arises quite simply because UK ministers are just that. They are appointed by the Queen, must be appointed to the Privy Council, their civil servants serve a UK minister and the policies they prosecute are deemed to be the policies of the UK Government. That is quite proper for policy areas that are reserved but for Justice, health, sport, education, culture, enterprise, transport, housing, local government, environment agriculture forestry and fisheries it is not. When I was at meetings at Westminster, unsurprisingly the UK minister assumed his/her policy position was the UK position and the papers presented in support of a position were prepared by that minister’s civil servants who made the same erroneous assumptions.

This position was only exacerbated in the run-up to a meeting of the EU Council of Ministers where trying to impress upon the UK minister the need to agree a UK line was initially not helped by the UK Representation in Europe (“UKRep”) instinctively supporting the line presented by the UK minister. In order to try and overcome this problem a system (initiated by my department) was put in place whereby: the civil servants of all administrations met and prepared papers on matters under discussion at the EU Council, ministers from the UK and devolved administrations then met to agree the UK line and the UK minister then delivered that line with ministers from the devolved administrations in attendance.

This was not an easy process. Some ministers and civil servants at Westminster with whom I worked got the devolution point, others didn’t and some were even resistant to it. The whole process was too dependent upon the understanding and goodwill of individuals and a change in personnel, either minister or civil servant, could set it back. Although the Memorandum of Understanding, the Joint Ministerial Committee (“JMC”), and informal bilateral concordats between UK departments and the devolved administrations were in existence throughout both Liberal Democrat/Labour Coalitions they were regarded as mechanisms for dispute resolution notwithstanding their terms. Donald Dewar and Jim Wallace as First Minister and Depute First Minister and their successors encouraged ministers to deal directly with their opposite numbers and avoid resorting to formal dispute resolution mechanisms,

When the SNP minority Government came to power in 2007 the JMC had not met since 2002. The SNP accused the Coalition of having failed to “stand up for Scotland.” The truth was that despite some very real difficulties the Coalition had sought to cooperate - not pick a fight.

The fact is, however, that the fundamental problems largely associated with ministers having jurisdiction over only English policy being invested with the authority as the UK minister remain. Almost all of these problems would be greatly simplified if not resolved if we had a proper federal settlement. The constitution would provide for a proper separation of responsibilities as between UK ministers and ministers of the nations and regions and a mechanism for agreeing the UK position for EU meetings.

Legislative powers and responsibilities

I believe the Scotland Act 1998 is a good piece of legislation. Founded on the principles and proposals that emanated from the Scottish Constitutional Convention, it established the Scottish Parliament with a reasonable range of legislative and administrative powers and set out the boundaries between reserved and devolved competences. The competences have been extended particularly in terms of transport and, if the Scotland Bill is enacted then, as I understand it, the Parliament’s powers will be extended further to include: the administration of elections; control over air weapons; control over the misuse of drugs; the setting of drink driving limits and speed limits; rights over the appointment to the BBC trust and the appointment of the Scottish Crown Estates Commissioner; shared responsibilities over Insolvency; and the regulation of health professionals would become reserved.

Even with these further transfers of powers there are still areas where I believe the Scottish Parliament should be given competence including:
(a)  Medical Contracts where because of the considerable divergence in the method of delivery and incidence of private providers between Scotland and England it would make more sense for medical contracts to provide terms and conditions and levels of remuneration that reflected the outcomes and means of delivery expected in Scotland; and
(b)  Animal Health policy which is developed within Scotland but the funding is reserved which is anomalous whereas the control of exotic diseases whilst operated at a UK level on a partnership basis because the UK is a single epidemiological area and the funding needs to be reserved with access to the contingency fund in case of emergencies.
The Steel Commission called for (P67) a new constitutional category of Partnership Working. I think this a very neat solution for those areas where self-evidently there is a UK dimension but where nations and regions have a real interest the implementation of the policy. Some of the policy areas I consider as important candidates for Partnership Working include:
(a)  Transport Policy where the remaining transport powers call for coordination and should be a shared responsibility;
(b)  Energy Policy where Scotland needs to be able to promote renewable sources and must be able to share in the development of economic stimuli like carbon trading and the Renewables Obligations and influence the policy on grid strengthening and renewal;
(c)  Marine Policy which is largely regulated by the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009  and the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 but where there is a large measure of national interest in marine spatial planning, conservation and sea fisheries, a federal state interest in naval operations, merchant marine operations, offshore exploration, energy transmission and shared interests in marine conservation and protection;
(d)  Immigration which needs to be reserved but where account must be taken of differing economic and demographic needs of the nations and regions and where policies for dealing with asylum seekers must recognise the statutory framework operating within a nation or region;                                                                          
(e)  Strategic  planning of welfare  services which needs to take account of the very different levels of need identified within the nations and regions of the UK;
(f)   Crown Estate where until its anomalous position exercising rights over the sea bed without democratic accountability is resolved the directions between UK ministers and National ministers need to be shared. 

Steel and others have supported calls for a separate Scottish civil service. If we are to retain the UK, as I believe we should and we are promoting federalism, then there will be a federal state government and we will continue to have UKRep. Both of these institutions need to be supported by civil servants drawn from throughout the UK and I can see no reason why each part of the civil service should not continue to benefit from individuals transferring within the UK to the joint benefit of all concerned.

Economic Powers

Both Steel and Calman concluded that one of the major weaknesses of the current Devolution settlement is the lack of financial responsibility and accountability. Steel’s solution was to propose fiscal federalism whilst Calman proposed a considerable increase in the financial powers of the Scottish Parliament which, as noted in my Introduction, the Coalition Government at Westminster greatly improved at the instigation of the Liberal Democrats and incorporated into the Scotland Bill.

If, like me, you see federal Home Rule as the constitutional solution in legislative and administrative terms, then the logical extension of that argument is to see fiscal federalism is the economic solution. That has certainly been my understanding of the Scottish Liberal position over many years. It may not have been called “fiscal federalism” but that is what the policy amounted to, In 1982, Scottish Self-Government spoke of: “The independent right of the states to raise their own revenues … … the federal government would continue to control monetary policy … … all taxes, with the exception of Customs and Excise and possibly VAT, should be raised in Scotland … … a Joint Exchequer Board would agree Scotland’s contribution to the UK …”  As the Party’s economics spokesperson in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s I vividly recall supporting these policy positions.

More recently, Jeremy Purvis became the first Scottish Liberal Democrat to set out cogently the case for fiscal federalism in his pamphlet of that name and which formed an influential submission to the Steel Commission of which he was a member. I fully support the Steel Commission’s conclusion (P89) “that fiscal federalism will provide the best mixture of economic stability, financial and political accountability and scope for innovative action  … for the  economy”. Steel set out (P93-96) ”Principles of Fiscal Federalism for Scotland” with which I broadly agree and, more importantly, I think could be adapted to apply to the nations and regions of the UK in a broader federal settlement.

Equalisation and shared responsibilities in fiscal and monetary matters

Equalisation and intergovernmental transfers exist in all federal systems and so in establishing a system of fiscal federalism in the UK there would be a need for a Joint Exchequer Board (JEB) with two primary tasks: first to bring about an element of equalisation on the basis of need; and, second to ensure the effective coordination of the fiscal and monetary policies being pursued by the Federal Government and the respective Governments of the Nations and Regions.

In a system of fiscal federalism I can see no alternative to a new needs-base formula replacing the current Barnett Formula. The JEB would have the critical responsibility for ensuring a fair distribution throughout the UK taking account of indicators of need relating to, for example, income distribution, poverty, deprivation and the effect on the cost of essential service delivery of rurality and peripherality. In addition to the general responsibility for ensuring that the fiscal systems operate effectively with no overlap and that borrowing limits are strictly adhered to I think the JEB should assist in coordinating the operation of benefits such as housing benefit, tax credits and pension credits with the workings of council tax and income tax at a National level.
Tax base and tax rate
As the Steel Commission out it (P45) “The greatest fiscal autonomy for sub-central states comes from control over the tax base and the tax rate.”  Steel goes on (P96) to set out four principles that should guide any system. I think clarity and simplicity will be best achieved if the division of taxes is clean cut, if the application of borrowing rules for both capital and revenue are clear and unambiguous and if the system for equalisation is based on a transparent needs-based formula. Similarly, I think a clean cut of taxes will greatly reduce the chances of tax exportation but as with the danger of tax migration I think the key restraining factor will be in the design of the borrowing powers.

There has been concern expressed at the prospect of a Scottish Government leading a charge to the lowest (say) corporation tax rate and provoking unseemly competition within the UK at the expense of the most vulnerable. Johann Lamont, Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, is amongst the most recent to express such concerns. If one is considering reducing a tax rate then, self-evidently, you cut expenditure, increase another tax or fudge the issue by bridging the gap through borrowing. I regard the choice between raising/lowering expenditure and raising/lowering taxation as a legitimate political choice. I regard abusing borrowing limits as imprudent and unacceptable financial management and I develop this further at Borrowing Powers below.
The final principle Steel highlighted was efficiency and I think this is best achieved by developing further the responsibilities of HMRC such that it becomes the servant not only of the UK Government but also the nations of the federal state.

The Calman Commission considered in some detail whether any taxes might be devolved (P90-102). It found against devolving any tax that give the Scottish Parliament any real economic powers, only considered relatively minor taxes as suitable for control by the Scottish Parliament and opted for a substantial increase in the amount of revenue from income tax to be raised directly by the Scottish Parliament. I think the Nations and Regions of a Federal UK need to have the economic powers to set a fiscal framework that is appropriate to meet their needs whilst at the same time taking responsibility for raising the overwhelming proportion of the revenue required to meet their social needs. The Federal UK should be responsible for not only funding defence and national security but also providing the glue for the social cohesion of the Federal State by guaranteeing basic levels of pensions and social security and tackling poverty and deprivation

I believe, therefore, the Scottish Parliament (and other National Parliaments/Assemblies) should have the powers to raise as much as possible of its expenditure needs and should have responsibility for all taxes except those reserved to the Federal UK. The Scottish Parliament should have the power to alter the tax base and the tax rate for each devolved tax and should have the power to abolish any devolved tax or introduce a new tax subject to meeting objective criteria agreed with the JEB

At a Scottish/National level I would, therefore, give the Scottish Parliament control over:
(a)  Income and wealth  taxes: Income Tax, Corporation Tax, Capital Gains Tax, Inheritance Tax, all other taxes on income and wealth;
(b)  Property taxes: Council Tax, Non-domestic Rates, Stamp Duty, Land Tax;;
(c)  Environment taxes: Climate Change Levy, Aggregate Levy, Landfill Tax; and
(d)  Miscellaneous: Betting and Gaming Duties

In addition, I would provide for the Scottish Parliament to have automatically allocated to it:
(a)  The Geographic share of NS Oil revenues; and
(b)   Interest and dividends, Gross Operating Surplus (being mostly from Scottish Water), Rent and other current transfers and other taxes etc

This would leave as reserved or UK Federal taxes: National Insurance Contributions; VAT; Stamp Duty Reserve Tax; Alcohol, Tobacco, Fuel and Vehicle Excise Duties; Air Passenger Duty, and Insurance Premium Tax.

Borrowing Powers
Both Steel and Calman considered the very limited and short-term borrowing powers provided in S66 of the Scotland Act 1998 to be inadequate. Calman proposed (P112) an additional power to borrow to increase capital investment in any one year with the limit to be determined in a similar fashion to the Prudential limit operated by local authorities. The Scotland Bill proposes an extension in the borrowing powers setting a limit for short-term revenue borrowing at £500 million and granting new powers to Scottish Ministers to borrow to fund capital expenditure with a limit of £2.2 billion. From debates on the Bill at Westminster it is clear that the limit of £2.2 billion is considered by the Coalition Government to represent an acceptable risk for the UK finances that does not crowd out other priorities in the next spending review period. It appears that the limit could be increased depending on economic circumstances with the approval of the UK Parliament.
The borrowing powers required by the Scottish Parliament would require to be amended from those set out in the Scotland Bill (S37) to reflect the change to the tax base and the removal of the current block grant. The powers would need to address three areas: short-term timing differences; the effects of an economic downturn; and funding capital expenditure. The powers would have to be capable of relating to UK macro-economic policy, be operated with the JEB in accordance to its terms of reference and the mechanism for deciding the total quantum of permitted borrowing under each heading has to be set out in terms that are clear and transparent.
Drawing up rules to manage short-term cash deficiencies that arise from timing differences between planned income and expenditure should not be difficult as they are currently provided for. The second category, funding policies that smooth the economic cycle maintaining public service provision during an economic downturn, might prove more difficult. These rules would have to draw a clear distinction between a loss of revenue arising from a reduction in the buoyancy of a particular tax as the result of an economic downturn and a loss of revenue arising from a decision to lower the rate of a particular tax. (This is the issue referred to at para 2 of the section Tax base and tax rate above). The third category, financing capital projects, is again easier to define but the rules have to make clear how the limit is arrived at and how it fits into wider UK macro-economic policy. In drawing up borrowing rules the Steel Commission helpfully suggested P95 that “it would be necessary to develop “Golden Rules” governing the way in which the UK Government and the Scottish Government exercise their fiscal powers.”.

The problem with the current Golden Rules is that they are only a guideline for the operation of fiscal policy. The Golden Rule in the UK states that: “over the economic cycle, the Government will borrow only to invest and not to fund current spending. In other words on average over the duration of an economic cycle the government should only borrow to pay for investment that benefits future generations. Day-to-day spending that benefits today's taxpayers should be paid for with today's taxes, not with leveraged investment. Over the cycle, therefore, the current budget (net of investment) must balance or be brought into surplus.
I think that the core of the 'golden rule' framework which is that, as a general rule, policy should be designed to maintain a stable allocation of public sector resources over the course of the business cycle has a great deal to commend it. I believe the core provides the basis of binding borrowing rules particularly if one takes account of the fact that “stability” is defined in terms of the following three ratios: (i) public sector net worth to national income; (ii) public current expenditure to national income; and (iii) public sector income to national income.
The difficulty is that everyone is well aware of how these very sound principles, expressed in terms of the Golden Rules or the Euro Borrowing Rules, have been rather easily over-ridden. In the UK, the over-ride was effected by changing the length of the economic cycle and in the EU by redefining the assets that qualify as security. I still think the principle should form the basis of UK federal borrowing rules but they would have to drawn up in such a way that any breach constituted an illegal act by the respective Government/Parliament and meant it was acting Ultra Vires.

As I hope is clear from my submission, I have not deviated from my long-held belief that only federal Home Rule offers a stable constitutional settlement that satisfies the legitimate governance aspirations of the Nations and Regions of the UK for the 21st Century and beyond. I believe I have demonstrated that only federal Home Rule has the capacity to address both the constitutional and financial accountability shortcomings of the current Devolution settlement, the operational anomalies of the UK (predominantly English) Parliament at Westminster and the absence of a dedicated UK federal parliament that would facilitate fiscal federalism.

Your Commission has been asked, amongst other things, to build on the findings of the Steel Commission and I hope my submission will contribute to that process. As a matter of practical politics, however, your “Flyer” poses a number of questions including: how do we ensure home rule is a permanent solution? how do we ensure it is not dependent upon wholesale changes across the UK? and what are the hurdles to governance of England?

I cannot see how we even begin to move towards a permanent solution unless and until there is at least some consensus as to the nature of the problem. It is depressing that Cameron, Clegg et al (with the singular exceptions of Michael Moore and Jim Wallace) think the answer is more powers to Scotland under Devolution if the Scots say “No” to Independence.  A Scottish Government proposing to bring forward an Independence referendum is a threat to the continuation of the UK and the UK Government ought to be treating it as such. If the threat is to the UK, as it manifestly is, then the answer has to be framed to address that problem.

Because the de facto position is that the UK Government is the English Government and vice versa, I also cannot see how one can avoid engaging with the English to find a stable and long-term solution to the problem. Indeed, I think it is potentially dangerous to contemplate any further constitutional change unless it is at a UK level. As I have shown in this submission, positing a Scotland only solution proceeds on the wholly erroneous assumption that one can change the constitutional arrangements for Scotland without affecting the rest of the UK.

In my opinion, therefore, that aim has to be to establish the creation of a modern federal British State with Home Rule for all of its constituent parts as the long-term objective. A route map for the progressive untangling of the British equals English equals British conundrum has to be put in place. Any proposal to transfer further legislative or administrative powers to the Scottish Parliament should be framed on the basis that it ultimately would form part of a federal Home Rule Settlement that would apply equally to the other Nations and Regions of the UK. Likewise, any proposal for the transfer to the Scottish Parliament of financial powers in the form of fiscal federalism should be framed on the basis that this is the system that would ultimately apply throughout the UK.


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