01 December 2009

A First Choice

So the White Paper is out. And we see the options - the status quo, Calman, Devolution Max or full independence. It's notable how established devolution is in the mind that rollback is not considered an option by anyone. It's also notable that everyone wishes to move away from the status quo at some point, even if it's not quite now.

Of course, the SNP position is obvious: it's the established SNP position, though it says something that the SNP are offering options other than their own - something the UK Government was not willing to do in 1997 (during the 2007 Election campaign, Nicol Stephen said that the voters rejected independence in the devolution referendum - this was a blatant lie as independence was not even offered to be rejected in the first place) and look unwilling to do whenever they get around to discussing the implementation of the Calman report.

The Tory position, meanwhile, is the clearest of the opposition parties' stances on the Scottish Government White Paper: No. That is the stance, just No. They don't believe in it, and have better things to talk about. Granted, their stance on Calman is significantly less clear (I don't think even they know what their stance on Calman is) but on independence, their position is a clear signpost. And I actually respect it. Why? Because it's clear, it's constant, it's principled. Just like their position on devolution was in 1997, when they ended up with no MPs in Scotland as a result of it. Yet despite that debacle, they're still willing to repeat that approach! Fair play to them.

The Labour position du jour, however, is a mish-mash of Wendy Alexander's moment of bravado and the party's general mistrust of anything at this end of the constitutional spectrum. Yes, there ought to be a referendum at some point, they say, but not just now. Well, when? Have they any idea? If, somehow, Labour get that fourth term when they're going to get around to putting Calman into practice (interesting how it took two years from election victory to the formal establishment of a Scottish Parliament, but it would take five years to get from election victory to a simple transfer of extra powers to a body that's already up and running - what gives?), will independence come on the table in some form then? I have my doubts. The truth is that for Labour, because their answer to the question is No, the right time to ask the question is Never. If you don't ask the question, the status quo prevails. If you do, the answer might turn out to be Yes. For all the faults of Wendy Alexander, she did put on record her willingness to accept what the people had to say. Now, we never had to put that willingness to the test, but no other figure in Scottish Labour has come remotely close to expressing anything like that, least of all Jim "We'll sort a quick transfer of powers out at some stage before 2015" Murphy. Bring it on, it ain't.

Then there's the LibDems, to whom the details of the proposal seem to be the most accommodating, given that the party's own work on the issue seems to lie somewhere between the two middle-ground options. But my feelings about the LibDems have been made quite clear on may occasions and, once again, they have lived down to my expectations: if the price of getting somewhere, and maybe even getting exactly what they want, is co-operating with the SNP, then, in the view of the Leadership, the price is too high. I've noted on so many occasions that the SNP and LibDems seem to be on the same page on so many issues, and seem to fit together as a logical pairing in some Council chambers, but beyond that, LibDems seem to have this mental block when it comes to working alongside the SNP even when it comes to the point of various logical contortions such as suggesting that you're subverting the will of the people by asking them directly just precisely what that will is.

And that's where we are. We have the basis for something that people can talk about. Other options are available for those who would prefer them. But the positions of a majority of MSPs mean that sadly, the White Paper is probably going to stay on bookshelves for about eighteen months or so. And I suspect that the SNP gets that: there's one eye on 2010, of course. But, let's face it, the ramifications of independence are - and this is blatantly obvious - very much for the long term, so you can see why it's perfectly possible and entirely proper for the SNP to bide its time. This White Paper could well be put to one side soon enough, but it could be very easily be picked right back up again in its present form after, oh, let's say, May 2011. And should the document be taken forward now or then, and a middle ground be taken, either in the form of Calman or devo-max, then Scotland will have gone, in the space of less than two decades, from no Parliament, to Parliament, to more powers, with the continuous direction of travel being towards a transfer of responsibilities from the UK Government to Scotland. That's precisely the direction that the SNP wishes to head in, even if this way, there are more comfort breaks than the SNP would prefer to take. Whatever the result of this process now taking place, this is something for the SNP to celebrate. As I've said before:

El que espera lo mucho espera lo poco.

1 comment:

M said...

It appears that the majority of people of Scotland are fed up of being portrayed as work-shy and benefit dependent because of the actions of Labour politicians, and want to stand on their own economic two feet again. David Cameron could destroy Labour’s support in Scotland if he has the courage to devolve full fiscal autonomy to Scotland (Devolution max in the SNP Government's Referendum White Paper) and abolish the Barnett Formula but with Scotland remaining still part of the UK for that appears to be what the vast majority of Scots would vote for. Labour's alternative of offering nothing but the Calman proposals is a dogs breakfast that will inflict enormous damage to the Scots economy if applied. Labour fear fiscal autonomy more than anything for it is only the benefits dependency that they have created and sustain that gains them votes in their municipal socialist heartlands where people vote Labour out of tribal loyalty.  Labour don’t appear to want the constituencies they represent to become economically successful for that would destroy their core vote. The voting system also needs to be changed for Labour may also have systematically gerrymandered the system of voting for Westminster and Holyrood in order to gain votes. So far the only party that has shown the vision needed to turnaround Scotland from Labour's dead hand is the SNP who have frozen and reduced local taxation which is already within their Holyrood control but they need full fiscal autonomy in order to do much more. All of this could change if David Cameron has the vision to put a commitment to Scotland gaining full fiscal autonomy and changing the voting system in Scotland into his manifesto for the next UK general election.