According to our ever reliable media, Davie Cameron has made a pledge to grant Scotland further extra tax powers if we vote no in September. Only they must be meaning pledge as in “shiny polish in a can” as opposed to “solemn commitment to take a specific action on a definite date and spelling out the consequences on the pledgee if they fail to uphold their word”.
A pledge would have been David Cameron saying “I solemnly swear that if there is a No vote, I will move a bill in the House of Commons on September 19th to grant Scotland full control over welfare, taxation, oil revenues, energy policy, and if I cannot secure passage of the bill I will resign and cycle down Whitehall naked with a pair of Union Jack boxer shorts on my head.” That’s a pledge.
You can carefully read all the way through the transcript of Davie’s speech without encountering any solemn commitments to increase the powers of the Scottish Parliament in specified ways. You certainly won’t hear him committing himself to any personal consequences if he goes back on his word to the voters. We are not being promised Devo-Max, Devo-Plus, or Devo-Didn’t they used to be a band in the 80s. Which only leaves the shiny polish.
Davie was only saying that the existing system of devolution could work better. This is just another way of saying it’s not working very well at the moment, something most of us had managed to work out for ourselves already. He didn’t say how he thought it could work better, nor what steps he was going to take to make it work better. Even a crappy mechanic who sucks in his breath when looking at a clapped out motor and mutters “och, it’s gaunnie cost ye” provides more in the way of technical information. Working better seemingly means giving Holyrood more ‘responsibilities’ as opposed to more powers. Which is Westminster’s way of sooking in its breath and saying “och, it’s gaunnie cost ye.”
It’s a common Tory view that Westminster needs to claw powers back from Holyrood. Davie may very well have a different interpretation of “working better” from the average punter who wants increased powers for the Scottish Parlie.
And that’s before we ask the thorny question “working better for who?” Working better for Ian Lang or Michael Forsyth perhaps. They have Davie’s ear. Not you or me. Some of us are old enough to remember the former Tory PM Alec Douglas Home promising Scotland “something better” if we voted no in the home rule referendum of 1979. Margaret Thatcher may very well have been something better for Alec Douglas Home, but she certainly wasn’t for the rest of us.
The extra tax powers referred to in Davie’s speech, which got the Conservative media all excited – and for the purposes of the Scottish debate the Conservative media is pretty much all the newspapers and all the broadcasters – was in fact a reference to the powers over income tax contained in the 2012 Scotland Act and due to be implemented in 2016. It was not a reference to anything new.
But the Telegraph insisted that Cameron’s “spokesman confirmed later the Prime Minister meant that rejecting separation ‘will mean’ more powers being transferred above and over taxes already being devolved in 2016.”
And that’s it. There’s a solemn commitment from the UK Government for you. The word of an anonymous policy wonk that Scotland will get more powers, but they’re still not for saying what these powers might consist of. This is what we’re given to put our faith in, an unattributable statement from an unelected assistant. If Davie was going to make a promise that he could later be called to account for, he’d have done so in his speech.
Even Alec Douglas Home had the deceny to betray us in person when he promised Scotland “something better” if we voted no in 1979. David Bowie at least managed to get another celeb to make his four word intervention in the indy debate. Cameron gets a nameless hireling to brief the friendly press in private.
It’s not much of a pledge, and it won’t sparkle with a brilliant shine no matter how much you buff it with the torn pages of the Telegraph. It’s more of the common currency of Westminster’s tarnished lies, not a shiny new promise. You can polish a worthless coin all you want, you still can’t buy jam with it.