You’ve been promised something revolutionary and ground-breaking which is going to change the way you look at the world. This very special present has been placed in a huge box wrapped up in pretty paper specially printed by the Daily Record, and put under a Christmas tree with a devolution fairy on top, if you’re good little boys and girls Gordie Broon is going to wave his magic vowing wand for you. Finally, to a fanfare from the BBC and a chorus of MPs, you’re allowed to open the enormous container, and discover that it contains a three-way air freshener – the whiffs of Tory disdain, Lib Dem duplicity and Labour desperation – a plastic toy spade, and a small bottle of Optrex.
So that’s the Smith Commission then. Home rule it isn’t, as despite what the UK media and the Westminster parties might tell you there is no definition of ‘home rule’ which doesn’t include having control of the TV remote. You might want to watch something else, but you’ll have to sit through the Strictly Come Westminster Debate Show whether you like it or not and get to watch David Cameron and Ed Miliband’s pirouette in ever decreasing circles while Nigel Farage in an attention grabbing tutu tries to steal the show. Nicla wasn’t invited to take part, since she’s not enough of a celeb.
There was no mention of broadcasting in the Smith Commission report, Scotland’s home rule doesn’t extend as far as allowing us to decide on our own broadcasting regulation – or, heaven forfend – giving the Scottish Parliament the authority to set up a Scottish national publicly owned TV channel. There was no mention of a lot of other things either, instead we got a whole lot of waffle without any substance – tax powers which will not allow Scotland to raise any more revenue than Westminster wants us to. Scotland can raise rate of income tax on the highest earners, only to see the UK Treasury reduce the block grant correspondingly. Westminster has played this trick before, the Smith Commission is merely a repeat performance. It’s the devolution of austerity, not the devolution of substantive powers that might allow Scotland to determine a different course.
The proposals were watered down even before the final report was written. Labour insisted that control over abortion law couldn’t possibly be devolved, on the entirely spurious grounds that this would mean the end of a UK-wide abortion policy. No one has told them about Northern Ireland then. The reason for Labour’s refusal was one time SNP funder Brian Souter, who is apparently the only person in Scotland who gets to decide such matters. Like he was so influential in determining the SNP and Scottish Government policy on banning gay marriage…
The promised powers over welfare and benefits policy were also gutted like a fish even before a kipper got anywhere near them. Proposals to allow Holyrood to determine the benefits system in Scotland were removed at the insistence of Satan, otherwise known as Iain Duncan Smith, who was upset that his policy of damning benefits claimants to perdition for all eternity might be smited. In the end, Holyrood will only have control of limited powers over Housing Benefit.
The real significance of the Smith Commission isn’t what it means for devolution, it’s what it means for the future of the UK. Many years ago I remarked to a friend that Scotland would not become independent because it was the settled will of the Scottish people, but rather independence would arrive because of the short termism and political games of the Westminster parties who would be unable to find a formula to keep the UK together. With the Smith Commission, the break up of the UK took a great leap forward. For that reason, and for that reason alone, the Smith Commission is to be welcomed.
Davie Cameron has already announced that the taxation responsibilities in the report give him licence to introduce a bill for ‘English votes for English laws’. Scottish MPs are to be barred from voting on certain parts of the UK budget, in a nakedly political manoeuvre to screw over the Labour party. It’s a trap that Labour walked straight into, one from which they now have no escape. That’s what happens when Alistair Darling accepts the cheers of a Tory party conference, Labour MPs accept Tory donations, and Labour MSPs stand grinning outside supermarkets after a Tory MP has phoned the managing director to get him to issue a press release warning of price rises after independence. Labour is now reaping what it sowed, and even if it does manage to cling onto a significant number of Scottish seats after the May 2015 General Election, their MPs will be castrated. Not that any of them have ever had much in the way of balls to begin with. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch of hypocritical pharisees.
Alistair Koalamichael was reduced to pleading that “this is the Prime Minister’s view, not government policy”, conveniently forgetting that under the system of elective dictatorship which passes for democracy in the UK, the prime minister’s view is government policy. Poor wee Alistair doesn’t even understand the system of government he’s pledged himself to defend. So we can add that to the very long list of things that Alistair doesn’t understand, like irony, impending oblivion, and keeping manifesto promises.
But despite the hype, despite the screaming headlines, the Smith Commission report is just that, a report from a commission. There is no guarantee that the recommendations in the report will survive the labyrinths of the Palace of Westminster, inhabited by ancient monsters which devour devolution maidens. Scotland must now rely upon the parties which have spent the past two years arguing that there is no need for extra tax powers for Holyrood to implement these extra tax powers – or rather tax responsibilities. We saw the same with the Calman Commission, which recommended the devolution of airport duty only for the proposal to land nowhere near its advertised destination. The Smith Commission is a dodgy budget airline all over again, complete with hidden costs.
Want to get to Devo Max? You’ll get dumped miles away. You should have got on the independence bus. But don’t worry if you missed the bus, there will be another along very soon.