A guest post by Samuel Miller (Macart)
You know that veto, that’s not a veto? It seems that Mr Mundell couldn’t even wait for the new bill, debates, amendments, ratifications and/or ink to dry before exercising it. Apparently he’s no happy that after weeks of taunting the Scottish Government and electorate over the matter of fullfiscaldevoindylitemaxautonomy, those bounders representing the bulk of the Scottish electorate went and tabled an amendment openly asking for it (black hole an’ a) (*). Worse yet, it appears their idea of fullfiscalwossiname isn’t the same as HMG’s. True blue Tory central’s idea of ‘fiscal responsibility’ is entirely different and it certainly doesn’t include a Scottish government having control of all revenue streams, taxes, welfare or natural resources. Oh hell no. So after he had munched on some hastily made toast and jam, he screwed his courage up to the sticking point and with the full weight of all the big boys behind him, Mr Mundell made some statements prior to Commons debate.
“An amendment that kills off the Barnett formula and ends the sharing of resources across the UK is about as far away from sensible as one can get. It would be a full fiscal shambles that would cost every family in Scotland around £5,000.”
To which Stewart Hosie (SNP deputy leader) had not unsurprisingly replied “The Tories must stop playing games with Scotland, and clarify whether or not David Cameron’s assurance that further changes to the Scotland Bill will be considered still stands.”
Now maybe just me, but that statement of Mr Mundell’s sounded about as far away from considered debate and negotiation as you can get really, but there’s a pertinent point which seems to have escaped Mr Mundell and his peers and we’ll come back to that later. Needless to say, it didn’t bode well for either the debate or the vote and pretty much set the tone for what was about to occur. The reality of Monday’s debate and vote confirmed everything many of us have argued on over the past several years. Westminster indeed could not be trusted to deliver on its referendum pledges. It began with Fluffy attempting to deny that home rule had ever been offered and ended with the usual suspects voting down any amendments, including FFA, which would see Scotland make its own economic decisions… Are we surprised?
What would it have cost them to honour a few pledges in good faith? What would it have cost to honour even one, the writing into the constitution of the permanence of the Scottish parliament? It would have sent a message to Scotland’s electorate, that despite our recent rocky political history, Westminster was at least attempting to look forward, win the peace or at least earn respect. It may even have extended the political union beyond their own expectations. Who knows? But no, the Westminster establishment doesn’t suffer any perceived threat to their hegemony or sovereignty. A gesture which would have cost them nothing, eclipsed by a vote which may now in their arrogance, ignorance, greed and near as I can tell spite, will now probably cost them everything. I’d say they’ve sent a message alright and I would hope it has been received and understood loud and clear.
So let’s cut through all the bullshit that we are being fed and get back to that pertinent point Mr Mundell has conveniently overlooked. ‘Home rule’ by any other name, the ‘federal solution’, providing Scotland with a ‘powerhouse parliament’… Sound familiar? In the weeks prior to the referendum vote, airwaves and column space were devoted to a fair old mixture of the terminology above. You couldn’t turn a page or change a channel but you’d run into a couch load of experts or politicians talking about FFA, indy lite or devo max. When Brown wasn’t terrifying pensioners he was ‘guaranteeing’ delivery of home rule, near federalism, constitutional conventions and a parliament secured permanently within the UK’s constitution. It was relentlessly and remorselessly rammed down the Scottish electorate’s throats for weeks in the run up to September 18th. None of it has come to pass and I sincerely doubt that any of it will, certainly not without a great deal of kicking and screaming on the part of the Westminster establishment. (An excellent highlighting by Wings Over Scotland, on this particular piece of duplicity, to be found in the links below *).
The Scottish electorate have been promised and denied home rule off and on for decades of course. Both parties and individuals have attempted to determine or shape what home rule means in pursuit of one agenda or another over this period of time (mainly the winning of votes) and all to no resolution. ‘The Vow’ and Brown’s ‘guarantees’ being only the most recent and frankly damning incarnation of all.
In the meantime and for the removal of all doubt, this is what constitutes the most commonly held definition of Full fiscal autonomy (FFA): – also known as devolution max, (devo-max), fiscal federalism, independence lite or independence-minus, – is a particular form of far-reaching devolution proposed for Scotland. The term has come to describe a constitutional arrangement in which instead of receiving a block grant from the UK Exchequer as at present, the Scottish Parliament would receive all taxation levied in Scotland; it would be responsible for most spending in Scotland but make payments to the UK government to cover Scotland’s share of the cost of providing certain UK-wide services, including at least defence and the conduct of foreign relations. Scottish fiscal autonomy – stopping short of full political independence – is usually promoted by advocates of a federal or confederal constitution for the United Kingdom. (Source WIKI)
Now as I said earlier, a bill of goods was sold to the Scottish electorate during the referendum. BT, Westminster’s established parties and the media played fast and loose with the terms home rule and devo max without (a.) promising a damn thing (b.) clearly defining what they considered either to be or (c.) fully explaining the processes involved which would of course have outlined the near impossibility of the pledges’ delivery in the first place. This allowed the Scottish electorate to conjure their own images of what they believed those terms to mean and led them to believe that pain free delivery was possible. It’s not and never was, as we are now seeing demonstrated in editorial after editorial and debate after debate in chambers. We are now at the place where expectation meets reality and where people will be forced to consider whether that bill of goods they were sold was worth the price they paid.
So what’s in a name?
It should have meant exactly what it says on the tin, yes? ‘HOME RULE’ or ‘DEVOLUTION TO THE MAX’, except nobody bothered to represent or define the position for the referendum process, not even the party of ‘home rule’ and federalism, the Lib thingies. As for the post referendum’s Smith Commission and its staggering ability to read through, debate and deliberate on fourteen thousand submissions in thirty days… least said the better eh? Heaven forefend it could actually have been perceived to simply be a party political jockeying process for the GE.
This should have been where the civic and political worlds met to determine the nature of a thing and, upon agreement, send our representation forward with the electorate’s proposal and unabridged, unadulterated definition. The agreed proposal to be placed before Westminster’s establishment who, as in any negotiation will also have their counter proposal/fixed position. That’s the debate/negotiation bit Mr Mundell seemed so over eager to dismiss out of hand pre the actual debate. But then home rule or devo to the max was never really on offer was it? It was always intended to be a confused and confusing mess for the public. A publicity stunt, a strategy, a blind defending an entrenched position and designed to fall apart as a process at the first hurdle, the Commons chamber, and stifle Scotland’s elected representation. The subsequent amendment attempting to rectify the Smith Commission deficiencies was effectively doomed long before it ever reached the debating chamber. In any case, if neither party can come to an agreement for the sake of carrying the whole forward, (and apparently we haven’t) then effectively the game is a bogey regardless. So, as yet, no home rule, no permanent parliament under law, no agreed progress on devolution… and we should consider the independence issue settled why?
Holyrood elections are next year and very soon our representatives will be asking us what we think should happen next in the light of the events of the past year. Plenty of time to take stock, assess, be patient and have a good think.
In the meantime, despite this week’s unfolding drama, all is not lost. I believe concessions can be won by our current representation and, in my opinion, any competence that can be used to better the lot of the people in the face of this punitive system of government is one worth pursuing. Any harmful legislation that can be fought or delayed is worth the effort and any duplicity on the part of Westminster that can be uncovered and brought to our notice a job well done and a service performed. Just to be clear though, in my opinion, I seriously doubt that gifting the Scottish parliament all powers barring foreign affairs and defence has ever been or will ever be on any parliamentary to do list, it’s simply not in the nature of the beast.