Monday, 15 June 2009

Calman Launches

Just back from Edinburgh where I attended the launch of the Calman Commission's Final Report - a very hefty document which outlines the Commission on Scottish Devolution's findings from a year of investigation and debate on the future of devolution.

I have to say that it was a slightly underwhelming event. As has been covered in the media, the main proposals are devolution of aspects of taxation (a section of income tax, along with four other areas such as Stamp Duty), devolution of certain legislative areas such as air gun control and drink driving levels, and a certain level of reform of the intra-governmental workings of Holyrood and Westminster.

The key aspect of the launch was the fact that there is every chance that this will not go anywhere. The Commission was launched as reaction to the Scottish Government's National Conversation rather than necessarily from a belief that the time for re-evaluating devolution was upon us. As such, it lacks an immediate impetus to its recommendations, particularly since the SNP's referendum is essentially dead in the water. The Commission's findings were, to me at least, also reduced in impact by the repeated assertion that they were a) unanimous and b) had considered all options. The idea that a panel composed of members of the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems, trade unions, the CBI Scotland and other disparate opinions implies that they must have therefore made pretty weak recommendations in order to create unity. In addition, the Commission did not consider all options as they excluded discussion of independence - this is not in itself a problem, but they should be upfront about the agenda behind their work.

The idea of devolving the income tax powers to Scotland (building upon the Scottish Variable Tax powers which already exist but haven't ever been used) is certainly an interesting one. There is a problem just now as the Scottish Government (regardless of political colour) exists to spend money without accountability for raising their own funds. However the fact that the Government would be able to vary the actual amount of income tax without being able to increase or decrease the gaps between the tax bands (or indeed alter the tax bands themselves) limits the ability of the Scottish Government to use income tax to fully pursue ideological measures (i.e. tax cutting to a flat tax or raising the top band to fund spending). If taxation is going to be devolved enough to allow variation between Scotland and the rest of the UK, then it should surely be devolved enough to allow a distinct Scottish Government to pursue its own stated political aims as fully as possible.

The devolution of certain further powers to Holyrood will be supported across the board, as the SNP have already been arguing for many of them - indeed the SNP will probably be quite satisfied with the outcome of the Commission. Needless to say oil tax revenue was excluded from devolution - I don't think anyone expected anything else!

I think that the Commission has explored some interesting issues, but I think that the nature of the process (it was quite stuffy and formal, which excluded lots of 'normal' people from the debate) has somewhat limited the impact of its recommendations. I am sure that it will provoke continued debate on Scotland's constitutional future but I think that, like the National Conversation it set out to compete with, it has failed to answer the questions.

16 comments:

Scottish Unionist said...

Jamie

I'm not sure that I understand the basis for your suggestion that the Commission was less than “upfront about the agenda behind their work” (specifically that independence wasn't under consideration).

After all, the Scottish Parliament motion which established the Commission’s remit was unapologetically unionist:

“To review the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998 in the light of experience and to recommend any changes to the present constitutional arrangements that would enable the Scottish Parliament to better serve the people of Scotland, that would improve the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament and that would continue to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom.” (my bold)

Wardog said...

Good post Jamie

'If taxation is going to be devolved enough to allow variation between Scotland and the rest of the UK"

I think you'ht the enail on the head, Calman has tried his damdest to avoiud that kind of difference by stating that full fiscal autonomy is 'not compatible with a united kingdom'.

Unionism by definition can never fully meet the specific needs and political ambition of Scots.

It is by definition a compromise.

I'll make a prediction now, I bet it's the SNP that ends up using Calman in the interim to further the powers of the parliament and the opposition parties will try to bury it by referring to their forthcoming Westminster manifesto's.

It won't work, the genie is out of the bottle.

Wardog said...

AM2, he's saying that your unionist cabal are a group of lying bar stewards hell bent on preventing independence rather than really considering what is best for Scotland.

No-one is talking about the motion, we're talking about the spin that was put on it today at the launch and that will be put on it in the media.

It's really not that hard to understand.

Scottish Unionist said...

Well, it didn't take long for the ubiquitous Wardog to get abusive, did it?

"Unionism by definition can never fully meet the specific needs and political ambition of Scots."

I think you omitted a qualifying adjective there. Nationalists may feel that way, but they in no way represent even a majority of Scots, let alone all of us.

"It [unionism] is by definition a compromise."

Precisely! As is membership of the EU, UN and NATO, not to mention submission to the norms of the ECHR, Geneva Convention etc. Yes, unionism involves compromise for the sake of the common good. Very good; you may be learning.

"the genie is out of the bottle"

Would that be why independence is less popular now than May 2007?

"your unionist cabal are a group of lying bar stewards"

Scrap what I said about you learning. That's dangerous talk. Moral superiority complexes of one political group over another rarely lead in positive directions.

Wardog said...

"Precisely! As is membership of the EU, UN and NATO,"

Did you just wet youserself.

Since when did 'compromise' in any of the above mean handing over your oil wealth and natural resources to the other members.

What you forget to explain (on purpose as usual) is that the EU, UN and Nato are equitable unions, not 'asymmetric' as described by Calman.

What you'd call compromise others would term 'imperialism'

Not a Village in Westminster said...

SU

My point in regards to being less than upfront was related to the launch yesterday. Calman stated that the Commission had considered every possibility, which of course it had not. I don't have a problem with this, I just think that it impacts upon the effectiveness of the Commission's findings to imply a wider consideration than it in fact had.

Not a Village in Westminster said...

Wardog

Thanks for the comment, although I will now spoil your praise by pointing out that I am in fact a Unionist too! So no, I didn't feel that the cabal are lying bar stewards, rather that the presentation of the conclusions (i.e. that they are unanimous which I am sceptical about, particularly having heard some rumblings about discontent and that they considered every avenue when in fact independence was excluded) diminished their impact somewhat.

I agree that the recommendations do create a lot of potential difficulties and I also agree that the SNP are likely to be quite pleased with the proposals, particularly someone like Salmond who is more than happy to see independence as a long term project. This is a peculiar situation for a Unionist Commission to have created, but in many ways the genie was let out of the bottle as soon as devolution was introduced.

Not a Village in Westminster said...

However Wardog, I do not believe that "Unionism by definition can never fully meet the specific needs and political ambition of Scots".

The UK is in a period of constitutional flux, but that is not necessarily a bad thing and does not necessarily lead to its cessation. In the world as it exists today virtually all nations (other than international recluses such as North Korea) are heavily entwined with multinational structures.

SU is right to identify the fact that compromise is central to all of these structures. The EU is not an equitable union - certain countries have a bigger representation in the Parliament due to their size (as with the UK Parliament) and there is a big difference between what different countries put into and receive from the EU. True the Commission affords equal voices to the constituent nations by allocating one Commissioner to each - however, each of these then have to swear to put aside their own national interests.

To describe the existence of the United Kingdom as imperialism in Scotland is, sadly, a poor reflection on the hyperbole that the internet can encourage. The Union is still the choice of the majority of people in Scotland, as expressed in opinion polls and more crucially at the ballot box. Scotland is not a colony, but rather a constituent part of a Union which brings together the different nations into an entity to which can achieve more together than apart.

Yes that Union will evolve and change over time, and it is possible that we will move to a more federal structure or indeed may eventually end up at independence if that is what the population desires. However, the Union, by definition, brings good to the people of Scotland and will continue to do so, regardless of cybernat chatter about 'imperialism'.

Wardog said...

Oh I wouldn't be so nasty as to retract my praise Jamie, I happen to agree with your analysis of Calman., he has opened up an interesting prospect for the parties Scottish Manifestos' and in doing so will keep the focus on the SNP.

With regards to "Unionism by definition can never fully meet the specific needs and political ambition of Scots".

I;m not for one minute denying that the world in interdependent, but that is a world away from being part of an unequal 'economic union' where parties 'protect Scotland from it's own oil wealth'.

I suspect that the unionism (or should I call you all home rulers now) will have to change the record on that one.

SU is right to identify the fact that compromise is central to all of these structures.

Again, it's the level of compromise, not one single EU nation 'compromises' it's sovereignty to control it's economy and natural and industrial resources.

"The EU is not an equitable union - certain countries have a bigger representation in the Parliament due to their size (as with the UK Parliament) and there is a big difference between what different countries put into and receive from the EU. "

But they all have a veto by means of public referendums, something unionists seem a little adverse too when it doesn't suit their narrow political ends.

"The Union is still the choice of the majority of people in Scotland, as expressed in opinion polls"

Yes, so is capital punishment and euthanasia, why are you so against calling a referendum on an issue? of democratic represetnation


"....the ballot box."

Oh no, not AM2's 'Pan Unionist Alliance', did he mention that alliance includes the BNP and UKIP?

Nice bed fellows.


"...achieve more together than apart...."

Evidence?

"federal structure or indeed may eventually end up at independence if that is what the population desires."

Let's ask them then.


"the Union, by definition, brings good to the people of Scotland "

What, like these policies?

New Nuclear Power
Trident Renewal
Iraq War
Afghan War
Privatising Royal Mail
Privatising Schools
Privatising NHS
PFI
Post Office Closures
Abolishing 10p Tax
Refusing Gurkha's entry to UK
Welfare Reform
Council Tax
Abolishing Scottish Regiments
De-regulation of the Banks
No Scottish Specific Airgun Legislation

Not a Village in Westminster said...

Wardog

First off, thanks for not retracting the praise, good to see that discussion can be civil! =) (OK me accusing you of hyperbole is less civil, but hey ho I'm a new father and haven't had much sleep!).

In regards to your points, I would like to look at the referendum aspect first. There is a lot of demand just now for referenda on virtually everything (constitution, EU etc), however we have a representative democracy in place (and would presumably continue to do so in an independent Scotland). The referendum on the constitution which the SNP Government is proposing lacks a public support to justify bringing it forward - otherwise why not propose referenda on every issue? Of course if the environment led to serious discussion of constitutional change precedent would demand a referendum, but the fact that a minority SNP Government demands one does not mean they automatically get it, that is not the nature of our parliamentary democracy.

You dismiss the pan-unionist alliance and admittedly it is far too loose and bitter a grouping to deserve the term alliance. However that doesn't hide the fact that the overwhelming majority of MSPs returned by the Scottish people were for Unionist parties. Categorical proof that the Union is safe? No, but a demonstration that there is not a justification for Holyrood spending so much time debating the issue.

And referencing UKIP/BNP as unionist bedfellows is rather disingenous don't you think? That's like me claiming that because ETA, the IRA and indeed the BNP all declare themselve Nationalists we should therefore dismiss the SNP are a dangerous and violent group. If the SNP can rightly claim to be a party of civic nationalism, then it is equally true that unionist arguments can be proposed without recourse to the extremists.

You refer to no EU nations sacrificing their control of their own economy, but of course the majority of the EU member states have done so (to a certain degree anyway) by opting to join the Single Currency. Likewise national resources are pooled through membership in the EU - the complaints over fishing rights, for example, demonstrate the difficulties attached to this.

Membership of the Union gives Scotland integrated access to the UK economy which, even in difficult and turbulent times such as these, is still one of the largest in the world, allowing Scotland to have a bigger impact than it could as a small independent country (which isn't to diss Scotland, I am as proud of my country as anyone else).

Likewise the current economic troubles have demonstrated that there are benefits to the size of the UK economy which a smaller Scottish economy would have struggled with (i.e. bailing out the banks etc). I don't believe that the turbulence has completely discredited the "Arc of Prosperity" (I think Salmond played it up too much and opponents played it down too much) but I do think it has demonstrated the difficulties that smaller countries can face due to more limited resources.

Not a Village in Westminster said...

(Reply was too long, have had to break it up!)

You have posted a long list of policies of the UK Government which you disagree with - some I agree with you are mistakes, others I disagree with you on. However, I am presuming that you are not suggesting that an independent Scotland would never see policies introduced which citizens would disagree with? There are UK policies which public opinion in Scotland disagrees with, and there are UK policies which public opinion in Scotland agrees with - this would be identical in an independent Scotland as it is in every other democratic nation, so is hardly justification for scrapping the Union. It does also leave the question open of where this belief in public referenda/opinion being king stops - in an independent Scotland where Glasgow disagreed with the decisions of an Edinburgh government, would we be allowed to explore the possibility of secession from Scotland?

As I said previously though, I do agree with you that Salmond will not be too bothered by the Calman findings, and you are right that some of the recommendations are more likely to appear in the SNP manifesto (indeed some were taken directly from it as far as I can see). Indeed, what will be interesting is whether anything will actually come from the Commission or whether it will now just sink forgotten onto some dusty library shelves and my overcrowded desk.

Wardog said...

Congratulations Jamie, I know the feeling! ;-)

"The referendum on the constitution which the SNP Government is proposing lacks a public support to justify bringing it forward"

You could use that argument for anything, it's not an argument at all, it's a presumption. Until you put a positive mandate forward to the voters and have a mature conversation about what each option means, how can you say that there isn't any 'support' for it.

"otherwise why not propose referenda on every issue? "

Because this isn't 'every issue', like the Lisbon treaty referendum, we're talking about the your child's f and my child's future.

That is generational and cannot therefore be decided in a general election.


"You dismiss the pan-unionist alliance and admittedly it is far too loose and bitter a grouping to deserve the term alliance. "

Agreed, the question now is, does 'unionism' really exist as a serious force in Scottish politics. As far as I can see no Scottish party is advocating the status quo, every party is at the very least supporting the main thrust of calman with a majority actually pushing for greater powers that he has recommended.

"However that doesn't hide the fact that the overwhelming majority of MSPs returned by the Scottish people were for Unionist parties."

Yes, and none of them achieved a majority.

"And referencing UKIP/BNP as unionist bedfellows is rather disingenuous don't you think? "

Yes ofcourse, but it seems to get the hairs on the back of AM2's back (and there are many) tingling.

Unlike AM2, I don't seriously try to associate any of the mainstream parties (and I include the greens in that category) with any form of extremism.

"That's like me claiming that because ETA, the IRA and indeed the BNP all declare themselves Nationalists we should therefore dismiss the SNP are a dangerous and violent group."

Yes yes, I've been here making exactly thee same point to Mr AM2, you would do well to curb his more extremist views Jamie.

Wardog said...

con't

"..single currency.....to a certain degree anyway"

Yes, by referendum, go figure.

"Likewise national resources are pooled through membership in the EU - the complaints over fishing rights, for example, demonstrate the difficulties attached to this"

Not quite the same, agreements whether written or not were in place long before the EU, the Danes and Norwegians have been fishing Scottish waters for decades and vice versa.


"....bigger impact than it could as a small independent country ..."

I've read and heard this before and haven't seen a shred of proof to back it up, it seems to follow that 'big' equates to 'good'. If this recession has told us anything, that is simply a lie.

"bailing out the banks "

RBS & HBOS (albeit to a lesser extent ) are Global with their biggest market in England. The responsibility to 'bail out' such multi nationals would never fall to one nation, your argument would suggest that countries such as Iceland, Norway, Finalnd, Denmark etc etc can't have companies that turnover the equivalent of their GDP, that's nonsense.

" I don't believe that the turbulence has completely discredited the "Arc of Prosperity" but I do think it has demonstrated the difficulties that smaller countries can face due to more limited resources."

There's no doubt theirs lessons to be learnt (again) but likewise for every other country on earth.

To paint it as a small country problem is misleading.


"Independent Scotland would never see policies introduced which citizens would disagree with?

That depends on a number of actors, type of democracy, ability of recall and set period parliaments all being important factors.

In Scotland, precisely because of it's size and diversity, we have the opportunity to build a very special democracy indeed.

An independent Scotland would have never went to war, would never have accepted nuclear weapons on it's soil and would never renew nuclear civil energy, that's for sure.

The other factors, I dare say wouldn't have happened either in an independent Scotland under any party.

Scotland is a nation, Glasgow is a city, I personally would like to see Glasgow AND Edinburgh go down the route of London with elected Mayors .

Wardog said...

Jamie, don't get me wrong, I agree with much of what you are saying and to be honest it's a breath of fresh air to hear it from a unionist.

I'd be grateful if you;d consider contributing to the www.scotsvoices.blog.com

The idea is that it's a non-partisan forum for partisan bloggers ;-)

A bit of 'blue sky' to air thoughts you might not necessarily want to put on your blog.

If you email at wardogbuckie@googlemail.com, I will arrange for you to have full editing rights, we have 5-6 members already but I'm keen to get as broad a view as possible.

PS, I'm on holiday for the next five days, so if youemail and don't get a response, don't worry,. I'll catch you on Sunday.

Not a Village in Westminster said...

Wardog

Thanks for the invite, I have dropped you an email. It is certainly encouraging to see that it is possible to have frank and civil argument over issues which are so vitally important they deserve nothing less.

You made several interesting points, but it is the one about the pan-unionist alliance which has most got me thinking. It is now common to split the Scottish Parliament into Unionist and Nationalist camps (in reality the Nat camp is the SNP, with Margo and the Greens rather forgotten in the whole debate I think). Ironically, this may be both counterproductive from a Unionist perspective (making it a SNP versus everyone else ganging up on them) and also fails to do justice to the complexity of the issue.

The Conservatives are staunchly Unionist and while now following the trend for change are most closely aligned to the existing order. Unless of course it would help them electorally to ditch Scotland! Because let's face it, Cameron's 'unionist' beliefs may be more politically expendable than he likes to paint.

The Lib Dems have put themselves in a funny position. They are in favour of a federal UK, taken to the lengths that Scotland would almost be a de facto independent country, albeit with certain shared ties with the other UK nations. Not as far as the SNP would go admittedly (although some of Salmond's ideas on independence are not exactly non-federal, i.e. retaining the monarchy and pound) but it would seem more sensible for them to be aiming to shape the SNP agenda to their own needs rather than jumping into bed as anti-Nats (particularly considering the Greens are now an ever looming electoral threat for them). I am also perplexed by their staunch opposition to referenda - this seemed to me more inkeeping with their political views, but there appears to be a visceral hatred of them amongst Scottish Lib Dems.

Which of course leaves my own party. The problem for Labour is that we don't really know what we want. We don't want Scotland independent as such, but I can guarantee that in the event of a Conservative government in Westminster sympathies would rise, especially if Labour (ever) became the biggest party in Scotland again. The SNP's painting of Labour as a non-Scottish party has been unjust, however it has stuck due to the fact that we have not devolved our own political structure.

So I think you are right, there isn't a pan-unionist alliance, which again adds to making the statement that Calman's report is entirely unanimous look rather unlikely.

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