Thursday, 26 November 2009

Putting the Evolution into Devolution

The Queen's Speech outlined proposals by the UK Government to introduce a number of measures for devolving further powers to the Scottish Parliament and Government, largely in line with the recommendations of the Calman Commission. Whilst a commitment to strengthening devolution is to be welcomed, there are several problems with the measures which will hamper their effectiveness.

Firstly, these particular measures are reliant upon the Labour Party being returned to Government at Westminster which, whilst not impossible, is certainly an uphill task. The Conservatives have indicated that they would bring a Scotland Bill forward if they were in power, but obviously this could possess a different complexion. The questions raised by the SNP and Lib Dems about the need for a delay do therefore have a resonance - if Labour is commited to the changes why not implement them now?

Secondly, the changes themselves are tied into the Calman Commission's findings which, as I have blogged before, were not necessarily the most earth-shattering in human history. The devolution of further taxation control, principally in regards to Scotland's role in tax raising, is not likely to see much in the way of change - I would imagine that we will see either the Scottish portion remaining identical to the rest of the UK or, if the SNP are feeling mischevous, the Scottish section lowered in the hope that funding will still be available through the Barnett calculations. This would raise resentment across the rest of the UK against Scotland without necessarily actually having a beneficial impact on the country.

Other measures such as the control of drink-driving limits and airgun legislation are welcome but again are hardly major steps. It is not that the devolution settlement necessarily needs massive re-evaluation - personally I am of the opinion that we are still very early in the Parliament's life to be making these decisions - but if we are taking the opportunity after a decade then we should be using it to the full, to avoid the need to repeat the process every few years.

If anything the biggest changes Scotland needs are probably in regards to Westminster's role in the country. The Scottish Government and Parliament have responsibility for the issues which impact upon day-to-day life far more than Westminster does. In particular Scottish MPs are now seen as being less relevant to people in Scotland, impacting more on decisions south of the border than north.

The UK Government needs to examine the Scottish MPs' role to ensure that they can demonstrate their role in shaping and influencing Governmental decisions which do impact upon Scotland, such as UK foreign policy, national taxation and immigration. They need to be seen as complimentary equals to MSPs - the day of them trying to be considered a step above is certainly long gone.

So probably a case of watch this space overall. With decisions left until after the next election, everything will be up in the air as we wait to see who will form the Government. But as the Scottish Government prepare to release their White Paper on Independence we can guarantee that the debate still has a course to run.


Stuart Winton said...

Interesting point about the status of MPs v MSPs.

Whatever the merits of the argument, I can't really see much changing in that MSPs will continue to be viewed as inferior, at least outwith their own perspective.

After all, isn't the MSP's salary based on a percentage of an MPs?

Given the importance of salary as regards personal status then the MP/MSP relationship is effectively institutionalised in that regard ;0)

Not a Village in Westminster said...

True, so maybe we need to start campaigning for MSP's salaries to be increased to the same level?

Popular with MSPs.

Less so with the public!