The blog of the 'There is a Better Way' campaign by STUC staff about policy issues that are, or should be, in the news and guest contributors on issues of social justice. Written from a STUC perspective, contributions will often cover areas where there is yet no settled STUC policy and go into areas in more detail than our formal decisions. We welcome debate and we don’t expect everyone to agree with us, but we will remove any comments that are offensive, irrelevant or otherwise annoy.
Sunday, 21 September 2014
The Vow & further powers - what next?
1.With respect to new powers, there is a trust problem for the three
main devolution parties.STUC itself was
highly critical of the timing and presentation of the devolution proposals and
the Vow. This mistrust of government is not confined to the 45% yes voters in
2.It is unclear whether ‘the Vow’ swung the independence
vote or not.But that is irrelevant, you
don’t get to say ‘I made a promise which I thought I needed to make but as it turns
out I didn’t need to make it after all.’
3.The apparent attempt to include wider Westminster
Reform (reducing Scottish MP voting rights) as part of a further powers package
is a prima facie breach of trust and cannot be accepted.Remember ‘the best of both worlds’ slogan?
4.Even if it weren’t a breach of trust, the
creation of a UK Westminster Parliament with MPs having different voting rights
is not ‘English Devolution’.That would
be a) the creation of English Parliament exercising certain powers devolved
from Westminster (Hence completing the devolution of the nations within the UK)b) Devolution to the English regions of the
English Parliament as a separate process and not as an alternative to a).David Cameron and his colleagues can aspire
to be the Prime Minister of Britain or the First Minster of England – but not
5.Whilst quick and decisive first steps are vital,
it would be a mistake to judge the success of the ‘Vow’ by how quickly it is
implemented, if that means that what is implemented is sub-optimal and not the
subject of proper consultation.
6.It is highly possible that any future constitutional
settlement for the UK will be asymmetrical.The very fact that one of the four nations involved in the union is
six times bigger than the rest put together (with all the disproportionate
direct and indirect influence this entails) may require a constitutional
arrangement which appears less than perfect on paper but which is practically the
7.The asymmetrical voting system at Westminster also
reflects the fact that the union has always been/has come to be (delete as
appropriate) a contract between nations and parliaments.It reflects national interests as well as
distributional equity.This is also why Scotland’s
per capita grant reflects its greater revenue contribution and not an
assessment of its needs.
8.Devo Max is not on the table.It has only been broadly defined in the
Scottish context. Even accepting that Devo Max is not clearly defined, the
proposals of the Westminster parties comprise a mixture of options for possible
further devolution of some, but not the majority of taxes and very few aspects
of welfare. This is not Devo Max.
9.The aforementioned position is not the general
understanding of Scottish voters who probably think there is more on the table
than is actually being offered. The pro-devolution parties might argue that
this is not their fault (they did after all publish their individual
proposals).But this would put them on
very, very thin ice, given that they have had two and a half years to get this right
and waited until just a few days before the referendum to make the Vow.
10.Therefore, even if the promised timescale is
adhered to, and even if the additional devolution powers are towards the
maximum end of the spectrum of possibilities within the three parties’
proposals, a significant number of people - all of the 45% of yes voters and a
chunk of the 55% of the no voters – are likely to be unhappy.
11.It not necessarily easy or necessarily advisable to adopt a
Devo Max model such as full fiscal autonomy. This is something which of course
can be investigated, but brings a range of potential difficulties which will be
explored in future blogs.
12.Devolving a lot of tax, but not including some
proportion of North Sea Oil revenues makes it difficult to increase powers
without reducing revenues.This needs to be
13.It is also hard to devolve parts of the welfare
system but not others.There are a number
of possible mechanisms which might be explored but it’s difficult to imagine
significant changes without reform of the UK Welfare system, which has of
course just been reformed through the creation of Universal Credit, Personal
Independence Payments etc.
14.Such was the number of supporters of
both Yes and No whose key aim was to promote social justice that other powers including
employment law, equalities legislation and to empower communities should be considered.
For most of the above reasons, the current proposed process
for delivering powers is insufficient in terms of participation and scope. The
UK Government/devolution parties need to fully engage the democratically
elected Scottish Government (which is particularly representative of the 45% on
this matter).This should be augmented
by a citizen–led process for discussing and refining the devolution plan, a
process which includes not just the established civil society organisations,
but - through citizens juries or similar mechanisms - the voices of those (both yes and no) which
turned the referendum process into a democratic phenomenon.