Sunday 29 January 2012

This is boring

No matter what one thinks of the decision not to hold an Independence Referendum until the Autumn of 2014, one thing is clear. We can't discuss nothing else until the event. There is simply not enough to be said.

The Sunday papers have a decent go. The Sunday Times has Michelle Moan threatening to relocate her business if Scotland becomes Independent. SoS has an interesting piece by Eddie Barnes on the Tories attitude to more powers, rather undermined however by Ruth Davidson's subsequent appearance on the Telly. The Herald has one of Eck's own economic advisers pouring scorn on his Corporation Tax plans.

Then we had the electronic media. While I continued to slumber, Eck on Andrew Marr and then The Politics show featuring the aforementioned Ms Davidson, somebody from the Civic Society Party and a particularly incoherent performance by Nicola in which she unsuccesfully attempted to maintain that in relation to "fiscal autonomy" within a Sterling zone, black could indeed be white.

Now I'm interested in this stuff  yet even I am getting bored. And yet there are something like another 130 Sundays until the vote.

The really concerning thing here is not just that even Groundhog Day did not attempt to maintain the joke that long but that Scotland simply cannot afford the abandonment of all other politics in the meantime.

Even if you take the most optimistic nationalist view, even a decisive Yes vote in 2014 will not see Scotland actually "Independent" within the next FIVE YEARS.

That's five more Christmases and Summer Holidays,  Children not yet conceived almost at the point of going to school. Marriages not yet celebrated having ended in Divorce.

And the way the world is changing continuing to change. The relentless expansion of the internet with all that means for traditional means of communication. The strategic changes to the European Union prompted by the Euro crisis. A possible explosion of some sort in the tinderbox which is the Middle East. The continued rise of the BRICS. Above all perhaps, an eventual resolution of the current economic crisis that leaves the First World either once again striving confidently forward or, almost as likely, resigned to, hopefully managed, decline.

Every Country, large and small, will be affected by these matters and will have to develop its own strategy for dealing with them. Even if Independence was the magic bullet, I repeat, even the Nationalists do not think we will be independent for at least five years.

So we can't spend the time between then and now simply contemplating our own constitutional navel.

Now that puts a particular obligation on my own Party.

During the last Parliament we had virtually nothing to say about policy. Wendy's plan for a left leaning think tank was one of the initiatives squashed by the arrival of her successor.

I hold out no real hope that the current leadership will take any direct initiative of this nature. Even the plan for the recruitment of a "Shadow Shadow Cabinet" of technocrats to advise the various Shadow Ministers in their policy areas appears to have already sunk without trace.

But there are those out there on the centre left who would be prepared to contribute to the development of policy and there are certainly, among some of our younger MPs and MSPs, those who see the neccessity of having something new to say. I suspect that they would not even have to look too far to find some funding.

So come on comrades, get on with it! Fortune favours the brave!

Wednesday 25 January 2012

An expected response

I've been working all day. Proper honest toil: a Child Welfare Hearing; a First Appearance on a serious assault; a new divorce client and quite a complicated legal riddle about the defaulting tenant of a chippy.

So, unlike some others, I have not had time to hang on every word of the First Minister.

Even on my return home, I was sorely tempted to watch the State of the Union before turning my attention to today's events.  I have resisted that temptation but not that of first watching the news.

Much, I am sure, to Eck's annoyance, the Big Announcement, did not lead the BBC News. "Unionist conspiracy" theories about this "calculated insult to Scotland" (Eck and Scotland being interchangeable in that particular lexicon)  will have however been rather undermined by the fact that it didn't lead the Channel 4 News either.

The most important news today was the appalling fourth quarter growth figures but, even then, if anything really important had been announced by the Scottish Government, there might have been something of a dilemma for those editors charged with working out a running order. But nothing very important was announced today; just a lot of hot air.

I'd tried to read the consultation paper on my phone during the day but abandoned this as perilous to my eyesight. However, on my return home I googled "Scottish Referendum White Paper" and got four different previous events. An August 2007 Announcement; a November 2009 Announcement; a May 2011 Announcement and a November 2011 Announcement. We might not have had an actual referendum but we've certainly have lots of referendum announcements!

Having found the correct document, I've still not had as much time as I'd have liked to digest it, so I reserve the right to notice, tomorrow or wherever that I've missed something. Anyway, I'm always happier with working with a hard copy.

But, that having been said, are we any further forward? Not really.

We've got a different question and we appear to have moved in principle from claiming we'll ask a second question only if somebody else actually asks for it, to essentially saying we'll ask such a question if we can get away with it. But, devo max remains as obscure as ever, as does, other than the SNP itself , who exactly are the partisans of such a question being asked. Equally, Independence remains no more defined than it ever was.

And that's about it.

There remain directly contradictory statements which characterise so much SNP propoganda although it is disappointing that the civil sevice has allowed their inclusion in an official government document. For example the introduction contains this curious formulation

"Eligibility to vote will be the same as for Scottish Parliament and local government elections and for the 1997 referendum on devolution. The Scottish Government also proposes to extend the franchise to include those 16 and 17 year olds who are on the electoral register on the day of the poll."

Patently, irrespective of the merits of the proposition of the second sentence, it contradicts that contained in its immediate predecessor.

Equally, the proposition

Under independence, Scotland would have the rights and responsibilities of a normal, sovereign state and continue its membership in the European Union

Contains a contradiction within the same sentence!

The First section about legal powers is also full of unsubstantiated assertions as to the law, some of which e.g.

"What is not in question is the competence of the Scottish Parliament to legislate for a referendum about changes to the powers of the Scottish Parliament within the framework of devolution." 

are patently untrue. Hopefully somebody someone will ask the First Minister tomorrow whether the Government Legal Service agree with the legal opinions expressed in the introduction and Part One of the document. Indeed I will by working the phones tonight to that effect.

Once you get past the Introduction and Part One, the rest of the document is less contentious and generally comes across as written by officials rather than politicians. Obviously this includes the welcome back down on the involvement of the Electoral Commission. There is however one very interesting section on funding. PPERA is to apply restricting political parties to spending £250,000 each. That at first blush looks to favour the "Unionist"  Parties, since they are more numerous. But, excepting that expenditure, the opposing camps are to be dragooned by law into two opposing Yes and No campaigns and then to have their expenditure capped at £750,000.

Now, it is the SNP themselves who are crowing that it would be a mistake for Labour to campaign alongside the Tories but it would now appear that it is the SNP are trying to insist, by law, on that outcome.

I'm not yet persuaded that there is anything sinister in this. To be fair, it does not allow the SNP themselves to spend all the money they have available. Nonetheless, it will have to change. I will return to this.

Overall however I come back to where I started. Little has changed today. We might know one question but we still don't know the proposition upon which it is asked. We still don't know if it will be the only question. We don't know if the question(s) will be within the competence of the Scottish Parliament and, if they are not, whether the Nationalists will compromise to allow a referendum to take place or use legal difficulties as an excuse not to have one.

Presumably, for any of that to be clearer we will have to await another "historic" announcement. Roll on St Andrew's Day.

Sunday 22 January 2012

Home Rule All Round!


You can’t write a piece like this without influences. It is underpinned by knowledge gleaned from everybody from Karl Marx in 1848 to Brian Ashcroft last week. (The latter article interestingly is followed in the comment section by one Nationalist comment that this is “drivel, unionist lies and statistics”!) It would be invidious to single any one text or person out as particularly influential to my thinking but it is equally inappropriate to claim it all as my own. At best I have simply tried to bring together that part of the thinking of others with which I most agree.

In the end however all conclusions are my own. I am not cover for some prodigal son or daughter who will return to lead Labour in Scotland at the appropriate time; less so still for any Demosthenes I anticipate arising from the ranks of the School of Athens which is the Labour Holyrood Group. And if there is a King or Queen over the water they have not made themselves known to me, let alone contributed to what follows.

I am sufficiently conceited nonetheless to think there might be some wider dissemination and discussion of what I have to say. Just remember when doing so that the one guarantee that this will never become the policy of the Labour Party is the fact that I have said it!

But in one crucial way this document is the responsibility of the Scottish Labour Leadership. I am a real partisan of the Labour Party and would normally do nothing to provide any succour to the SNP. I appreciate however that some will spin this contribution as doing just that.

Last Thursday however the exchange at First Minister's questions consisted of Johann demanding to know what the SNP Administration proposed to do about rising unemployment. Eck replied repeatedly that he was doing all he could within the Parliament's existing powers. He's not, even remotely, indeed he's making things significantly worse.

But "Scottish Labour's" Five Point Plan for Jobs produced in the aftermath of this depressing exchange consisted of proposals which are outwith the competence of the Parliament and a fifth which the SNP are doing already and which, when they put it in their budget, we opposed. I am simply at a loss as to what to make of this.

The immediate initiative of the new leadership has been to smother any possible policy initiative against meaningless promises of Party Reform, which, based on past experience, will themselves come to nothing in due course. To be fair, that was the platform on which Johann was elected.

So, I might as well get on with it myself. I'm not getting any younger. I neither have the time nor the patience to wait another five years and it might shame them into doing something. I won't however be holding my breath.

A Proposal to improve the Devolution Settlement

Constitutional reform is not easy. That’s the reality of reform within the United Kingdom but it is equally true of whatever is now meant by Independence.

When the SNP was founded there was a recent example of a Country leaving the United Kingdom, in the form of the Irish Free State. It was clear what that meant then. One’s own currency (at least in appearance), tariffs against English goods, a cultural boycott of England, a belief in the innate value of “going your own way” even at a very considerable economic price.

Most of those who founded the SNP were essentially attracted by a Presbyterian version of that model.

There are however and of course huge differences between, on the one hand, the historic relationship of England and Scotland and, on the other, the relationship between England (let’s be honest, mainland Britain) and Ireland. That was one of many reasons that Scottish nationalism never flourished on the De Valera model (except perhaps in the field of poetry!) but even in the 1920s the separation of the integrated economies of Scotland and England (never mind the Empire we were then running together) would have been a much more complex issue than the separation of the British economy from the much less developed, essentially agrarian, economy of Southern Ireland.

But nationalisms change. “Ourselves Alone” failed as an economic and cultural model. The only thing Ireland found itself exporting was people; its only growth in misery. Sean Lemass and then much more significantly with accession to the European Union, Garret Fitzgerald, realised that to prosper in the modern world you had to engage with the modern world.

There was and is however a certain legacy left. Certain symbols of the past that, once heroic, then quaint, slowly began to look anachronistic. It would be interesting to consider when the Queen visited Dublin last year whether it was not she, the 84 year old hereditary monarch, who actually looked a more modern figure than President Mary McAleese.

The same developments can be traced within the ranks of Scottish Nationalism. It is, of course, a much more modern and inclusive party than it once was. Excepting the national question, most of its younger activists hold political views indistinguishable from the younger members of my own Party.

But the SNP also has a legacy. It is readily remembered that De Valera infamously signed the book of condolence at the German Embassy following the death of Hitler. Such had the doctrine that “England’s enemy is my friend” become distorted. It is more readily forgotten (indeed when I referred to it once on Twitter it was clear many in the modern SNP had no idea what I was talking about) that during that epic struggle to defeat Nazism, much of the leadership of the SNP took a similar view. Not that they were Nazis themselves, but that such was their tunnel vision commitment to the “cause of Scotland” that even the defeat of Hitler was to take second place.

It is inconceivable the majority of the modern SNP would now take that view. However, although Eck must know this wartime stance was fundamentally wrong, he has never found it within him to condemn it and apologise for what happened as he knows that there remain some in the SNP who hold to such priorities today (and who incidentally think Arthur Donaldson and Douglas Young were victims of an English conspiracy to blacken the SNP; just watch, the comment section to this blog will bring them out).

The other legacy the modern SNP have inherited is a more problematical one.

At least since they embraced “Independence in Europe” and recognised that an “Independent” Scotland and England would remain not only in a common economic area but within a framework, albeit with others, of common decision making, the SNP have not really been in favour of Independence in the way Independence was envisaged by their founders. You can still see some dim and resentful appreciation of this in the views of some of their older members muttering that we’ll only be in the EU as long as we want to be. There of course also remains the bizarre suggestion at the top of the SNP that we’ll be in the EU but not in the Common Fisheries Policy. This is surely no longer a question of base politics fishing for votes on the NE seaboard. It involves an unwillingness to confront no reluctant constituency other than some of the membership of the SNP itself that true “Independence” is no longer what the Party stands for. The same applies to the continued unwillingness to reverse policy on withdrawal from NATO. NATO membership is a recognition that Britain cannot guarantee her own defence, never mind Scotland. Continued commitment to withdrawal from NATO can only be rationalised on the basis that there remains a part of the SNP membership, too large to confront, who do still believe that Independence means cutting ourselves off from the world.

So, this mindset is more, much more, of a real factor in Scottish politics than is realised, not least by the bright young things so themselves caught up with modern, inclusive, civic nationalism.

I tried to illustrate this dilemma when I wrote about how Salmond had clearly cut his own cut his own 2011 Conference Speech because even he, the great leader at the height of his triumph, hesitated to speak the truth to his own Party.

It is most obvious however in the continued commitment to an Independence Referendum. It is farcical that the SNP themselves still can’t define Independence but then again it is also farcical that the Labour Party can’t define socialism. That’s politics.

What is more absurd is the suggestion that we’ll have a referendum for or against this nebulous concept even as we’re successively assured only what it won’t involve: a closed border; a different Head of State; a different currency; even a different national broadcaster. 

Nonetheless to be against this, whatever it is, is to be “anti-Scottish”. Further, while for those in favour of Independence (quote/endquote), Independence can be what you want it to be, somehow it is to deemed  illegitimate to suggest that Independence might turn out to be the stuff of your worst nightmares. Endless Neil Oliver kailyard documentaries interspersed with re-runs of old Alexander Brothers Concerts. 

I continue to doubt that this “Independence” will ever be put to a vote but if it is it will be decisively defeated, not least because it is opposed by a very considerable part of the SNP’s electoral support and even, whisper it, by a significant part of the SNP’s own membership. In any event, if you’re voting for something you can’t define...............?

What is indisputable (and definable) however is that the SNP are unanimously in favour of (at least) the maximum possible freedom of action in the economic sphere which is possible without having your own currency and while remaining party to the treaty regime of the European Union.

What might surprise them is that so are many of us in the Labour Party. Now that doesn’t mean we are in favour of Independence. I’m happy to put my record on the Party’s Home Rule wing up against anybody. I am proud that I was once asked by the NEC where I would stand if the interests of Scotland conflicted with the interests of the Labour Party and denied the chance to be a Labour MP as a result of my answer. I have however never met a member of the Labour Party who is in favour of Independence. There are any number of reasons for that beyond the nebulousness of the concept. It simply starts from the wrong place: that different means better. And if you believe you are better then somebody else is logically worse. That’s just not our thing.

Accordingly, sheer partisanship makes it attractive to contemplate sticking to what we’ve got constitutionally. To encourage the SNP to bring the fight on in the knowledge that they will be “crushed under the wheels of our tanks” (current official Scottish Labour Party policy), or, more likely, be seen to be obviously running away and mocked, albeit it to no particular purpose, in the process.

I am aware that Labour is anxious not to create the impression that the SNP are somehow the midwives of an improved devolution scheme but I have concluded in the end that short term political considerations cannot be allowed to prevent us saying what we stand for (or at least would stand for if I had any influence........which I don’t). Anyway, if we are being honest, support for the Nationalists has always been a factor in creating space for the devolutionists. Wendy Alexander conceded as much in her, unwisely neglected, 2007 St Andrew's Day speech. That was among the reasons her leadership was sabotaged from within.

Anyway, it's easy to be a critic.

Since I've started on this blogging lark, from time to time people have challenged me with the question: "What would you do?"

And I myself have also in the past commented on the inadequacy of "Something different" as an answer to that question.

The most insistent question has come on the question of my own preferred devolution scheme and I've finally been sufficiently embarrassed to attempt to answer that.

Before I continue, a number of caveats.

I am assuming that the vast majority of my readers are steeped in the statistics of Scotland's relative public expenditure spend and fiscal contribution. We all know where we agree and we'll know where we'll disagree. I'm attempting to win no arguments in that sphere here, so I've not gone to the bother of quoting sources for any of what I say. Suffice to say, I believe they are available and if I'm mistaken I'm mistaken in good faith.

Secondly, although to some extent I come to bury Calman not to praise him, my actual task becomes as complex as that quotation is within its context. The fiscal powers section of Calman is well worth reading again. Although the dead hand of the Treasury lies across its entire provisions with unexplained technical or administrative difficulties relied upon time and time again as an excuse for inaction, it sets out some of the genuinely problematical issues that arise in relation to devolved and assigned taxation within the context of a unitary state but also within the constraints of the European Single Market. Obviously I think Calman was too conservative in its conclusions but nobody disputes this technical analysis. At best critics just put their fingers in their ears and start humming Flower of Scotland, or deride it as “drivel, unionist lies and statistics”.

Thirdly, I remain of the view that the reason the SNP won as big in May had very little to do directly with a demand for constitutional change. It had much more to do with a desire for a competent government, which only the SNP truly had on offer, and a desire for the Scottish Government to do more (to be fair, perhaps to be able to do more) to address the condition of Scotland. If that required constitutional change then the electorate was content with that but a desire for constitutional change per se was not the reason for their vote.

Finally, and most importantly, Devolution is an agreed settlement between Scotland and the rest of the UK. I blogged months ago about the application of Trotskyist transitional demand theory to some of the SNP's politics. The sort of deal that involves us having all the advantages of boom years in oil revenues (classic devo max) but still being able to fall back on the UK if it all goes horribly wrong; or indeed which allows us to share an army while having a veto on its deployment(Indy-lite) has little to commend it to the rest of the UK. It might just be sellable as compromise through the pages of Newsnet. It won't wash in the real world.

So, Devo plus has no place in a referendum. It cannot be demanded unilaterally and if it is an agreed deal it need not require a vote. Nor need it be framed so as to defeat a yes vote to independence. Every reputable poll ever published confirms there is not going to be a yes vote to independence. Indeed, because nobody knows the truth of that better than the SNP,  if there is even a vote on the issue at all called by the current SNP administration I will remain considerably surprised. Only the fact that they have boxed themselves into a corner by naming a date gives me any cause to doubt that. To that extent, well done David Cameron. My worry is however that by putting all their eggs in the one basket, the SNP will leave us with nothing, except egg not still in the basket  but rather all over our face. They, the Government of Scotland, need to negotiate with Westminster over what might reasonably be available by agreement. No amount of appealing to others for a different receptacle for some of their eggs excuses their own inaction on that front.

So, what do we want by devo plus? I've already answered that question. We want to be able to address the condition of Scotland. And in what ways does the current devolution scheme preclude that? It does not preclude it as comprehensively as past Labour Administrations, anxious not to differ themselves unduly from parallel Westminster Labour Governments made out. Nor indeed as  SNP administrations, anxious to blame the constitutional settlement for their own timidity, would have you believe.


There are three central flaws in the current settlement. Firstly there is no proper accountability. "We don't have the money" is an easy complaint when (even before John Swinney gratuitously gave it away) a variation on (only) the basic rate of income tax or a misuse of local government taxation for other ends were the only true revenue raising opportunities available.

Secondly, there is no reward. If the Scottish Government made sacrifices in other areas of public expenditure in order to pursue an immensely successful industrial strategy they would have taken all the pain without a single extra penny of the gain excepting any fraction they might inherit through Barnett formula of an overall increase in UK GDP. That's not what devolution was meant to be about.

Thirdly, real public expenditure in Scotland is invested hugely in the benefits system. Any real control on the supply side requires us to be able to tap into that.

I want to illustrate this with two hypothetical (and exaggerated) examples. First, the left example. FDR becomes leader of a Labour administration at Holyrood and decides to embark on a "massive programme of public works". Using the existing borrowing powers of local authorities, hundreds (well, tens) of new schools and community facilities are created. Thousands of new jobs are created. Unemployment benefits are greatly reduced and income tax receipts soar. At the end of this however the Councils still have the debt and not a penny of the additional revenue to help them pay it. Then the right example. IDS is leading a Scottish Tory administration. They decide that some idleness at least is willing idleness so they (never borrowing) create a system of workfare paid for by re-introducing tuition fees. Nobody however turns up for this work as they're all quite happy watching Jeremy Kyle. The Scottish Government has spent the money (and lost the student vote) but any effective sanction lies with Westminster.

It is regrettable that state Benefits form such an important part of Scottish public life but they do. So, as a starter, benefits need to be devolved. By that I mean all benefits except, as much for practical reasons as anything else, accrued but unfunded retirement pension obligations, whether they are in respect of the basic state pension or, indeed, those of the NHS and Civil Service Pension scheme. Pension credits could however be devolved.

This all however remains, ultimately, in the sphere of expenditure. What, I hear those of you still awake crying, about income?

Well here, again, I need to go off on a bit of a diversion.

I  believe in social solidarity. Nothing annoys me more than those who boast, within London, as to how much of the UK tax take derives from the City of London, and should therefore be spent there. Why then should I be any happier with a similar argument about North Sea Oil?

You might as well say that since I, touch wood, keep, reasonably good health, why should my taxes be paying for my next door neighbour who's never out the hospital? I've got no kids so why should I be paying for anybody's education? I don’t live in the far Highlands so why should I be subsidising their postal charges?

The answer is of course not socialism but simply civilisation. Certainly there is a hypocrisy in this or none of us in the rich west would be enjoying the lifestyles we do, but in the end we form a far from scientific view about those who are our neighbours and those who are not.. For all the verbiage that surrounds "post nationalism" the essential divide comes down to that. Not between those who believe we'd be better off without England & Wales and those who do not; rather between those who believe we'd be better off without England & Wales and those who do not think that should be the question in the first place.

So, anyway, back to the big issue.

Scotland needs a revenue solution that enables us to reflect the priorities of the domestic government we have elected; that rewards that government for its success but also punishes it for its failure. That recognises also however that we have chosen to remain part of a United Kingdom and accept the responsibilities that go with that. The right to be different does not equate to the right to an unfair advantage or to behave like the proverbial tail wagging the dog.

Here, I think, is where Reform Scotland go wrong. Devolved Government needs a revenue mix but so does Central Government. The idea that all income tax should stay in Scotland but all VAT at Westminster restricts the revenue raising powers of both administrations.

Income Tax was first introduced in response to the external threat of Napoleon. We are for the moment exempt from such threat but it would be wholly unacceptable that a modern required response of that nature affected only England & Wales. Or indeed that, even if Scotland was inclined to chip in, we couldn't raise the money through Inheritance Tax instead, if we believed that to be fairer.

The solution I propose is complex, I accept. But any solution, even Independence in Europe is complicated. You don’t need to have a view on whether an Independent Scotland would automatically be a member of the EU to recognise that the (continued) terms of that membership would require negotiation over the exact number of votes we’d have in the Council and Parliament or over the extent of our contribution to European central funds. Even if we keep the pound sterling, this will require negotiation on how we physically lay our hands on the currency. And if there’s still to be the BBC we’ll nonetheless need negotiation on exactly how much Neil Oliver we really want. (Perhaps we could have a separate referendum on that.)

And that’s before you even start on how you entrench a hereditary Monarchy within a written constitution.

So when I say my scheme is complicated, it is no more complicated than any other and, I believe, in a digital, internet age, it is far from unworkable.

It proceeds from the central principle that most major taxes collected in Scotland should be assigned to Scotland and then apportioned between Scotland and the United Kingdom much as Calman proposes for Income Tax rates alone. Tax rates and allowances in respect of the assigned portion should then be devolved when possible. Assignation based on receipts was dismissed by Calman in a single sentence as "administratively burdensome". No evidence was adduced for this but, even if it is, well that will just have to be how it is.

There is an important difference however between assignation and devolution of taxation.

You have to accept that within a unitary state not all taxes are appropriate for devolution. Some cannot be internally varied within member states under European Union Law. Most obviously that includes VAT and, according to Calman, it also includes fuel duties.

Other taxes are legally devolvable but inappropriate for devolution. Those which are not devolvable are essentially those which leave themselves open to a choice over where they are paid. These include, regrettably, excise duty. Drink and cigarettes would simply be bought on whichever side of an open border they proved to be cheaper, perhaps even over the internet. They also include Vehicle Excise Duty which would otherwise lead to it being paid on fleet cars and hire cars wherever it attracted the lower rate. The Vehicle excise example also applies to Corporation tax. Ideally it would be paid where it is earned but in practice it is paid where it is declared. The SNP model of Gretna becoming some sort of new Bahamas, where Companies trading overwhelmingly in England declare their profits under a lower Scottish Corporation Tax regime is not only morally offensive, it is incompatible with a unitary state, as the Nationalists well know. At the danger of descending into minutiae there would in principle be no objection to a variable Corporation Tax rate applying to businesses trading exclusively in Scotland, as applies in the Basque Country, but I do wonder if that’s worth the bother. All of these taxes however, although not devolved, would nonetheless be identified at the point of payment and then assigned in a, permanently legislated for, proportion to the Scottish Government.

In doing so, you need to recognise that in respect of some smaller but very geographically specific taxes e.g. Inheritance Tax; Stamp Duty Land Tax; perhaps Air Passenger Duty, these could be assigned and devolved but that “split” apportionment is probably not worth the bother. These could simply be apportioned to Scotland at a level of 100%.

That however leaves you with the big players (in apportionment) devolved. Income Tax (and CGT); National Insurance; Petroleum Extraction taxes.

Now here is where I depart big time from Calman. This basket of taxes, once hypothetically assigned  should then be apportioned to Scotland in such a way as gives us a starting point of producing equivalent revenue as is required to match the current expenditure of devolved government (together with the additional responsibilities I have outlined above).  (For the avoidance of doubt that might, probably does, involve variable rates of apportionment of individual taxes). That might be a crude starting point but if it locks in unfair advantage to Scotland at its starting point (as some critics would claim) then at least what we made of that legacy would be for us alone. The block grant would be no more and there would be no renegotiation based only on a “needs based” appeal. Having made our bed we would need to lie in it. We are told that’s what people want.

I’m by no means convinced of the technical difficulties that Calman identifies in either the devolution of income tax rules or allowances. That seems to me to be no more than a matter of tax codes. I’m also not clear that the potentially variable taxation of unearned income is as difficult as is suggested by Calman but, I accept, some further technical assessment might be required here.

Scotland would also be given the express right to levy completely new taxes if an an electoral mandate could be secured. In this area I have regard particularly to possible behavioural taxes and/or green taxes.
But back to my main thesis. There would need to be a shadow, possibly transitional, regime to ensure that advance estimates of current take had not been miscalculated, much in the way that the current Scotland Bill anticipates operating for Income Tax, but that should not be technically beyond HMRC’s super computers.

There would also need to be one very important dispute resolution mechanism set out in legislation. 

Westminster would in future be setting (e.g.) two income taxes. A UK tax and a peculiarly English & Welsh Tax. There would have to be an agreement that, for example, an increase in English & Welsh disability benefits would only be funded from  English & Welsh taxes. Such a crude example is unlikely to arise but the ability to characterise, particularly, infrastructure investment in London as being “National” expenditure has a long and dishonourable past. If there was a dispute resolution mechanism with the ability to highlight that I suspect it would be as welcome in Cornwall and Durham as it would be necessary to Scotland. We need however to be careful with our rhetoric here. It has cost a very great deal of money to keep RBS on the road. If that money was spent for the benefit of the whole UK then it would still have been spent in the interests of the whole UK even if the Bank had been based in Eastbourne rather than Edinburgh. And while HS2 from London to Birmingham might bring little benefit to Scotland, if it doesn’t get to Birmingham it will never get to Manchester. And it never gets to Manchester it will, most certainly, never get to Scotland. That’s all I’m saying.

There is however one final point before I leave this issue. It is common territory across political and economic opinion that we have a crisis over the current fiscal deficit. It goes without saying that under my scheme the handling of that deficit would remain within the province of the British Government and that both the paying down of that debt and the servicing of the interest pro tem would be British expenditure paid for out of British taxation. The reality is however that paying the income and capital on that debt is, in itself, a significant element of current public expenditure. On the happy day the deficit is eliminated (I am writing hypothetically here) not all the savings made will be passed back to taxpayers in the form of tax cuts, even by a Tory Government.

In the process however there is likely to be a switch, under my model, from “British” expenditure to expenditure solely in England & Wales. That will need a transparency in the public finances that neither the Treasury or the politicians will like, particularly if one “bit” of (e.g.) Income Tax is actually going up as the other “bit” goes down. Tough.

As for borrowing powers, Calman’s OK in my opinion. It is simply unrealistic in this day and age to operate “Keynesianism in one country”, even (as Mitterand found) in a much bigger country than Scotland and particularly without access to interest rate, exchange rate or money supply levers. If we wish to remain part of the UK we need to accept that macro-economic policy is for the British Government and hopefully increasingly for the European Union. If we in Scotland are going to influence our economic performance that influence needs to be on the supply side. We need borrowing powers to smooth infrastructure investment but to engage in strategic demand management in isolation from our single biggest markets? Don’t be silly.

Finally, we should complete the devolution of private and criminal law. It is a disgrace that all of our politicians conspire to avoid difficult decisions on abortion by conspiring in its continued reservation. The same applies to the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Road Traffic Acts.

So, that’s it. My scheme. Not simple to understand or, I suspect, to easily sell on a public platform. But, as I said at the very start, constitutional reform is complicated. “Independence” would be complicated as the SNP themselves are slowly realising or, to their own backwoodsmen at least, disclosing. That’s both the beauty and the triumph of the constitutional architecture of the 1998 Act. It not only provides a solid structure, it provides one which can be built upon. It would be an act of vandalism to knock that down and start again.

My own proposal contains nothing however that could reasonably be regarded by “Unionist” opinion as incompatible with continued membership of the United Kingdom, except in one final aspect. Can we continue to have Scottish MPs voting on exclusively English & Welsh tax rates and benefits? We’ve survived that anomaly in relation to health and education since 1999 but that, in the end, has to be a matter for the English and Welsh themselves.

Finally, I accept my scheme is not Independence, at least in the eyes of some. But then I don’t believe in Independence. I’m a devolutionist. Always have been. But I’m also a bit unhappy with the term “Devolution”, technically correct though it is. One of the welcome and irreversible achievements of the SNP has been to transform the appellation of the political administration at Holyrood from “Scottish Executive” to “Scottish Government.”

Perhaps its time for those of us anxious to promote a strong Scottish Government within a continued United Kingdom to reclaim another too seldom used term for what we propose.

Perhaps, once again, it is time for Home Rule.

For which first Labour politician wanted that? James Keir Hardie.

Saturday 21 January 2012

In The Huff

I've not been blogging as I'm working on my magnum opus Devo Max Scheme. Watch this Space.

I went however to the Jim Wallace Speech yesterday. Free CPD (lawyer's joke). The Herald asked me to blog on the event but then didn't publish it. So I'm in the huff. Here it is anyway. My first ever attempt at reportage. Eat your heart out Woodward and Bernstein.

At the Ancient University of Glasgow this evening, gathered a stellar audience anxious to feast on the pearls of wisdom and insight likely to be offered by that almost legendary figure, Lord Wallace of Thankerness, Advocate General of (all) Scotland.

Top lawyers; not quite such top lawyers, and would be top lawyers of the future assembled in the company of a few miserable specimens of humanity who were not lawyers at all, to hear a  definitive assessment of whether the Parliament of one of our (not quite so) ancient nations could legitimately block the Parliament of our other, even more ancient nation, from conducting a popular plebiscite on what is quaintly known as “Independence”.

I am sure I speak for many of the assembled company when I say that it would be altogether preferable if these matters were left entirely to the lawyers. Regrettably, modern mores demands a wider accountability, or so we’re told.

Nonetheless, the event itself did not disappoint, excepting the interventions of some of the top lawyers of the future who appeared to be unaware of the distinction between the sovereignty of the Scottish people and the sovereignty of the Scottish Parliament. Or, indeed, who in one case, seemed ignorant of the provisions of the Peace of Westphalia. As for the interventions of the laity, the less said the better.

Lord Wallace covered familiar territory: Whaley v Watson; AXA Insurance v The Scottish Ministers; Martin and Miller v HMA . Only someone unfamiliar with modern Supreme Court Jurisprudence would have learned anything new. And few in the room fell into that category.

Nonetheless, the real interest lay not with those who spoke from the floor but those present who kept their own counsel but who furiously took notes in anticipation of their potential role as actual,  rather than academic or (worse still) internet gladiators in the fight that might yet be to come. For, if you knew the audience, the gladiators were all in this preliminary arena.

And yet the most interesting contribution from the floor? From Alan Dewar QC: “This should not be decided by the Courts, the politicians need to sort it out.

What kind of talk is that! Some of us have a living to make.

Monday 16 January 2012

A great woman passeth

Janey Buchan is dead

Norman Buchan once said to me that you can't be sure that you are an atheist unless you have survived seeing Orvieto Cathedral.

Janey shared that scepticism about religion. Lots and lots of time I thought she was wrong: about the European Union; about devolution; about the unchallenged virtue of the State of Israel. Tonight, however, on that biggest question of all, I hope she was most wrong of all.

Although if she is sitting now in the company of St Mungo, St Patrick and St Vincent de Paul I'm sure she will be asserting almost immediately that they are a crowd of right wing bastards.

It is almost impossible to value the contribution of Janey and Norman Buchan to the Scottish Left. No, it is impossible to value.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to enjoy their hospitality remember a home.............I was going to say a home of whatever, but actually a home is enough in itself.

I have never seen a house with more books. Or experienced a place with more diverse company. And the only risk of being thrown out would have come with the assertion that "I don't want an argument".

It was a place of argument, as much as it was a place of food and drink and music and of, yes, sanctuary.

Wee Norrie was, at least, a bit cogniscant of  the compromises supposedly neccessary to make your way in modern politics but Janey never was.

The dialectic was everything.  Marx, Engels. Lenin, Trotsky, Luxembourg, Leibnicht, Gramsci but never, ever Stalin echoed across the West End into the small hours. Night, after night, after night.

And the music. Folk music, the workers music. Not just Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger; Scottish Ballads and songs about the struggles of working people of diverse type;  international songs about freedom from oppression in Countries (shame on us) we had barely heard of. And, just occasionally, Verdi or Bellini to remind you that sometimes everyone was due a moment's release from the struggle.

Grief has two dimensions. Who you have lost but also what you have lost.

So I finish with a quotation and a song. No, two songs.

Here's the quotation

And here are the two songs

First for this time

Then for all time

Sunday 15 January 2012

Who are Himsworth and O'Neill?

There had seemed to be a consensus at the beginning of last week that whether the Scottish Parliament could competently call an Independence Referendum involved a divide between constitutionalists (i.e. lawyers) and the insurrectionists (i.e. the SNP).

Nothing wrong with being an insurrectionist. Most of my heroes: Danton, Garibaldi, Lenin, Mandela belonged to their ranks. But it has to be conceded that they were in insurrection against regimes that were not, exactly, representative of popular opinion in the first place.

However, let’s be honest, Scotland is not in an insurrectionist mood.

If you travel in central Italy, you encounter from town to town, plaques which announce the result, locally, of the various referenda that took place around 1860 as to whether the local citizens wished to be part of a united Italy.

Such votes must have involved the expenditure of both time and money by those involved in their organisation. And the local bureaucrats, who organised them, with the occasional exception, must have done so in the knowledge that they were acting contrary to the wishes of those who paid their wages. They didn’t care however for they were seized with the cause of Italy. As were the citizens who then chose, voluntarily, to participate in these votes.

Nobody is seized with the cause of Scotland to that extent. If told by a Court, never mind threatened with military force, that they were not to proceed, not just some, but all, of Scotland’s Returning Officers would obey that injunction. And, that aside, no body would turn up to such a poll.

So Eck and his troops, no matter in what they might be inclined think after four pints of lager, a late night showing of Braveheart and a collective, pre retiral, singalong of Scots Wha Hae, realise that they have to accept the rules of normal, 21st Century, democratic, discourse.

The vote can only take place if it’s legal and it is only legal if the Courts say it is. Not, for the avoidance of any doubt, the Supreme Court. Simply the Scottish Courts, a point on which our media are so hypnotised by Eck, they have failed to notice.

Now, at this point various Nationalist partisans will emerge out of the cybersphere to assert the sovereignty of the Scottish People. They are right, of course, both in theory and in ultimate practice. If the SNP somehow managed to organise a referendum in which a clear majority of the Scottish people turned up and expressed a desire for independence, then that would have to follow.

Only they can’t. Not just secure such a majority. Even organise such a Referendum in the first place.

And nobody, and here I mean nobody other than 4 a.m. correspondents on the Scotsman Web page, thinks that sovereignty of the Scottish People and sovereignty of the Scottish Parliament in any way equate.

So Eck needs legal clearance for his Referendum, assuming of course he ever wants it to take place, (This, regular readers will know, is something I more than doubt.)

The legal opinion, on the record and publicly, that holding an Independence Referendum is outwith the legal competence of the Scottish Parliament is overwhelming. It now includes even me, who for a long time held out on the other side in loyalty to a misplaced faith in McCormick v The Lord Advocate.

The best Eck has been able to do in response is to assert that there (remain) any numbers of lawyers on his side. Asked to name them he has failed to come up with a single one, not excluding his own Law Officers and the two eminent lawyers in his own Cabinet.

So he has been left relying on unnamed supporters and a textbook. Himsworth and O’Neill: Scotland’s Constitution Law and Practice.

Now here I must depart on a number of confessions.


Constitutional Law is not how I make a living. I possess any number of books on personal injury law; family law; criminal law. Even a number of more or less current editions.  Himsworth and O’Neill is not however a textbook I have in my possession. When I was at University the standard textbook was S.A. De Smith’s Constitutional and Administrative Law. Written in the most wonderful English, it was like Paradise Lost, only for lawyers. It is, nonetheless, I accept, now more than thirty years old. So, I suppose, it is no surprise there is a more modern text. And Himsworth and O’Neill is, apparently, it.


Even after I was aware of their publication, I thought I had absolutely no idea who Himsworth and O’Neill actually were. A bit like Renton and Brown. (lawyers’ joke). But actually I do know who O’Neill is.


All the really clever women in Scotland are wee. Wee Nicola. Wee Wendy. Wee Lucy Adams. Wee Christine O’Neill. For it is the latter who is the O’Neill. And she is probably the cleverest of the lot.

Now, all lawyers trade on the basis that they personally are the absolutely best lawyer in Scotland and, indeed, I would happily maintain that if you were on a JP Court Breach of the Peace, you’d be much better with me than any of the Big Firm lawyers. If however you had a public law point to be argued in the Supreme Court, and I was unavailable, then you could not do better than wee Christine. In any legal firm in Scotland.
So, if Christine O’Neill thought that Eck’s Referendum was clearly within the competence of the Scottish Parliament that might give even me cause for reflection.

Only she doesn’t.

That's all. Happy new week.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Advice Rejected

I have bought an awful lot of Council Houses. And I’ve wound a lot of modest estates that include British Telecom or British Gas or Scottish Power Shares.

Being a solicitor involves a variety of different activities. Some worthy but poorly rewarded, such as fighting repossessions or defending the innocent, others reasonably lucrative but, frankly, boring, like buying houses or administering executries.

The one thing this diverse experience does give you however is a view of the world.

It is simply nonsense that Scotland rejected Thatcherism in its entirety. Like we do in respect of so many other parts of British life, we bought into the bits we liked while claiming we wanted nothing to do with, indeed deplored, the rest of the package.

Ten days after Labour’s triumph in 1997 I wrote in Tribune about where the Scottish Tories had gone wrong under Thatcherism. Interestingly, it was this emphasis on the need to recognise the national dimension in Scottish politics that cursed my ambition in Labour politics before and since. But that is, nonetheless, where the Scottish Tories went wrong then and, among other ways, where Labour has gone wrong since.

It had little or nothing to do with the naked class politics that led them to be equally hated in working class communities from South Yorkshire to South Wales to South Lanarkshire. These people, my people, were never going to vote for them. We hadn’t had any more time for Ted Heath!

No, the Tories, despite heroic effort from the likes of George Younger, simply didn’t realise that Scotland needed to be respected and recognised as a bit different. And, above all, paid attention to.

Well, now they are paying attention. Good.

There is a stupidity in allowing your opponents to frame the terms of political discourse. Over the recent period we are constantly bombarded by SNP warnings that if Labour campaigns alongside the Tories for a No vote, we will be making a serious error. Most recently by the First Minister today.

Well, firstly, if I, as a life long Labour man thought the SNP, or indeed the Tories, were about to make a serious error, then the last thing I would do would be to rush out to warn them off it. More importantly however such “advice” seeks, with a certain constituency, to frame the Independence debate in left/right terms.

This simply won’t wash. For the avoidance of any doubt, while George Osborne is in favour of lower corporate taxation rates than I would like, he’s still for considerably higher rates than John Swinney or Alex Salmond. While the initial Tory proposals on public sector pensions were deplorable, they were on any view more progressive than any of the four options offered by the SNP. While the Tories were too lax (as Labour was) on pre-crash Bank regulation, they were still for greater regulation than that proposed by wee Eck for his former employers at RBS.

Sure, on other issues, the SNP have a more progressive aspect. Indeed on criminal justice policy, at least, they are to the left of Labour. The point is that you cannot frame the question of Scottish Independence in left/right terms.

And the other point is that by somehow equating permanent Independence with temporary Tory Government and spurning both equally we, the Labour Party, risk a very long term error.  We can always vote the Tories out.

So, whether we campaign alongside the Tories becomes simply a question of what gains us best tactical advantage.

And the obvious answer is that of course it does.

Division is the mother of confusion.

There is no confusion among the devolutionist forces. Independence would be a disaster for Scotland. That is a united opinion so why should it not be the basis for a united campaign?

And, more importantly still, if we can frame the debate as being between, on the one hand, all reasonable opinion, left and right and, on the other, those who have perhaps seen Braveheart  once too often, then that, surely, can only be in our own interests.

So, Eck, thanks for the advice, but I don’t think we’ll be taking it.

Anyway, we need to develop a working relationship with the Tories. Assuming the Referendum does take place, after the next Scottish Election, they are likely to be our Official Opposition.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

It's not rocket science

One of the things you learn as a lawyer is that some cross examinations need to be planned.

Mibbee it’s because I’ve been doing this for a long time but it doesn’t seem to me to be difficult.

You also need to get to make sure the initial premises to the question are agreed with the witness but then get to the  pay off answer (or refusal to answer) that you are seeking as quickly as possible. You also need to ask closed questions in a way that prevents a different question being answered or a clarification being sought to distract attention from the fact the question has not been answered.

­ So, with that in mind here are a couple of more effective questions that our televisual interrogators might want to put to SNP spokesmen over the next few days during which, I confidently predict, the real territory of dispute will appear. For the avoidance of doubt, that will not be when the Referendum happens, or whether the electoral commission is involved, or (most ludicrously) whether 16 year olds should vote. The real issue will be whether there should be more than one question.

Now, before moving on here, I just want to remind some of the more naive souls who are circling this issue of one very important fact. The SNP don’t believe in Devolution, Max or otherwise. The SNP believe in Independence. Everything they do is aimed at that objective. That’s why they didn’t participate in either the Constitutional Convention or the Calman Commission.

On any view, you would think, giving people a third choice between Independence and the status quo would reduce the chance of Independence triumphing. In betting terms, the odds go from evens to 2-1 against but in reality, if that became the real choice, the natural inclination to “compromise”would increase the odds against by a much larger margin. It is therefore initially unclear as to why any Party seeking to win an Independence Referendum would seek to ask such a question.

There is a simple answer to that. They don’t, or at least they don’t in a meaningful way.

So, setting aside my other observations about whether the real aim is to create a legal quagmire preventing a Referendum happening at all, what else might the SNP want to achieve by encouraging the development of a Devo-Max scheme? Let us be in no doubt, it is not Devo-Max.

I would like to make of unchallengeable propositions.

1. If it’s a scheme the SNP don’t like it won’t appear at all. That’s not speculation, that’s what has happened to Calman. It will only appear at all if the SNP can vote yes/yes.

2. If it’s a scheme acceptable to Holyrood and Westminster, you don’t need a Referendum. What would we be voting on?

3. Any scheme that involves variable corporate taxes or excise duties across open boundaries is incompatible with a unitary state and will therefore never be acceptable to Westminster.

4. You can’t have a unilateral declaration of devolution. So, unlike Independence, what’s the point of voting for it?

5. If there is a second question, the SNP will encourage a Yes/Yes but, perfectly reasonably, point out that only a Yes to Independence gets a result.

6. A second question will prevent a united No Campaign.

7. A yes/no vote on a scheme unacceptable to Westminster achieves nothing and resolves nothing.

8. There is no mention at all of a second question in the SNP Manifesto.

So, back to the start. Here’s the simple line of questioning  the Nats can’t answer.

Q: Are you confident Scotland will vote for Independence?

A: (presumably) Yes

Q: Why then might you ask a second question

A: Because there is a demand etc etc

Q: But you remain confident that people will vote for Independence?

A: (presumably) Yes

Q: So, what’s the purpose to the second question?

Repeat as required.

As Sheriff Montgomery is wont to say to incompetent lawyers “It’s not rocket science.”

Tomorrow, some thoughts on the demography of Scotland and a bit more about why the Nats will get gubbed if they ever actually have a straight vote. Here's a taster from an earlier blog

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Clearer but not yet clear

If I understand the different announcements made by the British and Scottish Governments tonight, within a month we will know whether or not there is going to be an Independence Referendum.

Starting firstly with Michael Moore, it is, to say the least, a pity that what he said in the Commons today was not what David Cameron said on the Telly at the weekend. Moore’s proposals are the soul of reason. The Sovereign Westminster Parliament, to avoid any possible legal dubiety, proposes to devolve to the Scottish Government the right to hold a referendum on Independence. There is to be no time limit on when that might be, simply an expressed desire that it be sooner rather than later.

There are conditions but these are essentially only that the electorate be the same electorate that vote in Scottish Parliament Elections; that the Referendum be subject to supervision by the independent Electoral Commission and that it have one question. The possibility is even left open that a different question could be asked on a different date.

It is difficult to see any good faith objection that could be raised to any of these conditions. The Nationalists seek to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds but they must, in their hearts know that once you start mucking about with who can vote legitimately other issues arise: why shouldn’t Scottish Military Personnel, based in England, have a vote? Why should the Captain of our National Football team not have a vote while a management trainee from Poland, working for 12 months at an Edinburgh Hotel, (because that’s where they were sent as their own fifth choice) does get a say? The simple solution has always been that, accepting these anomalies, those who vote are those who can vote at a General Election. Once you start interfering with that then everything is back on the table.

And why shouldn’t the Electoral Commission have an oversight? The Scottish Government’s position to date has been because they (the Electoral Commission) don’t have legal authority to act in that capacity. Well, Mr Moore’s legislation gives them that authority, so what’s the problem now? Is it suggested that the Commission, whose members include George Reid, is a less than impartial body? That’s not suggested so this isn’t really a ground for objection at all.

Finally, the Question. A one question referendum is what the SNP proposed in their Manifesto. It has the support (now) of all other three major Parties. Insofar as can be determined from the same opinion polls Eck used to quote as showing a demand for a question to be asked, that one question  is what the people desire. 

So, what’s the problem?

That then leads us to the Scottish Government’s announcement.

This was a slightly odd creature. It was obviously a last minute decision to name the date, not least because no actual date was named! That is confirmed by the way it was announced by the FM on an unpreplanned TV interview and by the Cabinet on Twitter(!), together with the fact that four hours later the announcement features on neither the Scottish Government or SNP Website. The lack of detail of what exactly was being announced is the most curious aspect of all.

Now, charitably, it might be that Eck just wanted to put his beach towel on the lounger, defying anyone to move it. For what it’s worth, I’d be surprised if anyone does. What the (Scottish) opposition Parties want is a definite vote before May 2016. On the face of it, we’ve got it. But have we?

As I say, there appears to be no written statement from the Holyrood Administration to clarify what they are proposing. BUT if it is a simple yes/no held in October 2014 then, in light of Michael Moore’s concessions, that will be legally unchallengeable and politically acceptable to the Opposition. If that is what is announced then we will know the Nationalists genuinely want a vote.

If however they announce something else, particularly if they announce the intention to hold a multi-option referendum, or even that this remains a possibility, then what I have been saying all along will have been vindicated. That they want to be prevented, by law, from proceeding. And if they announce that the paving legislation is not to be published and enacted imminently, we will also know that they want the time necessary to unravel any successful challenge to spin matters out to the far side of May 2016.

So, as I say, within a month or so we will know if there is going to be a Referendum. Or at least know whether there is going to be one called by the SNP.

For I think in naming the day (more or less) they may have made a fatal error. Their Manifesto said they wanted a yes/no. They now say their preferred timing is Autumn 2014. If their proposed legislation got into a legal quagmire then, with cross Party Westminster support, UK legislation could secure that objective in a matter of a few months. Even the Nationalists would struggle to describe that as dictation to the people of Scotland.

For once, Eck might not have been as clever as he thinks.

Sunday 8 January 2012

The Cat among the pigeons?

In a rather odd development today, the Prime Minister decided to wade into the Scottish Constitutional Debate. I have absolutely no idea why.

In an article I wrote for Scotland on Sunday today I pointed out how Scotland was hardly in a ferment over this matter.

The SNP can’t quite get their own line agreed. On the one hand they have to assert that victory is inevitable but that rather begs the question as to why they don’t get on with it. The best they can come up in response to that is that during the election campaign the First Minister said that the Referendum would be in the second half of this Parliamentary term. He did, to be fair, albeit for the first time four days before polling

Their only, very thin, argument is that while there is a majority for Independence, some people would vote against it because they’ve been asked too soon!

This is indeed the nonsense that it appears to be.

I am, nonetheless, concerned about the Prime Minister’s Intervention.

The one thing that can be fairly said about Scottish Nationalism is that it has been an overwhelmingly peaceful movement. Certainly, from time to time historically, there has been a lunatic fringe but they have been as much repudiated by modern nationalists as they have been by the rest of the population. Central to that consensus has been recognition on both the Nationalist and Unionist side that if Scotland expressed a clear desire to leave the United Kingdom, that would be allowed to happen.

If a referendum was to be denied by apparent jiggery-pokery, regrettably, that peaceful aspect to the discourse could not be guaranteed.

So, we need to be careful here.

No-one doubts the moral mandate of the SNP to hold a referendum during this Parliament at a time of their choosing. If that proves to be during the second half of the Parliament then that’s a matter for them.

There is however a legal problem about the vires of such a poll. I have previously speculated that this might actually form part of Salmond’s calculations to avoid a vote he will inevitably lose. That needs to be sorted, either in the current Scotland Bill or by an Order under s.30 of the 1998 Scotland Act.

The tactics here need to be more carefully considered than they appear to have been by the PM this morning. Lawyers, even nationalist lawyers, might recognise that there is a legal issue about the legitimacy of a referendum. That is not however the view of the general public, who see no reason that the Scottish Government shouldn’t call such a ballot. That view is shared even by a lot of people who would intend to vote emphatically No.

The danger therefore of the Westminster Government giving the Scottish Parliament express permission to hold a Referendum but then time-limiting that power is that this will be seen not as a power being given but rather one being taken away.

And the danger of that in turn is not so much that it will give Salmond precisely what he wants, an excuse not to have a Referendum. That would, at worst, have adverse electoral consequences for the Devolutionist Parties. No, the real danger is that it might legitimise, in their own heads at least, those who might seek to proceed by other than democratic means.

So let’s encourage Westminster to give the Scottish Parliament the right to hold a Referendum whenever they want.

That nonetheless leaves one other question which needs to be addressed. I’m not persuaded that the “uncertainty” over Scottish Independence is having any affect, short term, at all on the Scottish Economy. That is because nobody who looks at the issue in any detail believes it to be even a remote possibility.

The “uncertainty” is however distorting our politics and, longer term, that will have an adverse impact.
There is therefore an argument for not allowing the SNP to find reasons never to ask the question That however needs a democratic mandate.

We are led to believe that the next UK General Election in May 2015. Why then shouldn’t all of the UK wide Parties enter that election with a commitment that, if it hasn’t already happened, there will be an Independence Referendum to follow in June of that year? And say now that this will be their position.

Doesn’t stop the Nationalists going sooner and can’t happen unless Scotland has voted for it (unless the SNP sweep the Country on a commitment to the Union!)

I can’t see how even the Nationalists could find an objection to that. Then again, I’m not holding my breath.