What’s next for Scotland?: My Smith Commission submission

In the wake of last month’s referendum, Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Lord Smith of Kelvin to head a commission looking at the issue of devolving more powers to Scotland including which powers should be devolved and how the process is handled.  Politicians from both the Yes and No parties have been invited to participate, with their detailed submissions now available to read, and just as importantly so have the people of Scotland.  Until the 31st of October, absolutely anyone can put their own view across and it will be considered by the Commission, no matter how long or short, articulated or not.  If you have been engaged by the referendum campaign and you have an opinion on what should happen next, read about what the consultation is looking for and please get in touch with the Smith Commission by e-mailing haveyoursay@smith-commission.scot with your opinions.  This is how we continue the spirit of nationwide political involvement that the referendum started.

Here is my submission to the Smith Commission, feel free to take the ideas from it if you agree, or counter them if you disagree, when making your own submission:

I believe that aside from showing that the majority of Scottish people want to stay within the United Kingdom, last month’s independence referendum showed a massive support for a new era of politics in Scotland – and one where their voice is truly heard.  The fact that 85% of the electorate, a massive 97% of the eligible population, decided to get involved is proof that the Scottish people care about how their nation is governed.  I hope that the Smith Commission recognises this popular engagement with politics and continues in this spirit by engaging the public on as many levels as possible, by promoting and extending this consultation and preferably commissioning detailed opinion polling on the pertinent issues raised.

Scotland voted to stay as part of the Union, but I believe that as 45% of the population voted to leave and a significant amount voted No because of the promises made to the Scottish population as part of “The Vow” in the days leading up to the referendum that we must re-negotiate our terms of Union.   Scotland needs to be seen as a semi-autonomous state within the UK.  Instead of a top-down model – where power is given to the Scottish Parliament by the UK Government; a bottom-up model should be in place – where the Scottish Parliament voluntarily hands over sovereignty on certain issues to the UK Parliament in Westminster.  This is more democratic by its’ nature and moves the UK towards the federal ideal espoused by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Liberal Democrats before the referendum.  By enshrining this ideal in legislation, in both parliaments, the Scottish people can be sure that they are in control of their own affairs and no longer at the mercy of the UK Government.  The Scottish Parliament and the sovereign right of the Scottish people to decide their own destiny should be entrenched in written constitutional law.  By extension, this would also enable the other nations of the UK to exercise their own right to national sovereignty by implementing their own self-governing powers and no longer having Scottish MPs voting on their issues, an issue that has always existed since Scottish devolution and one that has come under increased scrutiny since the referendum campaign.  A move towards a federally structured UK will enhance democracy across all four UK nations and improve the lives of the people within.

To ensure that the sovereignty of the Scottish Parliament is sustained and is effective, the Parliament itself should generate its own revenues rather than be budgeted for by the UK Government.  I believe the Scottish Parliament should be granted significant tax powers, so that it can raise its entire budget (which would be larger than at present as new policy areas come under its remit) without relying on Westminster.  The new Revenue Scotland is already being set up to carry out this process to an extent, and the Scottish Government set out plans in its White Paper by which an independent Scotland could fully control its tax system by March 2016.  It is therefore a possible solution.  By the same token that Scotland currently receives a block grant to carry out our devolved policies, the Scottish Parliament should contribute a percentage of its tax revenues to the UK Parliament so that we appropriately fund the policy areas that we have given sovereignty over to the UK.  This solution alleviates any concern over the use of the Barnett formula and will ensure that Scottish public spending is proportional to the taxes generated by the Scottish people, eliminating the accusations of either Scotland or the rest of the UK “subsidising” the other.

While the balance of power is shifted towards Scotland, it is clear that the opinion of the people of Scotland is in favour of nearly all policy areas being devolved to Holyrood.  In the wake of the referendum, a Panelbase poll showed clear support for the devolution of all policy areas apart from defence, currency and foreign affairs.  It is my view, and that of many others, that these wishes be accepted.  The only powers that should be reserved by the UK Government should be those crucial to the maintenance of the state.  I also believe that a large number of taxes should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament to enhance its fiscal responsibility to the Scottish people.  I believe that power over all taxes should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament other than VAT and corporation tax, with these reserved in accordance with EU law and to ensure that the single economic market of the UK is maintained.

I would particularly highlight welfare, energy and broadcasting as three policy areas that should be devolved – as the referendum campaign showed that these matters are of crucial importance to the people of Scotland, and that their opinions on these issues are markedly different to those in the rest of the UK.  Devolving welfare would mean that the Scottish Government could tackle the poverty and inequality of our nation that is being neglected by one-size-fits-all policies from the Westminster Government.  The challenges facing Scottish society are not the same as in the rest of the UK, and merely devolving housing benefit and attendance allowance will not afford the Scottish Parliament nearly enough power to adequately solve them.  Devolving energy policy would allow Scotland to make the proper decisions and investment in its’ vast natural resources, including oil, and would allow the people of Scotland to benefit from the profits.  With well over 90% of the UK’s oil reserves and as much as 25% of the EU’s renewable energy potential, it is important that Scotland is able to take the decisions it needs to maintain these resources as soon as possible to maximise the resulting benefits.  Devolving broadcasting would allow Scotland to have the public broadcaster that it deserves, one that is funded and regulated appropriately and broadcasts the sort of content that Scots want to watch or listen.  These three represent issues that affect the economic and social quality of life in this country, and I believe that the best people to make decisions about that are the people of Scotland.

I believe that these proposals are entirely possible and would be an effective solution to changing Scotland’s position within the UK and to provide the people of Scotland with a Parliament that has the powers and capabilities they want.  The people of Scotland should be in charge of their own destiny, and I would implore the Smith Commission to consider the opinions and wishes of the public far ahead of the political parties’ contributions – as public desire has no ulterior motive and is not influenced by UK-wide political posturing.  The eyes of everyone in Scotland are on the Smith Commission to provide a satisfactory conclusion to a remarkable referendum campaign; it is of extreme importance to the future of politics in this country and to the future of the state that you deliver.

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