Beyond the referendum: “2016 should be the year in which Scottish devolution grows up”

Jim-Gallagher

It has now been a year since the vote on Scottish independence. Jim Gallagher considers how divisions which emerged between yes and no voters during the campaign have persisted, and the challenges this creates. He argues that Scotland now faces a different set of choices–not what country to belong to, but what sort of country it really wants to be.

Zhou Enlai is said to have quipped that 200 years was too short a time to judge the effect of the French Revolution. 12 months certainly isn’t long enough to assess the legacy of the Scottish referendum.

It was certainly an extraordinary process. For two years, Scotland talked about nothing but Scotland, and an unprecedented number of people eventually cast their vote, one way or another.

Energy and Division

The debate was extraordinary, sometimes energising, but also deeply divisive. Not just because people took opposing views. Yes voters – rationally or not – were hopeful; they wanted things to change and independence represented change. Many no voters were fearful; they had not asked to make this choice, and feared disruptive change would be forced on them.

The campaigning was unprecedented: the intensity of an election, but lasting two years. The opposing campaigns talked incessantly about Scotland, but hardly engaged with each other. The Scottish government’s doorstop of a White Paper was a partisan, not a government, publication. The relentless positivity of the yes campaign spoke primarily to the heart. Questions of economics or policy choice were airly dismissed as irrelevant, or establishment bluff. Better Together’s head was more firmly screwed on, but it’s hard to make saying no, even ‘no thanks’, sound positive. The UK government’s publications argued a case, but without much pizzazz.

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In order to sustain itself, the UK must become a new and different Union

Jim-Gallagher

Jim Gallagher reflects on what the Scotland Bill tells us about the Scotland-UK relationship and devolution more broadly. He argues that the Bill presents a challenge to the unwritten constitution, and that now is the time to clarify and codify the territorial aspects to make a statement about how and why the Union hangs together.

The Scotland Bill calls to mind, irresistibly, the aphorism of Lampedusa: if things are to stay the same, they’ve got to change. If it is to sustain itself as a Union, the UK must become a new and different one. The Scotland Bill should be the catalyst for change, but this isn’t only about Scotland.  It is about how the UK understands itself as a territorial state. Like Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland understand the UK as a voluntary association bound together by common interests and shared experience, in many ways like a federal country. But too many at the centre of the UK see a unitary state with some untidy territorial edges. In essence this understanding is based on a half-baked notion of parliamentary sovereignty. If the UK wants to stay together, this has to change.

The Scotland Bill makes the nature of Scotland-UK relationship more explicit, and implies similar things about Wales and Northern Ireland too. The UK is a multinational state, an association whose membership is voluntary, and that is now very explicit for both Northern Ireland and Scotland. Scotland has always had its own institutions, separate from the UK’s. For first three centuries after the union, these were Scottish, but undemocratic. For the last 15 years, Scottish institutions have been accountable through the Scottish Parliament. The Scotland Bill puts it beyond doubt that this is irreversible. Devolution is permanent, and the Scottish Parliament is master in its own house: its power is paramount in devolved matters, and it controls its own composition. That is the point of the constitutional provisions of the Bill: statements of the obvious if you like, but that will be true of many constitutions–if you know how the institutions work in practice, you will find the constitutional legislation almost banal.

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English votes for English taxes? The EVEL proposals’ implications for tax and spending

Jim-Gallagher

Responding to Daniel Gover and Michael Kenny’s analysis of last week’s English votes for English laws proposals, Jim Gallagher argues that the really challenging issue that EVEL raises relates to taxes and public spending.

The analysis by Daniel Gover and Michael Kenny of the government’s proposals for English votes is helpful in setting out what these plans might mean for legislation. I agree with much of their analysis. These are plans at the aggressive, though perhaps not the most aggressive, end of the spectrum. But the really challenging issue they raise is not about laws, but about taxes and public spending.

Not the Barnett formula

This isn’t about the Barnett formula. The idea that Scottish MPs should vote on purely English legislation because it will affect Scottish spending through the Barnett formula is simply wrong. The government has made this even clearer than it already was by explicitly exempting the legislation which determines spending from the new process in its proposals. A lot of nonsense is being talked about this. Even though they might have spending consequences, Acts of Parliament do not of themselves affect budgets. Spending plans will still be voted on in legislative processes in which all MPs – Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish, as well as English – will have a vote. So the discovery by the SNP that they are now entitled to vote on English measures suggests they haven’t read the government’s plans.

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Scotland has voted for the union and for distinctiveness. Delivering both could present acute challenges

Jim-Gallagher

After a dramatic referendum and UK general election, the Scottish remain divided on both independence and on whether to increase tax and public spending, while the English are becoming increasingly vocal in the devolution debate. Jim Gallagher considers the possibilities of a constitutional relationship that will satisfy Scottish aspirations and also be acceptable to the UK as a whole.

This is the second in a series of posts based on the Unit’s latest report, Devolution and the Future of the Union, published here.

Within the last year the Scottish people have said two apparently contradictory things. They want to stay in the United Kingdom, and they want to be represented by the SNP. In Holyrood, the SNP exercise dominant control over both Parliament and government. In Westminster, they will be the overwhelming Scottish voice, but will control nothing.

The partisan politics of the general election have been extraordinary. The Labour vote collapsed, and the SNP showed remarkable skill in building a coalition of voters, some for independence, others perhaps against austerity. But this tells us less about overall Scottish attitudes on either question than meets the eye. Scotland remains divided on both independence and on whether to increase tax and public spending, and not on the lines you might expect. Many independence supporters are anything but high spending socialists.

Constitutional challenges

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Scotland has voted decisively to stay – now devolution must be delivered

Today’s result came as a relief to many but it is not an excuse for complacency. Jim Gallagher writes that both Westminster and Holyrood must consider the lessons learned from the campaign and start delivering politics for Scotland, not just about Scotland.

Well it’s over. 2 years of campaigning. 5 years of shadowboxing before that. Acres of newsprint, millions of social media posts. TV debates, and family arguments. Street stalls, and chanting mobs outside the national broadcaster. Oh, and truckloads of academic analysis. It’s been a fascinating, exhilarating but also worrying campaign.

But Scotland has finally made a decision. Independence has been rejected, and the UK affirmed. In an extraordinary democratic act, 97% of the population registered to vote and 85% of those voted. The authority that gives the decision is overwhelming. The choice is made.

For many people the overwhelming feeling will be one of relief. They didn’t demand a referendum, and were never part of the Yes project. It was not campaigning that made them worried about the risks. They are Scots who were comfortable in their own constitutional skin, and have now been found to be the majority.

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The Consequences of a “No” Vote: Scotland’s Choices as Seen from Canada

7th Novemeber 2013

In his recent Constitution Unit seminar, Jim Gallagher walked us through the impact of a win for the “no” side in the Scottish referendum. As the co-author of Scotland’s Choices with Iain McLean and Guy Lodge, Gallagher argues that a “no” vote is not necessarily a vote for the status quo. Instead such a result can represent the desire to stay within the UK, but continue further on the devolution path.

The question of further devolution is at the crux of Gallagher’s argument. He promotes the idea of a territorial constitution which allows for devolved powers to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland but does not create a separate devolved jurisdiction for England. This is one of the significant differences between a territorial and federal constitution; a federal system creates a national government that governs concurrently with sub-national or regional governments, of which there is one for every region, and powers are divided between the different orders of government. In contrast, a territorial constitution is fundamentally asymmetrical and does not require a sub-national government for each region. For the UK, Gallagher envisions a territorial constitution that links the Scots and the rest of the UK (rUK) in three types of union: a political union where the national parliament takes care of foreign affairs and other national level items; an economic union that maintains the common currency and the trade benefits of a single market; and a social union for the national social security programs that are better managed at the national level by the UK government to ensure a standard level of services across the country.

When devolving further powers to Scotland, Gallagher is firm on shifting some taxation powers from the national government to Scotland. This encourages accountability – if there is a more equal relationship between the money raised and spent by the Scottish government then there is a greater degree of budget responsibility. Currently Scotland receives a block grant from the UK government, which is determined by the Barnett formula and is transferred without any strings attached. If Scotland does vote “no,” then the Scotland Act 2012 will come into force in 2016 and bring in many of the Calman Commission’s recommendations that assign the Scottish Parliament more taxation and borrowing powers.

Gallagher’s triple union and territorial constitution negates the large-scale devolution of powers to Scotland that have been recommended under more radical devolution models (such as the devolution “max” and welfare nationalism models discussed in Scotland’s Choices). This is particularly true of the social union which relies on the presence of a strong, unifying social safety net with programs such as NHS, old age pensions, and unemployment insurance. With the UK government retaining control of social programs, it naturally follows that a number of taxation powers will remain in the hands of the national government rather than being devolved to Scotland to ensure proper funding for the social union. But, in order to balace Scottish revenue with expenditure, some tax points could be transferred. An example would be reducing the UK personal income tax rate in Scotland to allow more room for the Scottish Parliament to introduce its own personal income tax.

Gallagher’s presentation was of particular interest to me as a Canadian. Canada has been torn apart by numerous rounds of mega-constitutional politics that have tried to bring Quebec into the Canadian constitutional fold. Quebec nationalism entered the national discussion in the 1960s with the re-imagining of the French Canadian people as the Quebecois and the agenda has been subsequently driven by the Parti Quebecois and its federal counterpart, the Bloc Quebecois. Despite the fact that there have been two referendums on independence, the sovereigntist cause remains very much alive in Quebec and the PQ currently holds a minority government in Quebec.

The Canadian experience clearly shows that even if the Scottish people reject independence next year, the status quo will be over-turned: after the 1980 referendum, in a bid to get Quebec to sign onto the constitution, the federal government entered into a series of constitutional talks with the provinces and negotiated the Constitution Act, 1982. But having been betrayed during the infamous “Night of Long Knives,” Quebec refused to sign and subsequently there were two more unsuccessful rounds of constitutional talks. Despite these failures, bilateral agreements between the federal government and Quebec have created some asymmetry in the Canadian federation: Quebec can opt out of federal programs and receive compensation to run its own version of those programs, such as the provincial pension plan, and has its own tax collection agency. These concessions move Canada towards asymmetrical federalism although the asymmetry has gone nowhere near far enough for the Quebecois and those who support Charles Taylor’s concept of “deep diversity,” which embraces asymmetrical federalism to protect and promote the smaller nation within a larger multi-national state.

In the long-run, the Quebec government, whether headed by the PQ or the anti-separatist but still pro-Quebecois Liberals, has been successful at advancing its cause and regularly opposing the federal government to extract concessions for Quebec. Therefore, there is no reason not to expect that a “no” result in 2014 will eliminate the SNP’s press for independence or at least further concessions in Scotland – especially if more devolution beyond the Scotland Act 2012 fails to occur in response to continued demands. The case of Quebec demonstrates that opposition to the central government can drive the separatist party’s policy agenda for decades after a referendum.

Gallagher’s presentation proves that regardless of the referendum result the status quo cannot be maintained. Since the current outcome looks to be a win for the “no” side, it is important that the UK as a whole considers what the consequences are for the union if Scotland votes to remain. There are many facets of the relationship between Scotland and rUK that must be unpacked to determine how further devolution – i.e. beyond the Scotland Act 2012 – might unfold.
To watch the seminar presentation by Jim Gallagher click here