Highly devolved?

[Tuesday]

So here’s two items on the slow break-up of the UK as a centralised state.

First of all:

Parties discuss Holyrood powers

Opposition parties have met in Holyrood to begin talks on how to bring more powers to the Scottish Parliament.

The talks between Labour, the Conservatives and Lib Dems were held in response to the SNP government’s plan to hold a referendum on independence.

The topics discussed included the possibility of allowing Holyrood to raise its own revenue.

The three main opposition parties have pledged to oppose the SNP’s white paper outlining plans for a referendum.

‘Work together’

In a joint statement, Lib Dem leader Nicol Stephen, Labour MSP Cathy Jamieson and former Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie said their parties would work together to fight the SNP’s independence plan.

“Our three parties share the aim of building a strong and prosperous Scotland as part of a strong and prosperous United Kingdom,” they said.

“We reject independence. The real conversation, and the one in which the overwhelming majority of Scots wish to participate, is about how devolution can develop to best serve the people of Scotland.

“Today’s exploratory meeting was to start that process. Our initiative will not be confined to MSPs alone, any single parliament, nor to any one part of the United Kingdom.

“The three parties have agreed to continue to work together on this issue, and will now hold discussions with party colleagues across the UK with a view to meeting again when parliament has reconvened.”

It is thought the opposition MSPs may set up a special committee to consider the parliament’s future.

However, the parties have played down suggestions they will look at forming a shared programme and use their combined total of 78 MSPs to drive through their policies.

In response to the statement, a spokesperson for First Minister Alex Salmond said the talks proved there was now no party at Holyrood opposed to increasing the Scottish Parliament’s powers.

He said: “These talks come in the wake of the Scottish government’s national conversation on Scotland’s constitutional future, which is driving forward the entire process.

“By talking about developing the parliament, it’s clear that the status quo is no longer supported by any party. We are delighted.

“The national conversation train has left the station – it’s a matter for the London-based parties which compartment they want to get on.”

The significance of the meeting is analysed by Brian Taylor, BBC Scotland’s political editor, on his blog:

Here’s what I think they’ll come up with. A formal parliamentary mechanism to consider and consult.

Think they’ll table a motion at Holyrood, jointly, setting up an ad hoc committee of MSPs to look at the devolution settlement, 10 years on.

Think that committee will then open up a public consultation, engaging with civic Scotland, business, unions etc.

Not convention mark two. “So 80s”, as one put it to me.

Plus there is now a Parliament in place with elected members, with real (if devolved) clout. That cannot be sidelined. Indeed, the opposition parties will argue, it should take the lead.

Which leaves the SNP executive where? Watching with interest.

I do not believe the SNP would nominate members of this parliamentary committee. For why? Because, they argue, it is for those of a Unionist persuasion to come up with their alternative to independence.

Nationalists say they know what they want: a referendum on Scotland becoming a sovereign state. It is up to the Opposition parties – Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats – to decide what they want.

Potentially, as Alex Salmond envisaged when he launched his “conversation” white paper, there could then be a referendum providing people with three choices: the status quo, independence and the scheme for enhanced devolution adopted by the opposition parties.

There is, of course, one other aspect to be borne, strongly, in mind. If further powers are to accrue to Holyrood, that would require Westminster legislation.

The opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament have already pledged to involve Westminster in their consideration.

From a sluggish start, this is beginning to get intriguing.

Indeed. And the movements towards further devolution in Scotland are having an impact on Wales.

Which brings us to the second item of news:

Plaid independence inquiry on the cards
PLAID Cymru is likely to set up the biggest inquiry ever into the implications of independence for Wales, we can reveal today.

Despite forming a coalition Assembly Government with a Labour Party that is firmly Unionist, Plaid’s national executive will over the next couple of months discuss setting up its own commission on independence.

Llanelli AM Helen Mary Jones, Plaid’s director of communications, told the Western Mail, “My own extremely personal view is that the time is right to update our understanding of what independence for Wales would mean.

“The party has done work on this in the past – Dr Phil Williams (Plaid’s economics guru, who died in 2003) in particular examined the question in detail. But there have been such enormous political changes in Europe over the last 10 years that we need to look again at what an independent Wales would mean, be and look like.

“Things are at a very early stage, but I know that a number of colleagues share my view that setting up a commission on independence would be a good thing to do.

“Obviously it would be appropriate to get expert contributions from people who are not necessarily party members, just like the policy commissions we had in the run-up to the recent Assembly election.

“It would also be worthwhile to look at how newly independent small nations in the EU have managed their new status, like the Czech Republic and the Baltic states. A commission would look at the whole picture, from economic, cultural and linguistic points of view.”

Ms Jones said one of the big bugbears for all who wanted to assess what the economic impact of independence on Wales would be was the lack of accurate information about the amount raised in the country from taxation.

“The UK Government does not have an all-Wales breakdown,” she said. “That is something we would like to see addressed. There are those who argue that independence would be unaffordable. We don’t agree, but there is a clear need to have accurate information about the amount of tax raised in Wales.

“If the NEC does decide to set up such a commission, it would obviously be quite a long time before a report was published.”

Ms Jones said a fresh look at independence by Plaid did not conflict with the terms of the One Wales coalition agreement with Labour.

She said, “It is made very clear in the preamble to the One Wales document that it is a programme for government that lasts for one term. Both parties are committed to campaigning for a Yes vote in a referendum on full law-making powers for the National Assembly.

“But the question of independence for Wales goes beyond what is contained in the One Wales agreement. Plaid Cymru has a long-term aspiration for Wales to be an independent nation, and the time is right to look at all the implications of that in the context of contemporary Europe.”

Opinion polls suggest that only around one in five of the electorate supports independence for Wales.

A poll conducted for the BBC in January this year put the figure at 19%. Some 33% in Wales thought independence would enhance Welsh culture, but 49% believed the nation would lose out economically. Only 14% thought that Wales would benefit financially.

Nevertheless, Plaid MP Adam Price argued last week in his column in the Welsh language magazine Golwg that Wales was likely to be independent by 2020 and that people needed to get used to the idea.

Earlier this month the SNP Government in Scotland launched a White Paper on independence. Although the SNP wants to hold a referendum on independence before 2011, that is unlikely to happen because the party runs a minority administration and opposition parties do not want one.

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2 Responses to “Highly devolved?”

  1. Renegade Eye Says:

    I don’t understand the issue. I’m not sure it matters if Scotland leaves the UK.

  2. charliemarks Says:

    A third of UK soldiers are from Scotland… If Scotland had armed forces, they would not be stationed in the Middle East.

    That’s just one reason why it matters.


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