Sunday, 12 October 2014

Smith Commission Submissions (Part 2)

Today I have read the submissions from the Scottish Labour party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

The first thing that springs to mind when reading the Scottish Labour submission is 'buzzword bingo'.  'Pooling and sharing' features heavily, and we get the usual soundbites such as 'hardworking people'. Their contention is that social union is incompatible with independence.  Oh, and it only took until page 7 for them to to put the boot into the SNP, so they've beaten the Conservatives on that score.

I liked this quote:
 Without economic and political union, a genuine social union is all but impossible.   Far more likely is a race to the bottom on tax and workers’ rights, ultimately leading to the erosion of welfare and pensions. The sharing union underpinned by political union, economic and social union – is the ultimate safeguard and guarantor of the Welfare State.
Hmmm, have they reviewed their own party's record on this when last in office?  And have they noticed what has happened under the Con-Dem government?  Best use of irony I've seen so far.

Most of the paper consists of a discussion on tax powers and devolving power to local authorities.  There was a paragraph Housing Benefit that kind of gives the game away though (my italics):
We are in favour of devolving Housing Benefit. This is the largest single benefit paid in Scotland after the state pension – amounting to £1.7 billion a year.  We will use this power  to abolish the Bedroom Tax, ensure secure funding for the provision of social housing and reduce abuse by unscrupulous private landlords.
So apparently Scottish Labour expect to be in power after the next Holyrood General Election.  Glad we sorted that one out.

To sum up. Scottish Labour suggests that most powers remain with Westminster, with some tinkering around the edges of devolving some powers.  And in their paper, they excoriate the SNP for their centralising tendencies.  There's a bible quote about this - 'And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?'

And so to the Scottish Liberal Democrat submission.  On the surface they are pitching for home rule.  Most people would equate this with Devo Max (ie all powers at Holyrood, with the exception of defence and foreign affairs).  However, this is not what they are proposing.  Points, though, for widening the debate to include 'home rule' for the other home nations too.

They discuss at some length how they have been working for a federal Britain for 100 years.  Their progress towards that goal so far would make an arthritic snail look speedy, so obviously they're not in a rush to get this done.

They do overtake the others in one respect though - SNP bashing begins on page 6.

I was slightly bemused by this paragraph:
A useful contemporary illustration of the benefits of a United Kingdom which is of particular interest to me can be found in the remarkable success of Team GB in the London Olympics and Paralympics. The unity of support from the whole of the UK underpinned these successes and was the focus of the celebrations which followed them
I don't remember celebrations following the Olympics - maybe I was asleep or something?

To be fair to the LibDems, their fiscal proposals are more radical than those of Labour, but stop short of allowing oil revenues to be retained in Scotland.  Clearly this would be a step too far.  However, they do propose setting up an oil fund at UK level, which is some progress at least.  The caveat being 'when conditions permit', which are some nice little weasel words slipped in to allow a get-out clause.

I would disagree with this paragraph:
As internationalists we believe that, as part of the UK, Scotland benefits from a prominent role on the world stage: represented at a permanent seat on the UN Security Council; part of one of the leading members of the European Union, G8 and NATO; reserved positions on the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Through the UK, Scotland is able to have meaningful impact on issues as diverse as climate change, the fight for international justice, the operation of the global trading system and arms control. Scotland’s voice is louder through the UK than it would be alone: we have the weight to argue our case and fight for a fair deal for ourselves and others. Even in non-political international organisations, such as those concerned with sport, science or culture, the combined weight of the United Kingdom will always be greater than the sum of its parts
 Frankly, under this arrangement, Scotland has no voice at all, as has been seen, for example, with a meeting on GM crops at EU level, where Scotland's views were famously overlooked because the representative in question had brought the wrong notes with him.

Again, the LibDems' proposal suggests devolvement of more power to local authorities.  In itself, this isn't a bad idea and is worth considering.  However, I do wonder about the fact that the three major parties are all hugely in favour of this.  Could it be something to do with the fact that they are more likely to have control at council level than at Holyrood level?  Time will tell.

Their division of powers into three tiers, namely reserved, devolved and partnership seems quite complicated and would likely keep lawyers in the style they have become accustomed to.

(I'm slowly losing the will to live at this point - can you tell?).

There is a proposal for the institution of 'burgh councils', which would seem to be yet another tier of local councils below the larger district councils, these to be established where there is demand from local communities and to be funded by either by a share of the council tax or of local business rates.  Yet elsewhere in the paper the LibDems tell us they are not in favour of fragmentation into smaller units at the UK level.  A bit of a dichotomy there I think.

All in all, the Scottish LibDems have put together a comprehensive paper which does contain some good ideas.  How many people will actually read it all the way through, however, is a different question.

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