Thursday, 27 November 2014

Lord Smith reports 2 - Constitutional Settlement

I've now had a chance to read the actual Smith Commission report.

There are three main 'pillars' in the heads of agreement:
1. Constitutional settlement for the governance of Scotland
2. Economy and social justice
3. Financial responsibility

Let's take a look at the first of these.

1. Constitutional settlement for the governance of Scotland

Glad to see a statement that 'It is agreed that nothing in this report prevents Scotland becoming an independent country in the future should the people of Scotland so choose'.  I did wonder if they would put something in about the 'settled will of the Scottish people' having been expressed, thus preventing further referendums.

The Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament are to be made permanent under UK legislation and the Sewel convention (ie that Westminster will not pass legislation affecting Scotland on devolved matters) will be respected.  This sounds great, but anything that is the result of UK legislation is reversible, since no UK parliament is bound by agreements made by their predecessors.  I don't think we can take this to mean our parliament can never be abolished.

The Scottish Government will have control over Scottish parliamentary and local authority elections, but will not have control over political parties, for example in terms of donations.  Evidently our imperial masters will brook no interference with their branch offices.  The Scottish Government will also not be allowed to hold general elections for the Scottish parliament on the same day as UK, European or local council elections.  Not sure what difference that makes - maybe someone can enlighten me?

The Scottish Parliament will have powers over the number of MSPs (constituency and list) and over the franchise, but any such legislation must be passed by a super-majority of two-thirds of the Scottish Parliament.  This is intended, I think, to prevent any real change to these things as they are now.  However, that could get interesting depending on the results of the 2016 elections, especially if the SNP retain their current levels of electoral popularity.

The report goes on to outline greater co-operation between the Scottish and UK governments, and outlines proposals for Scottish ministers to be consulted on European matters prior to policy decisions being made, for example.  This is all very well on paper, but I suspect that for all the fine words it will be very much business as usual, with Westminster dominating proceedings and ignoring anything it doesn't like or which doesn't fit with the policies it wants to pursue.

There are several paragraphs on the management of the Crown Estates, which are to be devolved in the first instance to Scottish Government control, and, where desired, further devolved to local authority control.  As the Crown Estates includes the North Sea oil reserves, this is quite interesting, especially as this control is given subject to the caveat that it is not detrimental to the wider UK interests.  It doesn't specify what these are in any detail nor what would happen if the UK government felt these interests were being encroached upon.

Finally the Scottish Government gets a consultative role on broadcasting, mail and telecommunications, transport, energy and renewables.  There are no new powers devolved, however, so this is pretty much useless.

So, this seems pretty much a damp squib.  Some tinkering at the edges and some fine sentiments expressed, but not really the major powers we were promised.

Next up, I will take a look at the Economy and Social Justice section.

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