O’Neill and Little Man in a Toque have proved quick out of the blocks on the Calman Commission interim report. I’ve only made my way (rather swiftly) through the summary PDF but although the documents will require more scrutiny, it is worth sketching out a little of the detail and perhaps outlining a few initial thoughts. Apologies, but my assessment is rather rushed.
Firstly, notwithstanding the SNP’s attempts to establish unofficial separate Scottish representatives in foreign climes, the report is unequivocal in its recommendation that Westminster will “continue to be responsible for national defence and security, representing Scotland in international affairs”. It correctly asserts, “within a
nation state, this is clearly the right solution”.
The document does acknowledge that devolution offers a basis for different financial and welfare arrangements operating in different regions of the United Kingdom. However it infers that such variations might compromise common social citizenship and the uniformity of the UK’s common market.
Furthermore, it suggests that although there is some evidence to support the idea that broadcasting, energy policy, animal health and movement, firearms, misuse of drugs, regulation of health care professionals and marine planning might be more efficiently administered by devolving further powers to Scotland, it holds that there is not enough evidence to support a similar assertion for “the civil service; insolvency; employment law and relevant aspects of immigration; and health and safety”.
Significantly, examining the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament, the commission found that current funding arrangements had got devolution off ‘to a good start’. It considers, “greater tax devolution would be associated with less shared social citizenship, while high dependence on grant funding implies some common expectations about the need for welfare services like health and education”. Its conclusions in this area are spot on. Scotland has benefited from the block grant, it is important that common expectations in terms of welfare are met throughout the United Kingdom and devolving further tax raising powers to Edinburgh would dilute the Union.
The commission believes that formal ‘machinery’ is needed to clarify the relationship between Holyrood and Westminster. It characterises the relationship during the course of the first two parliaments as ‘informal’. If further recommendations adhere to the principle which the commission sets out, i.e. “there ought to be an expectation that the Parliaments, Assemblies and Governments of the UK should work together in the common interests of UK citizens, even though there will sometimes be political differences between them”, such clarity might be beneficial.
The report sensibly maintains that there is no need for a second chamber in the Scottish Parliament. The scrutiny of committees and one chamber is sufficient, otherwise the sovereign parliament provides its own checks and balances. Scotland does not need the same constitutional safeguards required by an independent nation state.
Contrary to expectations, at first glance, this document appears to have much to recommend it. It is a relatively moderate, sober assessment of devolved Scotland’s place within the Union. Annabel Goldie contends the report establishes the commission as, ‘the most informed contributor to the devolution debate since the passing of the Scotland Act’.
If the Calman Commission’s interim report encourages a more temperate tone to the devolution debate, the body might just have performed an important function.