Monday, 1 December 2008

Unionists should oppose more devolution for Scotland

‘Conservative Home’ asks its readers if the party should countenance recommending further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament. On ‘Three Line Whip’ Iain Martin provides a succinct answer – ‘no’.

The Tories are part of the Commission on Scottish Devolution (Calman Commission), set up by Scots' Labour’s former leader, Wendy Alexander, to review the workings of Holyrood. Although the body ostensibly includes within its remit the ability to recommend no changes, or even to suggest rolling back devolved powers, from its inception it was designed to symbolise the possibility of greater devolution. It is intended to fend off nationalism with the promise of further autonomy within the Union.

Martin observes that the Conservatives made a tactical error joining the commission. Its recommendations could box in David Cameron as he seeks to formulate his constitutional policy on Scotland. His party’s Scottish leadership say Tories should not give evidence to the commission, despite the party’s role in the body. It is a paradoxical position.

What is clear is that if Cameron is serious about presenting his party as the natural ‘party of Union’, it should not be advocating policies to further buttress asymmetric devolution. The devolution experiment has weakened the Union and increasing its remit will damage the Union yet further. Powers are easily devolved from sovereign parliament, but are not so easily reasserted without significant political collateral. Labour’s policy of constitutional meddling – let’s change things and see how they pan out – has loosened unintentionally the ropes which bind the United Kingdom together. Providing Holyrood with further tax raising powers will exacerbate that process and subject Scottish people to fiscal inefficiencies from which their membership of the United Kingdom should exempt them.

Realistically devolution in the United Kingdom is here to stay. As I have argued before, it is incumbent upon unionists to insist that it is not a rolling process, and to mediate the damage which it has inflicted on the UK. Conservatives argue that they are the safest custodians of the Union. Therefore, throughout the United Kingdom, the party should be propounding the surest unionist policies, and that includes checking Scottish devolution.


Stephen Glenn said...

Ah but Chekov the Labour evidence to the commission has overwhelmingly been to reduce the powers, the Tories have failed to present any evidence and only the Lib Dems have continued to argue for greater devolved powers something that is in their tradition for over 100 years.

Chekov said...

Stephen - as I remarked, the Tory position on evidence is somewhat paradoxical. Whatever the evidence given to the commission, Labour will not assume a policy of reducing devolved powers. Indeed Brown has intimated the opposite. It therefore falls to the Tories (if anyone) to propound something that is worth the name 'unionism'.

Scottish Unionist said...


I'm not convinced either by federalism or that there's much of a need at the present time to rejig the Scotland Act. At least not to any great extent.

But did you oppose the recent devolution of authority over marine planning and nature conservation issues to Holyrood? Such alignment with control of fisheries within the devolved framework makes for joined up government and was almost universally accepted in such terms.

To my mind, unionism isn't worth the name if it starts to exist for its own sake rather than for people's benefit. Intellectually and emotionally, unionism has what it takes to win the ideological battle, provided - I would argue - it doesn't shoot itself in the foot by being blindly protectionist.

Chekov said...

SU – You make a fair point. Perhaps I should have elaborated more fully. I am not suggesting that every specific instance where power can be devolved, unionists must oppose that devolution. It is a broader point I’m trying to make.

Where there is a compelling prima facie case for a matter to be devolved or where a minor constitutional change has been thoroughly evaluated and its consequences thought through, there might be a case to make alterations. But constitutional tinkering has visited extraordinary damage upon the Union and further devolution, where it meaningfully alters the constitution, must be subject to a higher threshold of evidence if it is to be propounded by a party which professes its wish to strengthen the Union.

Specific instances, like the one you mention, may be compelling enough to merit change. But sweeping alterations, alterations which seek to keep the nationalist wolf from the door, alterations which are cavalier with the constitution, the Tories should oppose.

Nikostratos said...

the union flag should be in the centre and not the saltire

Q. Which is the superior position?

The Union flag must always be flown in a superior position ie:

i) the highest flagpole
ii) where there is an odd number of poles of the same height: the centre flag pole
iii) where there are two flag poles of the same height: the left flag pole viewed from the front of the building
iv) where there is an even number in a row and no other flags are being flown: the nearest centre left flag pole viewed from the front of the building.