‘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.