Devolution: a principle, not an expedient says Graham Allen MP
With around 100 days until Scotland votes in its independence referendum, now is the time for the leaders of the all Union parties – Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats – clearly to set out a collectively agreed vision for Scotland’s future based on real devolution as an alternative to separation.
All the Union wide parties have without any great enthusiasm all now grudgingly accepted that a ‘no’ vote in the referendum must lead to constitutional change in the form of further devolution to Scotland.
The Scottish Labour Devolution Commission has called for new powers to be granted to the Scottish Parliament to raise revenue, including an expansion of the power to vary income tax from 10p to 15p. The Liberal Democrats – long standing supporters of federalism – have supported this approach. And this week, based on the recommendations of the Strathclyde Commission, the Scottish Conservatives announced their support for the Scottish Parliament to be granted full powers to vary income tax.
This growing consensus in respect of a post-referendum Scotland is important and is to be welcomed. The parties of Union are right to make a commitment to Scottish voters the future reforms would recognise the need for increased autonomy within a political union.They should all set about this task with commitment ,enthusiasm and leadership that has been lacking to date.
But to do this we have to go beyond Scotland ,for devolution to be credible it has to a principle applied to all the nations of the Union.
As I’ve argued in a previous post, real reassurance that the concerns of Scottish voters are being taken seriously would best be achieved through an unequivocal statement from the three all Union Party leaders making a commitment to further reform announced ahead of the vote in September not as a reaction to it.
This should be set within a clear vision to shape the future of the whole of the UK, based on the guiding principles of Union and Devolution. Devolution must apply to all the nations of the Union – including England.
England must not be excluded from the reforms that will shape an increasingly federal nation.Leaders should be forging that new Union now because they believe in devolution and because they feebly need to catch up with events post this September’s referendum. Devolution for England should be based upon local councils with the same statutory rights and tax assignment powers as those enjoyed by the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.
We can achieve a reformed, revitalised and modernised Union, in which all parts of the UK benefit from sustainable and effective devolved government. This approach would put an end to the over-centralisation that has for too long been a feature of our constitutional settlement, and would recognise that devolution is a driving democratic principle, not a political expedient.