Law Society: No Campaign must answer on further devolution

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   By a Newsnet reporter

Following the recent report by the Law Society of Scotland, which called upon the No campaign to clarify its promises of further devolution, the SNP has challenged Better Together to explain its position on devolved powers in the event of a No vote.

A constant theme from the anti-independence parties is that the Yes campaign must clear up the “uncertainties” around independence, however the Law Society report has now highlighted the uncertainties which lie at the heart of the No campaign.

Despite numerous promises from the various anti-independence parties that additional powers would be devolved to Scotland following a No vote, there is no clarity about what extra powers – if any – would be devolved to the Scottish Parliament if Scots reject independence. 

The Law Society has called on the anti-independence parties to specify which powers they would devolve to the Scottish Parliament, and to develop a joint programme to ensure that these powers are indeed devolved, irrespective of which UK party forms the next Westminster government.

The report asks the No campaign:

“What powers would the Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Labour parties propose to devolve to the Scottish Parliament in the event of a ‘no’ vote?

“What timescale for further devolution would be proposed by the Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Labour parties?

“To what extent are the Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Labour parties prepared to agree a joint programme for additional powers? How would such additional powers be defined and delivered?

“What changes would be needed to the devolved institutions in the event of further devolution?”

However there appears little prospect that the anti-independence parties will agree on a common platform. 

Currently Labour’s plans for extra devolution are mired in disarray and stymied by in-fighting between different factions in the party.  Labour MPs severely criticised Johann Lamont’s tax raising proposals, with powerful interests within Labour viscerally opposed to any significant transfer of power from Westminster to Holyrood.

Speaking anonymously to the Herald newspaper in April, one prominent Labour MP said bluntly that Ms Lamont’s devolution plans were “not going to happen”.

For their part, the Conservatives refused to allow discussion of extra devolution at their recent Scottish conference, with the issue being kicked upstairs to a committee set up by party leader Ruth Davidson.  The committee is chaired by hereditary peer Thomas Galbraith, who sits in the Lords as Lord Strathclyde.  Mr Galbraith is a noted opponent of devolution and campaigned against the establishment of the Scottish Parliament.

The Law Society’s report comes after an interview with the Sunday Times yesterday where veteran Labour politician Tam Dalyell criticised the Better Together campaign, saying he thought it “fraudulent to give the impression that if there is a No vote Scotland will still get greater powers. The prospect of further powers is ridiculous.”

Meanwhile Gavin McCrone told BBC’s Good Morning Scotland that a No vote could lead to more powers proposals being forgotten about, saying:

“There is a danger that people in Whitehall will just put the files away and say ‘well, we don’t need to worry about that any more’. And if that’s the case I think it would result in quite a bit of disillusion and disappointment in Scotland.”

Challenging the No campaign to provide answers, SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing said:

“This intervention from the Law Society of Scotland is welcome.  The Yes campaign is rightly answering people’s questions about what an independent Scotland will look like – and we are delighted to outline the gains that a Yes vote will bring next year – but many of these questions can equally be levelled at the No campaign, as this report indicates.

“We hear many empty promises about more powers in return for a No vote, but the No campaign promised Scots a ‘better form of devolution’ in return for a No vote in 1979, but all we got was 18 years of a Tory government which we didn’t vote for.

“Labour cannot even agree with each other about further devolution – never mind with the other anti-independence parties – as Labour MPs queued up to trash Johann Lamont’s Devolution Commission report before the ink was even dry.

“The No campaign cannot just duck these unanswered questions – instead of denigrating an independent Scotland, it’s time for them to provide answers.”