Reform Scotland, a loose cross-party think tank which has long pushed for Devo Max, launched its latest proposals at Our Dynamic Earth on Monday.
Hugh Kerr was there to find out more…
Headlined a “Campaign for Scottish Home Rule”, this is Reform Scotland’s submission to the Smith Commission, and was introduced by a panel headed up by Henry McLeish (Labour), Andrew Wilson (SNP, Margaret Smith (Liberal Democrat) and Derek Brownlee (Conservative), plus representatives from civic Scotland and the academic world.
The thesis behind the submission is grouped around three principles:
1. “Responsibility Devolved” – the presumption that most social legislation should be devolved to Scotland and Westminster should have to argue the case why it shouldn’t be.
2. “Raising what you spend” – much greater tax powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament than the 22 per cent currently devolved by the 2012 Scotland Act, though they are rather vague about how much is much more.
3. “Mutual Respect” between the constituent parliaments of the UK, with a written constitution for Scotland.
The group argued that although the Smith Commission had a very short timescale of reporting (January), the debate around Home Rule or Devo Max will go on into the House of Commons and House of Lords, the Scottish Parliament and into the much-energised Scottish debate that continues on board nearly every bus and in every pub.
McLeish began his contribution by mentioning the founder of Scottish Labour and famous Home Rule supporter Keir Hardie (real name Kerr!), although for Hardie “Home Rule” really meant independence. He also pointed out that the Liberals had traditionally supported Home Rule, and Margaret Smith said she had always supported the principle and the Liberals should get back to it. McLeish added: “We need a consistent, credible set of principles to underpin a written constitution which would transfer wide powers to the Scottish Parliament and be owned by the Scottish people.”
The assembled journalists didn’t seem too excited about the document, one of them asking: “Haven’t we heard it all before?” Others suggested the timing was a little out of sync with the Smith Commission. I asked whether oil would be included within revenues, but no one supported that, it is after all “UK oil”!
The final contribution came from a genuine member of the public, Eddie Lamb, who had heard the launch mentioned on Radio Scotland that morning and had come along to hear the press conference.He paid tribute to Reform Scotland for the cross-party agreement behind the document and the ideas behind it. He said ” Like many people, I have become energised by the referendum campaign and I think the debate will go on for years to come, the more ideas the better!”
That is not a bad verdict on the proposals. Reform Scotland don’t have huge numbers in either money or people, but they do articulate what is probably the majority view in Scotland: That is that there should be substantially increased powers for the Scottish Parliament. The problem is how much is substantial, and will Westminster deliver on its promises? I hae ma doots!
*Hugh Kerr is a socialist and former Labour MEP.