Spectre of 1979 returns to haunt No campaign


  By a Newsnet reporter

In a key week in the referendum debate, the Yes campaign say that Westminster’s actions have demonstrated that the only way for Scotland to achieve the powers needed to build a strong economy and fair society is with a Yes vote in next year’s independence referendum.

Ruth Davidson’s U-turn by endorsing the possibility of enhanced powers for the Scottish Parliament – washing away the ‘line in the sand’ that she drew upon her election as leader – was greeted with scepticism from her own party.

Ms Davidson said that she would establish a committee to review the devolution settlement, and promised to outline detailed plans before the 2014 independence referendum.

Last year at Labour’s Scottish spring conference, Johann Lamont announced that the party was setting up its own commission to examine the devolution settlement.  Although the commission was announced in March 2012, the first meeting did not take place until October.  However since then there has apparently been no further progress.  Labour have yet to specify what, if any, extra powers they would devolve to Holyrood in the event of a No vote in 2014.

In a further sign that Scottish devolution hopes would be dashed, the Westminster Government’s announcement this week that they would not even discuss the devolution of corporation tax to Northern Ireland until after the Scottish independence referendum.  The announcement was met with astonishment by politicians in the province.

After a meeting with David Cameron when the Prime Minister refused to consider devolving corportation tax to the province, Northern Irish First Minister Peter Robinson said:

“What, effectively, you are saying to the people of Scotland is that if you want more fiscal autonomy than you have at the present time, the only way to have it is through independence.”

Meanwhile, a cross-party report from Westminster’s Constitutional Reform Committee published on Friday recommended that a UK-wide referendum may be required to ratify further powers of the Scottish Parliament – meaning that Scotland’s future would not be in Scotland’s hands.

The Committee’s report said that the priority ought to be finding a solution to what it termed “the English problem”, the fact that England is the only constituent nation of the UK without its own devolved parliament.  It further recommended that no extra powers should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament until a Constitutional Convention had put forward proposals for English devolution.

However there is no consensus within the Westminster parties on what form a solution to “the English problem” might take.  The Constitutional Reform Committee report noted that it was not even certain whether Westminster would support its proposal for a UK constitutional convention.

The Conservatives are opposed to an English assembly, but favour removing the right of MPs from Scottish and Welsh constituencies from voting on issues which do not affect Scotland or Wales.  Many in the Conservatives complain that Scottish Labour MPs regularly vote on England only issues which do not affect their own constituents.  

SNP MPs already refrain from voting on issue which do not affect Scotland. However Labour is fiercely opposed to what it sees as attempts to curtail the voting rights of Scottish MPs.  

Despite the lack of clarity from the anti-independence camp, a YouGov poll last week found that a majority of Scots believe that the Scottish Government should be responsible for all tax and spending decisions in Scotland – including North Sea tax revenues – and would be best at deciding welfare and pensions policy for Scotland.  

Yes campaigners claim that the warm words currently being spoken by the anti-independence parties, about ‘consideration’ of as-yet unspecified extra powers for Scotland within the Union, are reminiscent of the infamous promise made by former Conservative Prime Minister Alec Douglas Home prior to the 1979 referendum on Home Rule.  The former PM told voters that if they voted against the Home Rule proposals, the Conservatives would offer “something better”.  

Although a majority voted in favour, the 79 vote was insufficient to surpass the artificial hurdle imposed at the behest of Labour MP George Cunningham.  Devolution was then off the table for almost 2 decades.  Given the lack of specific proposals for further devolution from the No campaign, Yes campaigners warn against allowing history to repeat itself.

Commenting, SNP MSP and Referendum Bill Committee Convener Bruce Crawford, said:

“The independence debate has moved on significantly this week. With a poll showing that a clear majority of people want all the decisions on tax and spending, and welfare and pensions to be made here in Scotland, it has become abundantly clear that the only way to achieve this in Scotland is with a Yes vote. A No vote is a vote for nothing – and puts a Westminster veto on the process.

“The anti-independence politicians in the No campaign are attempting to repeat the con of 1979, when Scots were promised ‘better form of devolution’ in return for voting No – which turned out to be 18 years of Tory Government that the people of Scotland didn’t vote for.

“One thing that has become clear this week is that a Yes vote is the only way to deliver the powers that Scotland needs to build a strong economy and fair society – and the only way to put the people of Scotland in charge of Scotland’s future.”