Vote No for Devo-Something … Sometime

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  By Lesley Riddoch
 
So the three Westminster leaders have come up with a Devo Something vow.  They really will bring in constitutional change as long as Scotland votes No.  Really, really.
 
The offer – in a letter carried on the front of today’s Daily Record – has been described as unprecedented — and it is.  Unprecedented for its sheer brassneck and cynicism.

  By Lesley Riddoch
 
So the three Westminster leaders have come up with a Devo Something vow.  They really will bring in constitutional change as long as Scotland votes No.  Really, really.
 
The offer – in a letter carried on the front of today’s Daily Record – has been described as unprecedented — and it is.  Unprecedented for its sheer brassneck and cynicism.

If Yes was not neck-and neck in the polls after a week of orchestrated scare-mongering – would the three leaders have made this vow? If they planned it all along, why wait till two days before polling?  If they didn’t, why should Scots believe they’ll be motivated to see this unloved policy through the stormy year ahead? 

And it will be stormy.   Not only has the fragile Devo Something proposal been made at the eleventh hour, without costings or any chance for questions, its implementation is impossible by Spring thanks to a House of Commons Committee which decided further devolution of UK taxes to Scotland would require the consent of the rest of the UK.

That means a nationwide debate and parliamentary assent — not assured since many English MPs object to granting any further powers.  More probably it will mean a demand for similar powers by Northern Ireland and Wales and the stirring of currently impotent English regions.

Such widespread demands for decentralisation – whilst long overdue – will take years to resolve.

England is several decades behind the devolved nations in modernising democracy, is still saddled with elite-preserving first past the post voting and has political parties — and an electorate — which prefers to blame Europe rather than its own weak democracy.

The UK will also have a General Election and an in/out European referendum.  The Devo Something timetable is impossible.  And the Three Tenors know it.

Meanwhile did David Cameron say anything new in his Aberdeen speech?  Not really.  He has made another Scottish “intervention” despite evading a TV clash with Alex Salmond by saying the debate was not for him but for Scots alone.

A worshipful media has not asked the kind of searching questions the SNP’s White Paper has been subjected to for the last nine months. 

Precisely how much will Devo Something cost?  Do Scots actually want it?  How can the proposed devolution of Housing Benefit be achieved when it’s about to be subsumed into the Universal Credit system?  Which of the various Unionist offers are the three leaders even talking about?

Cameron told the private audience of conservative supporters the UK is special — “This is not any old country; this is the United Kingdom” — and went on to list the pensions, passports, a welfare state and health service British subjects have created together.  Setting aside for a minute the fact that almost every aspect of that “offer” is under attack from his own government, Cameron’s phraseology smacks of the grandiosity that threatens to leave Britain in a deluded state of Splendid Isolation forever.

Every modern social democracy in Europe has pensions, passports, a welfare state and a health service.  Those services are what states provide.  The implication that a UK-free Scotland would fail to have created effective core public functions is laughable.

The fact that many British public services are currently the least effective and worst funded in Europe is constantly overlooked.  The UK pension is the poorest in the OECD apart from Mexico.  Our health spending per capita is woeful.  The health services in England is being privatised and our welfare state is being cut daily to provide second rate services only for the “deserving poor.”

By contrast our smart European neighbours have understood that excellent services which are attractive to the affluent and affordable for all can increase social solidarity, promote the equality which truly underpins health and educational achievement, raise trust between citizen and government and therefore make tax collection and even higher taxes easier to argue for and collect.

In a speech without any chance for probing questions, the Prime Minister repeatedly stated that Britain is a family.  But what kind of modern family allows no discussion about questions of massive importance at a time like this?

I was poised to make these points yesterday as one of two “presenter’s friends” along with the redoubtable Spectator columnist Alex Massie on R5 Live’s Drive programme presented by Peter Allen from a damp, cold tent beside Holyrood.  But the two of us were hardly used.

Cameron’s speech was relayed in full – which was fair enough – but we had no chance to discuss it until our complaints led to a five minute response slot.  I’d be surprised if we spoke for more than 20 minutes in total during a three hour programme on a day when campaigning, writing or making contributions to other media beckoned.

After complaining about the tiny involvement & lack of balance the producer suggested it would be better if I didn’t turn up as planned today or Friday – fine with me.  I don’t know if Alex Massie has also been dropped.

As a live BBC broadcaster for 25 years I know things can go wrong, stories develop unexpectedly and it’s tough to be shipped into a long-running story at the last minute.  But with no willingness amongst producers to even consider the possibility they had produced an unbalanced programme, there was no further role for me in it.

Happily though, that doesn’t matter.  Scottish voters responded to last week’s storm of scare stories by maintaining support for independence in some polls and boosting support to a new high of 54% in the Sunday Telegraph.

The real story isn’t on BBC airwaves anymore — nor in cloistered executive offices.  It’s on the streets, in offices and homes.  It’s in our heads, in our hearts and very soon – in polling booths all over Scotland.
 
Glory be.