News analysis by Derek Bateman
Wasn’t it graphic proof of Britain’s Ruritanian political system that when an interlocutor was required to orchestrate inter-party talks on greater democracy, they chose an unelected Lord with a velvet robe edged with ermine – that is, the pelt of a dead stoat.
Welcome to Britain…Robert Smith is one of those who clearly prostrates himself at the feet of privilege and patronage. Why else would a sane and successful man make such a public fool of himself? What self-respecting, democratic Scot would call himself Lord?
Still, it confirms him as the Establishment’s man, a trusty who knows where his allegiance lies. And it certainly isn’t with working class Scots. But that’s the UK for you and beneath the idiotic flummery Smith is at least a competent money-making business type who ought to be capable of pragmatic judgment. We’ll see. Making money from fleecing customers is easy compared to handling this sackful of ferrets.
The question is: Can they reach a deal? Well, of course they can and will. It’s the least the parties are obliged to do given the strained efforts they made mid-referendum to show their democratic credentials followed by the bowel-creasing panic that befell them two weeks before voting.
But what will it be? If I had to guess, I’d say retrenchment of powers, insofar as that is legally possible in a crown-in-parliament system where all power is centralised; half of all tax income along with some plums like possibly Air Passenger Duty and a degree of control over a sliver of welfare. No doubt there will be baubles – control over elections, rights to speak in Brussels etc.
There will be enough to present as significant new powers (in addition to the already-legislated Scotland Act) and no, it will never be enough. There simply isn’t the desire among the Unionists or the British government to drive on devolution to satisfy the majority opinion. And the Smith forum is a spatch-cock set-up rushing through ideas that should be subject to prolonged public scrutiny. Changes of this nature take serious consideration and the ludicrous Iron Timetable of Toom Tabard Broon isn’t just an insult, it’s a joke. Still, Hell mend them. This is what they promised. The least we can do is enjoy as they stew and laugh as their puny offer unravels.
Scotland will be short-changed and the Unionists will pay the political price.
This should have been so different. If ever the UK had the chance to cast aside the doubters and embrace a real democracy for Britain, the referendum was it. A Prime Minister looking beyond shallow advantage could have warned his critics that the vote was a narrow escape for the UK and was a warning that all is not well. Division of powers must be addressed throughout Britain and the principle of subsidiarity applied both to bring democracy closer to the citizens and the counter-balance the centrifugal forces tipping national resources into London.
It isn’t only Scotland that is feeling resentful at the honeypot that is London. All over the UK, the sense of injustice is rising and it is an obligation, not a choice, for government to deal with it. We created the mood and the space for this to happen so that all of the British Isles could engage in a similar debate, share experience and decide how they want to be run. Short of independence this is the greatest legacy from the referendum – the opportunity to capture the spirit and modernise the state both as an end in itself and to prevent future outbreaks of ‘separatism’.
Instead, we have Smith delivering 10 per cent of nothing as the Unionists step gingerly back from their promises, the government plotting to restrict Labour’s voting strength and a bitterness that should have disappeared on September 19.
We don’t have mature debate, we have finger-jabbing and feint.
We have lots of history in Britain but we never learn from it. That’s why, for example, we are in Afghanistan for fourth time, having been beaten into retreat each time. And that’s why the cause of independence will never be resolved by the UK. Britain is just too stupid to learn.
Derek Bateman’s blog and podcasts are now available on newsnetscotland.scot