Brown makes case for enhanced devolution in Scotland

Wed, Mar 12, 2014, 01:01

Scotland’s referendum on independence shares a singular feature with our recent poll on abolishing the Seanad, one that strongly favours their respective No campaigns – No voters in both cases could embrace a campaign against the imperfect Seanad/Union as it stood while demanding fundamental reform.

In Scotland home rulers, critics of the current insipid devolution, make the case for “devo max”, a rolling out of far more devolved powers to Edinburgh, while making common cause with out-and-out unionists and mild devolutionists, a have-your-cake-and-eat-it formula that is difficult for the SNP to defeat.

On Monday former prime minister, Gordon Brown, MP for Kircaldy, a man respected more in Scotland than in the rest of the UK, threw his weight in, making that case for enhanced devolution. He submitted his proposals to a divided Labour’s devolution commission, shortly due to put forward its plans to boost devolution in the event of a No vote in September.

His headline demand is that Scotland’s parliament should be able to raise and spend 40 per cent of income tax, although he rejected devolving corporation tax, a firm SNP favourite, saying it risked creating a “race to the bottom”. He called for a new UK constitutional law to set out the role of the reformed UK to pool and share resources for the defence, security and wellbeing of citizens.

Echoing the need to promise No voters change, former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell said parties should meet within 30 days of a No vote to agree further devolved powers. (The Lib Dems add coherence to their case by also calling for a federalising of British regions.) Such campaigning means that interpreting a No vote will be highly contested – as the Seanad No result demonstrated. But there is a political reality that means, perhaps paradoxically, that a No vote will create enormous and largely irresistible expectations of further major devolution. No question, unionists please note, of returning to the status quo ante.