Sunday, 13 December 2009

Devolution's Democratic Deficit

Current debates about the future status of Scottish devolution have almost completely overlooked the almost one in three of Scottish electors who do not wish for any additional powers for the Scottish Parliament and its government.

A recent Ipsos-Mori survey poll reports that 30% of Scots do not wish to see any change in the current devolution arrangements. Yet where is their voice? All the major political parties, except for the Conservatives, now seem committed to proposals to extend the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, has adopted an equivocal position over the proposals of the Calman Commission to extend the taxation powers of the Scottish Parliament – evidently hoping to avoid any commitments until after next year’s general election. But in the event of a Conservative government resulting from next year’s general election he would come under strong pressure to accede to some of the proposals. If he leads a minority government he might need to do so to gain the support of the SNP and Liberal Democrats for his administration; if he leads a majority government pressure will come in that direction from the Scottish group of Conservative MSPS.

Since on the basis of recent polling the Conservatives are only expected to get 15% of the Scottish general election vote this means that 15 -20% of Scottish voters who do not want to extend the powers of the Scottish Parliament and who would not welcome a Conservative UK government will have no major political party to represent them on this issue.

Since the first elections in 1999 the Scottish Parliament and its government have demonstrated a considerable capacity to continually seek to expand their powers. One major reason that the five major Scottish political parties, including the Conservatives who were long run opponents of devolution, have been won over to it is because it provides them with an additional 129 salaried elected places (and the accompanying support positions) and a total budget of over £100 million to share between them.

The Scottish Parliament and its entourage of, civil servants, policy advisors, secretaries and political workers have become a powerful lobby for the ever growing power of this large element of the Scottish political class. This class has demonstrated its power by its ability to retain a very large Parliament of 129 members against the original intention of the devolution legislation to review its size when the number of Scottish MPs was reduced at Westminster was reduced to 59 from 71 in 2005 and from the recent campaign to enlarge the powers of the Parliament culminating in the recommendations of the Calman Commission to grant it additional taxation powers in addition to its current indirect ability to influence council tax levels by its grants to local authorities.

Scottish Devolution was intended to bring government closer to the Scottish people but it looks as though the interests of the political parties in maintaining and enhancing their places in the Scottish Parliament are crowding out the voices of the people who wish to see the current devolution arrangements continue without yet a further upheaval in our system of government.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Looming Issues for Scotland and the Union

'Looming Issues for Scotland and the Union' Political Quarterly
79, 4, 560 - 568, October - December 2008.


The minor electoral gains for the Scottish National Party (SNP) in 2007, which made it the largest party but a minority Scottish Executive administration, have provoked a fundamental review of Scottish devolution. Political imperatives rather than reasoned argument seem to dominate the actions of those pushing for independence and/or greater powers for the Scottish Parliament. The renaming of the Scottish Executive by the SNP as the Scottish Government is creating confusion. The Scottish Executive's plans to move to independence are inadequate for the significance of the intended outcome. The unionist opposition parties could not agree to form a majority coalition but have launched a major review of devolution which includes the possibility of increased tax powers for the Scottish Parliament even when existing tax powers are not used. Federalism has been proposed by the Liberal Democrats and others but evidence from other states suggests that this is by no means a stable or certain solution.