Steel’s Scotland

Lib Dems open door to coalition with SNP. No big surprise there; it’s surely been on the cards since Jim Wallace resigned. And why not? A Labour–Lib Dem coalition seemed like the most sensible option at the time, but as a Lib Dem supporter (and I doubt I’m going to float my vote anywhere else for a while) I find it becoming less easy to stomach all the time. And while I’m not the greatest fan of the SNP as a party, it has to be said that policy-wise there is much more that unites than separates the SNP and the Lib Dems.

The headline in The Scotsman seems tame enough, but the article itself paints a picture of a quite different future for Scotland’s governance. I was not aware that David Steel was preparing this report, but he’s clearly been busy with it because there seems to be an awful lot to digest.

The Scottish Parliament is, rightly, here to stay. Here is one of the most astonishing snippets from the article:

The conversion of the Lib Dems to such sweeping new powers for the parliament is likely to leave Labour as the only party opposed to any change to the current set-up.

The SNP wants Holyrood to be given complete control over everything in Scotland, as do the Greens and the SSP, while the Conservatives are likely to go into next year’s election calling for the parliament to be given control over some taxes.

The Conservaties are such big fans of the UK that they have the word ‘Unionist’ in their name, yet even they want Holyrood to have more wriggle-room than Labour apparently does. It’s starting to look like a bit of a consensus.

Yet, although it is still young and must be given time before we can judge, I am far from convinced that the Scottish Parliament as an institution is a healthy one. As such, voters and politicians should think hard before handing many more powers to Holyrood.

Reading through the article and coming up with an on-the-spot opinion on each of the bullet points, there are some things that I strong agree with, and others that I am much less sure about. Some of the policy areas seem to be more obviously Scottish issues than others, but it isn’t always easy to explain why. For instance, I think firearms legislation is more of a ‘Scottish’ issue simply because the issue is more sailent here after the Dunblane massacre. Asylum and immigration too, because opinion in Scotland seems to be quite different to that south of the border. But I am not so sure why, for instance, betting and gaming should necessarily be a devolved matter.

As for having a written constitution for the whole of the UK, it’s one of those things that I could take or leave. A written constitution is a little bit like a decorative sticker. I mean, it’s a nice thing to have, but what’s really to stop any despot just ripping up a constitution, or even simply ignore it? Nevertheless, if you’re going to go down a more federalist route it would be useful for everybody concerned to be sure of whose duties are whose and to have them enshrined.

SNP member Simon Holledge appears to be back blogging and sees more than a few similarities in Steel’s and the SNP’s ideas:

The Lib Dems may talk about federalism, while the SNP use the word independence, but if the details are 95 percent the same – David Steel and company want Holyrood to have full control over taxes, with the key areas of immigration, national security, and energy to come under a Scottish Government (not Executive) – there is an excellent basis for common action.

Whatever, it looks like it’s going to be an interesting time in Scottish politics over the coming years. It will mean having to try to increase my Scottish news intake again. I never feel like I’m quite in the loop. I’ve taken to listening to Radio Scotland in the mornings now. Some days I really enjoy it, but other times it lives up to its Glasgow-centric image. This morning they spent ages going on about some service station outside Glasgow. YAWN. It’s a wonder I woke up this morning at all…


  1. Perhaps the question isn’t “Why should betting and gaming be a devolved matter?”, but “Why shouln’t it?” We should start from a position of taking decisions at a lower level and centralise only if necessary.

  2. I agree with Will’s comment – the point about devolved powers should be that Westminster should have to justify why they should hold a particular one instead of Holyrood, rather than the other way round as it is at the moment. Defence is the most obvious one where centralised control makes sense, probably “national security” too.
    As to the comment from Simon H about “federalism” = “independence” (95%), I’m not convinced. I’d vote for a federal UK in a heartbeat, but I’m not so sure that an “independent” Scotland would necessarily be the best thing for Scots at the moment.
    Lib D’s partnering with SNP – kind of looks (to my jaundiced eye) to be “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” since Labour’s going more and more right wing. 🙁

  3. More on the David Steel Commission…

    Liberal-Democrat supporter DocVee, the writer of a smart Edinburgh (?) blog. picked up my 7 March posting about the David Steel Commission. Perhaps I might make a few points in response? We can look at the Steel Commission’s list of recommended power…