If you live in Scotland it’s pretty much your duty to email the Smith Commission and have your say on what you think increased devolution for Scotland should look like.The deadline for you to send your thoughts in is 5pm on 31 October so do it now, and don’t be late.
I just did, and here’s what i said (below). I didn’t mention every single thing, for example i didn’t mention fracking or borrowing powers, i didn’t go into detail about Education, Health or oil, for three reasons, firstly i know plenty of people will mention those issues, certainly there are plenty of petitions specifically asking the Smith Commission to consider each of these issues, and secondly issues such as fracking, which are very relevant at the moment, are certain to come up during the Smith Commission’s deliberations. While the SNP’s submission to the Smith Commission does not contain any mention of fracking specifically, it is a hot topic for the Green Party, and the news has been full of people’s concerns and more specifically the Scottish Government calling for a halt on fracking activities within Scotland until the outcomes of the Smith Commission are known. Thirdly, my position is pretty much that more or less everything should be devolved, and i spell that out quite a lot in my letter, so it seemed a little pontless to go into every specific area individually.
Nonetheless, i’m quite wordy as it is, so here’s what i sent them, though i’ve prettied up the references into hyperlinks and added a couple of pictures, for the sake of your aesthetic enjoyment.
On the subject of increased devolution for Scotland, i have some observations, and some suggestions.
Firstly, i observe that there is appetite within England for Scotland’s MPs to be given less representation within the UK parliament, that is the true thrust of the English Votes for English Laws concept. It has been portrayed as something for England, on a par with what Scotland is being given, however scratch the surface and it is simply a proposal to limit the voting rights of Scottish MPs within Westminster.
This in itself would actually have virtually no effect on the decisions of the UK parliament, since 99.6% of the votes since 1997 would have had the same result, had the Scottish MPs’ votes been removed.
Two conclusions can be drawn from this:
1) The English Votes for English Laws initiative is a red herring, and is mainly intended as a vote winner, aimed at English voters in preparation for the 2015 election
2) Scottish MPs have virtually no real effect in the UK parliament anyway, and Scotland’s views are hardly represented at all, regardless of the fact that there are more MPs per head of population in Scotland than England, and i would guess that this is because MPs tend to vote according to party policy rather than the true views of their constituents.
As such i believe that maximum devolution (or as it has been referred to many times, “devo max” is the only real way for Scotland to effectively govern itself within the UK and make the most of its resources and assets, while limiting its risks. For the UK to make these decisions jointly encumbers and endagers both Scotland and England, or the rest of the UK, since the needs and the strengths of Scotland are different from those in the remainder of the UK.
I welcome the Scottish National Party’s well measured and well thought out submission to the Smith Commission.
I believe they cover many relevant points. To that, i would simply reiterate my own priorities briefly, although i believe these have all been mentioned in the SNP’s own submission, it may do to repeat them since i and many other Scottish citizens have these issues as a priority in the forefront of our minds.
Government Departments That Should Be Devolved
45% of Scotland recently voted to become completely independent of the UK (with an 85% turnout. I am not counting the 15% who chose not to vote). A further one in four of those who voted No would have voted Yes if “significant extra powers” had not been offered, and presumably a fair chunk of the remaining 41.5% or so would have voted for “devo max” if it had been included on the ballot paper in the first place.
As such, it appears that most of Scotland would prefer to see “significant extra devolved powers” or “a modern form of home rule” or “devo max”. As such, i would suggest the best way to manage this is to realise Mr Donald Dewar’s original vision for a devolved Scotland and devolve all departments of government to Scotland, though i understand the policy of all parties concerned is to reserve defence and foreign policy to the UK.
That presents some difficulties, since this would mean keeping Trident in Scottish waters, which many Scottish residents do not want, and this would block exploitation of the Clyde Basin oil field, which many Scottish residents do want Scotland to have access to. Regarding foreign policy, it does make sense for a United Kingdom to have a united foreign policy, however even in recent times the UK supported Israel’s hard line against Palestine, while the Scottish government was attempting to offer medical aid to Palestinians, which shows that actual policy isn’t united even now. I believe the main motivating factors for keeping defence and foreign affairs reserved to the UK is simply to avoid having to oversee the splitting up of the defence forces and the assets associated with that, and that is as good a reason as any for now.
So i support the devolution of all departments of government without exception, except, for now, defence and foreign affairs. This includes devolution of immigration policy and home affairs, as well as constitutional issues, including the right of Scotland to be responsible for its own elections and democratic process, to make and police its own immigration policies, and to enact its own written constitution, among other responsibilities.
Fiscal and Administrative Responsibility
For a long time Scotland’s devolution has consisted of administrative responsibility, funded by UK money, worked out by the Barnett Formula. This is cumbersome and contentious on both sides of the border. Both sides believe they are getting a raw deal financially, and both sides blame shortcomings in one department or another on the other parliament. Clearly true fiscal devolution as well as administrative and clerical devolution is a must for anything to be properly actioned and accounted for.
The outcome of this, i believe, is that all revenues raised in Scotland would stay within Scotland, and all revenues raised outwith Scotland would stay outwith Scotland, meaning an end to the myth that Scotland is subsidised by the rest of the UK.
When i say all revenues raised within Scotland, i include oil revenues within this description. I also include exports which leave the UK via locations in England (one example might be whisky exports leaving Scotland for Newcastle on Tyne, which then leave the UK from that port. In my mind that is a Scottish export, and would be counted as having been exported from Scotland since the goods originated there). VAT raised in Scotland would stay in Scotland. Budget decisions at Westminster would not affect Scotland, but instead Scotland would have complete control over its own budget. Duties paid in Scotland would remain within Scotland. Fines charged within Scotland, even from those with a postal address in England, would stay within Scotland (at the moment, for example, speeding fines go to the UK Treasury, even though the administration for collecting those fines is paid for by Scottish Police and Council partnerships).
Another area which should clearly be separated, under the heading of fiscal responsibilities, is the National Infrastructure Plan. The myth i mentioned earlier about public spending being disproportionately high within Scotland is partly due to the National Infrastructure Plan not being taken into account when making that calculation. An analysis of this plan shows that virtually all public spending which has been deemed to be in the interests of the UK as a whole is actually within England, and arguably benefits England much more than the other UK member nations. It should be a very simple matter to split this plan into spending by nation, particularly since so little of it refers to spending anywhere other than England, and to include this in the fiscal responsibility which is devolved to Scotland.
To be clear, i do not propose that Scotland take responsibility for a share of the National Infrastructure Plan based on population, but on need, ie: if a project is situated in England (for example the HS2 rail ink or upgrades to the London Underground), then Scotland would not be responsible for paying for any part of it (in the same way as the rest of the UK is not now responsible for paying for an upgrade of the A9/M9 dual carriageway/motorway for instance).
The end result of this level of devolution would be that literally all of Scotland’s finances, in and outgoing, would be completely devolved in their entirety, except for foreign affairs and defence, and Scotland’s administrative responsibilities would also be completely devolved, without being hamstrung by UK legislation which has no purpose in real terms (such as the fact that the UK specifies that a certain number of Scottish MEPs must be elected by a first-past-the-post system, which many Scottish residents do not support as the most democratic way of electing a government, and the Scottish parliament currently has no way of updating the way that elections are held at present).
Defence and Foreign Affairs
It then follows that the Barnett Formula would no longer apply, since money would no longer be being paid in revenue from Scotland to England, and money would no longer be being paid from England to Scotland in the form of public spending and the block grant. There would still need to be an exchange of money between the two parliaments, however. It is understood that if the UK continues to run defence and foreign affairs, the Scottish government would pay for these services. It stands to reason therefore that the wages of Scottish residents employed in the services would be paid by the UK armed forces, not by Scotland, since Scotland would already be paying the UK Armed Forces for its services, and the forces would be employing its personnel to provide those services. It also stands to reason that the UK government would pay Scotland a reasonable amount in order to lease the premises which house the Trident nuclear submarines. Since these would be within Scotland, and therefore under the jurisdiction of the Scottish government, it seems logical that the UK would pay for this lease, just as it would be logical for Scotland to pay for the services of the UK armed forces.
Pensions and Other Welfare Benefits
All Scottish citizens who pay National Insurance contributions currently pay these to the UK Treasury, and those who are retired have paid all of their contributions to the UK Treasury. As such, the UK Treasury should continue its obligation to pay the state pension to those who are currently eligible to receive it, in the same way as recipients of the UK state pension can still receive it no matter where in the world they live.
The Scottish government should, as part of their responsibilities under the increased level of devolution, conduct negotiations with the UK government to transfer responsibility for paying future pensions, as well as for receiving a sum which represents the existing investment paid up to the point of handover by those who have paid National Insurance in Scotland. In short, responsibility for paying existing pensions would remain with the UK, since they administrate the pension fund currently used to pay these pensions, however responsibility for the funds of those who are currently below retirement age would pass to the Scottish government, which would receive funds from the UK Treasury which are proportionate in size to the value of those funds which Scotland takes on. Incidentally the decision of what retirement age is would, of course, be one of the many responsibilities which would be devolved to the Scottish parliament, however for the purposes of negotiation both governments would need to agree on a retirement age (for example 65) to act as a cutoff point for the sake of working out the figures.
All other Welfare benefits would, of course, be devolved to Scotland, with the responsibility of paying needs based benefits as well as the administrative responsibilities to decide on what basis those needs are assessed and ultimately what benefits would be paid under those conditions. Essentially the whole area of welfare, fiscal and administrative, would be fully devolved without caveats imposed by the UK parliament.
Scottish Waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone
If Scotland were an independent country, the international law convention would be that it also gained control of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). A state’s EEZ extends to a distance of 200 nautical miles (370 km) out from its coastal baseline. The exception to this rule occurs when EEZs would overlap; that is, state coastal baselines are less than 400 nautical miles (740 km) apart. When an overlap occurs, it is up to the states to delineate the actual maritime boundary. Generally, any point within an overlapping area defaults to the nearest state.
Scotland is not an independent country, however the discussion of devolved powers and revenues does involve, very crucially, the administrative and fiscal responsibilities relating to Scotlands waters. There are many resources within Scotland’s waters, such as the potential for wave and wind energy generation, fishing and, of course, oil. The area would also need to be policed and provided with coastguards. Full responsibility for managing this area would be devolved to Scotland, including management of fishing quotas and administration of the oil drilling, as would the revenues and benefits.
In cases of defence, however, clearly the UK would retain responsibility, as they did in January of this year when a Russian ship entered Scottish waters (though i would hope that in future the UK might respond a little more efficiently than they did in January 2014).
DEFRA has already published details of Scotland’s waters, for the purposes of illustrating the responsibilities of the UK and Scotland in devolved, and reserved, matters.
As you can see, this map does not conform to standard convention regarding the EEZ. For one thing a large portion of what would ordinarily be Scottish waters (off the coast of Berwick Upon Tweed) has been allocated to England for all purposes. The border quite clearly extends in a North-Easterly direction when by international UN convention it should extend in a straight line East to West. In fact this arrangement used to be the case, however these waters were reapportioned to England following the creation of Scotland’s devolved parliament. These waters should by any assessment come, once again, under the administration and fiscal responsibility of Scotland, as part of any update to the devolution arrangement.
Other Issues and a Word on Fiscal Responsibility
There are many other areas which will need to be discussed. Health is already devolved administratively, but not fiscally, however the NHS is a separate entity in Scotland, England and Wales, and always has been, so actually this department might not be as complex to devolve fiscally as it might at first appear. A similar situation might be said to apply to Education. Taxation is done in various ways and at a number of levels, however that which is administered at Council level will need minimal changes i imagine, and other taxation and revenue collection can be discussed and agreed on i am sure. At first the Scottish government would simply continue charging tax, revenue and duty at the same rate as the UK had done, and effect policy changes from that point onwards.
The main change to all these areas would be the inclusion of fiscal responsibility for Scotland. It will not be workable to give Scotland “tax raising powers” but retain the current arrangement of Scotland paying tax to the UK, and receive a block grant in return. For one thing the more complicated a system is, the more discrepancies and inequalities will arise naturally in the system (and will need to be tweaked, in order to deal with the circumstances), and for another it makes sense to take this opportunity to pass responsibility to Scotland for its own finances. Scotland has shown responsible management of the block grant, so let’s move on from this arrangement, which all parties agree is less than adequate and was only meant as a temporary measure anyway, and devolve not just full tax generating powers, including oil revenues, export duties, fines and VAT, but responsibility for handling and allocating all money raised by those powers as well. This is the only way for Scotland’s economy to continue to flourish, taking full advantage of its potential and continuing to be a leader in the fields of education, research, renewables, as well as to fully develop its potential for exports and tourism.
I am sure everyone will agree that the point of Scottish devolution within the UK is to allow Scotland to make the most of its potential to be as successful as it can be within the UK, thereby benefiting the people of Scotland and the people of the UK.
Thanks for your time, and best wishes.