So as you’ll be aware, last week i emailed the Smith Commission, which anyone can do until 31 October, to voice their views about what should be devolved to Scotland in the wake of the immense promises of federalism and home rule that were doled out like sweeties to the No voters in the run-up to the recent Scottish independence referendum. Please do it now, if you haven’t already.
I thought some more about it and realised there were a few more things i wanted to suggest. I also read somewhere that since submissions from the public were likely to just be skimmed, it might make sense to send each point you want to make in a separate email. I just sent my additional concerns in one further email, but please feel free to send several emails if you wish.
Incidentally i also read that on Friday 18 October only 4,000 submissions had been received by the Commission. To me this means that 1,613,989 people who voted Yes have not sent anything in, and that’s assuming all the submissions are from Yes voters (which is unlikely). Perhaps all the Yes voters think it’s a waste of time, and they won’t bother. I have also seen people saying they couldn’t possibly add anything to the what 4,000 people that have already emailed in have already said.
Look, we all know we’re not going to get anything like home rule, so when this process breaks down and Scotland gets stitched up, we need to show that Scotland engaged with the process. That means taking five minutes NOW, THIS WEEK, before it’s TOO LATE, to send in your submissions. ALSO, if it does deliver a better system for Scottish government, how can you honestly pass up the chance to positively affect that process?
Now, below, you can see what my additional emails to the Smith Commission said, but first i wanted to mention that Gavin Taylor has done a very good, and concise, Smith Commission submission, and shared it on his blog. You can use his for inspiration if you feel so inclined. There are of course other viewpoints, which i am sure the Commission will weigh the merits of too.
Here’s the text of the additional (shorter) email i sent to the Commission today:
I am writing to ensure my voice is represented in your commission’s deliberations as to what further powers should be devolved to the Scottish parliament. I emailed you with some thoughts last week, but have subsequently thought of a few further points i feel should be considered.
Fracking and Oil Extraction
It is often said that there is much the Scottish Government can already do about fracking. The truth is that there are several important aspects still reserved to the UK government. I believe to simplify and clarify this process, as well as to avoid complicated inter-governmental battles, that all aspects that affect fracking and oil extraction on or offshore should be devolved to the Scottish government. This includes land rights, but also legislation relating to whether to grant licences to test and drill, who to grant licences to, and the ability to legislate about the substances that can be used beneath the ground. Obviously it would make no sense to devolve only the decision making without fiscal responsibility, so i propose that any revenue and income from extraction of onshore or offshore oil would also be devolved to Scotland, and no subsidy would come from Westminster relating to this area. Essentially the decisions, the risks, and the gains would be handed off to Scotland since this process takes place entirely within Scotland’s borders and waters.
Scotland is in the grip of considerable poverty. The needs and circumstances of Scotland differ considerably in this regard from those of England, and have wide reaching causes and effects from Scotland’s colder climate to its lower life expectancy. As such all aspects of the Welfare system should really be devolved to Scotland, which would be made easier by the process of devolving all tax collection powers, and abolishing the need for tax and revenue to go to the UK, only to be sent back to Scotland.
As Patrick Harvie, co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party noted on the Sunday Politics show this weekend, it makes sense to either devolve very little of the welfare system, or a great deal of it. I believe that it makes more sense to devolve all of it, given Scotland’s unique differences from the rest of the UK in terms of population distribution, life expectancy and climate, as i mentioned, types of work which are available and the fact that the Universal Credit, PIP, and “bedroom tax” systems are universally unpopular in Scotland in a way they do not appear to be among the local government in England. Scotland needs full fiscal and administrative responsibility over Welfare. It would be a waste of time, money and effort to “devolve” welfare but keep such tight limits on it that essentially Scotland is only enacting the decisions made at Westminster and, in the context of the English Votes for English Laws question it could lead to a system of taxation without representation unless full devolution of the entire Welfare sector is put in place. Half measures could be costly and ineffective for both Scotland and the UK.
Technically broadcasting is not considered a government department. There is a private broadcasting industry, which operates mainly in England, with some companies maintaining outposts in Scotland, and there is the BBC. It is effectively publicly funded. Everyone who watches live television must pay £145.50 towards the upkeep of the BBC. The BBC also is regulated by the BBC Trust, effectively an internal department, and is not answerable to Ofcom except in areas where actual illegality may have taken place. As such the BBC stands apart from the private industry in terms of funding and regulation. It is essentially publicly owned in all but name.
As such i suggest devolution of broadcasting. There is considerable concern that the BBC is biased with regard to the area of the proposed EU membership referendum, and i know a great deal of Scottish residents believe it to have been biased in its coverage of the independence referendum, as well as on many other important news issues. respect for the BBC has declined, of course, in the wake of its decades long cover up of institutionalised peadophilia, in much the same way as support for Westminster has diminished for exactly the same reason. As such a system whereby the BBC no longer enjoys a priveleged position but simply licences its content to a Scottish public (or private) broadcaster might be a better solution, in exactly the same way as it does for other EU or international nations.
This would also allow for the setting up of such a Scottish state broadcaster which would be entirely appropriate given the fact that news and culture travels in an almost exclusively northerly direction in these British isles, and this might stem some of the cultural drain Scotland has experienced for decades while reinvigorating the narrative Scotland tells itself about itself. It would, of course, also set the scene for a potentially thriving private sector in Scotland, probably occupied by the existing networks and companies that operate in England, but more than likely with dedicated Scottish bases since the BBC would then be put on an equal footing with them in Scotland, as just another private broadcast company, a situation they could not hope for in the UK at the moment. It would also, of course, through competition, ensure that better quality and choice of broadcasting were available to the people of Scotland.
To conclude, it is my sincere and firm hope that you will see that devolution must be offered holistically. Devolving power within tight limits is costly and useless for both the UK and Scotland. Devolving administration but not fiscal responsibility has proven to be possible, but limiting for Scotland, and controversial for those who oppose the idea that government can spend money it is not responsible for raising. I also counsel against devolving only part of the welfare system or the taxation system, since these are complicated systems and it is inevitable that not this will result not only in the costly double handling i just mentioned, as well as gross inequalities that inevitably fail some taxpayers and welfare claimants, but also the strong possibility that Scotland will be paying its taxes twice, once to Westminster and once to Holyrood. Scotland may find itself paying benefits from its own coffers when the money previously used for these payments remains reserved to Westminster. We already see the beginning of this in the fact that Barnett formula money is being used to top up Housing benefit payments for those whom the UK wishes to charge “bedroom tax”. This piecemeal system, which is complicated, and ultimately serves to wring more money from Scotland as though it were a feudal territory of England is not an appropriate outcome to this process, not the least because Scotland’s households cannot afford it, and poverty and inequality is bad for any economy, whether it be Scotland’s or the UK’s. I am certain that many citizens of the rest of the UK would not be happy with that arrangement either for ideological, as well as economic, reasons.
Thanks for your time and best wishes.