I’m giving a public lecture at the University of Ulster’s Belfast campus on 15 May, on what happens following September’s Scottish referendum. It will take place in the Conor Lecture Theatre at 5 pm. The poster, with more details, can be downloaded here. Please email Zoë Lennon on email@example.com to confirm your attendance if you’d like to come.
Nicola Sturgeon’s lecture for the Constitution Unit on Thursday evening, 13 February, was a rare opportunity for her to speak to a London audience, and for a London audience to see her. What they heard was a very slick presentation of the SNP’s case for ‘soft independence’, carefully tailored for the audience, and predicated on advancing Scottish self-government rather than breaking up the UK. Her key arguments were that Scotland could be independent, and was well-prepared for that because of the development of devolution; that Scotland could and should become independent, because Westminster’s politics and policies were at odds with those of Scotland; and that independence would be a firm basis for good relations with all the nations of the British isles. She emphasised that Scottish independence was ‘emphatically not separatist or insular … [n]or … driven by antipathy towards or resentment of our neighbours in the rest of the UK.’ Indeed, she said she was sure independence could be achieved without any lingering sense of resentment in the rest of the UK. She added that the debate was not about ‘identity’ and that the SNP were not asking people to choose their identity as part of the process which may come as a surprise to some observers). Rather, it was about the best form of self-government for Scotland.
Much of this was familiar to those who have heard the SNP in recent years, and much could be strongly contested. The line that Scotland’s politics were different to those of England was undermined by arguing that Scottish independence would not doom the rest of the UK to unending Conservative governments, for example. Sturgeon made a good deal of how important it was for Scotland to have control of such issues as economic management, defence and foreign affairs from Westminster – even though an independent Scotland’s room for manoeuvre under its white paper blueprint would be limited, and even though there is little sign from polling that these issues are key in voters’ minds. Continue reading
It has been quite easy to miss from Great Britain, but over the last few months there have been the beginnings of a serious debate about devolution finance in Northern Ireland. Until now, this debate has been largely absent there, with the (major) exception of the debate about devolving corporation tax.
I’ve argued before that the corporation tax debate has been rather an unreal one, rooted in a serious absence of basic information and misapprehensions about both the benefits and problems of tax devolution (see HERE and HERE). With the UK Government’s decision in March 2013 to put the issue on hold at least until after the Scottish independence referendum, that debate has at least paused. There still seems to be a belief there, however, that corporation tax devolution is not only viable and practicable but some sort of holy grail for the invigoration of the Northern Ireland economy. (A separate part of the Northern Ireland debate has led to devolution of air passenger duty for long-haul flights, set at a lower level for 2012-13 and passing APD to Stormont’s control from the start of 2013. In practice, there’s only one such flight – a daily one from Belfast International to Newark, New Jersey, in the US.)
We held the Funding Devo More launch event in Edinburgh on Friday morning, with Willie Rennie MSP responding on behalf of the Scottish Lib Dems and Sarah Boyack MSP (a late replacement for Margaret Curran MP) responding for Labour. Rachel Ormston of ScotCen also gave a presentation on the key parts of the results of the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2012 that bear on the constitutional debate.
My presentation from the launch is now available HERE. Rachel Ormston’s slides – particularly interesting on what she calls the ‘maximalists’, those who want significantly enhanced devolution for Scotland but not independence – are here.
To highlight events and other activities relating to this project for those using Twitter, we shall be using the hashtag #devomore.
I’m also going to be on BBC Radio Wales’s ‘excellent Sunday Supplement’ programme this coming Sunday (27 January) to talk about the report and its implications for Wales. That should be at about 8.30 am.
I’ve given Scotland on Sunday a preview of my IPPR report on devolution finance ‘Financing Devo More’ and they’ve given it generous coverage. There are news stories here and here, a comment piece by Guy Lodge and me regarding the wider politics of what I propose here, and an editorial here.
The paper should be available on Thursday, and we’re launching it at an event in Edinburgh on Friday. I’ll be writing more in due course to explain what the wider ‘Devo More’ project is about.
UPDATE, 22 January: Monday’s papers included coverage of the report’s implications for Wales in the Western Mail, available here. The Scotsman‘s coverage (here) included suggestions by David Mundell, Minister of State at the Scotland Office, that the unionist parties would have a collective ‘enhanced devolution’ position come the autumn, the first time he’s made any such suggestion.
The Herald had responses which included a general welcome from Alistair Darling of Better Together, and a dismissal of the proposals by Nicola Sturgeon. That’s available here. Sturgeon’s dismissal of the proposals is remarkable as the report not been published yet and so she can’t know its details. Despite the SNP’s earlier suggestions that it would have welcomed an ‘enhanced devolution’ option on the referendum ballot, it would seem determined to resist any actual proposal to deliver that.
One reason why this blog has been so quiet for the last few weeks is that I’ve been trying to finalise work I’ve had underway for some time on what I call the ‘more or less federal model’ for devolution finance. The idea behind this project was to see what sort of lessons could usefully be learned from the financing arrangements in federal systems for financing devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; how to extend devolved tax-setting powers in a workable way, and reconcile these with securing an equitable distribution of resources across the UK. That work is now completed, and the paper is due for publication by the Institute for Public Policy Research next week. It’s a detailed and chunky piece of work, drawing on data published in GERS, the Northern Ireland Net Fiscal Balance Reports, and by the Silk Commission, and I hope it will be a valuable contribution to the current debates in Scotland and elsewhere about the future of devolution.
There will be a launch of the event at the Royal Society of Edinburgh on George Street in Edinburgh at 8.30 am on Friday 25 January. Speakers will include me, Guy Lodge of IPPR, Willie Rennie MSP, leader of the Scottish Lib Dems, and a Labour speaker. There’s information about it on the IPPR website here, and anyone would like to attend should email Glenn Gottfried of IPPR at G.Gottfried@ippr,org to book a place.
On Friday 14 September, I gave a presentation at the conference of the Territorial Politics working group of the Political Studies Association. This is a biennial event, and this time it was held in Brussels.
I presented a version of the work I’ve been doing on how a more decentralised approach to devolution finance might work, and also discussed how that relates to wider ideas about ‘enhanced devolution’ particularly but not only for Scotland. I gave it the snappy and glamorous title ‘Devo more, devo plus and so on: extending devolution in the UK, and financing it.’ At least it’s accurate.
Fiscal devolution is the starting point here, but the problem is that it’s hard to design a funding system when you don’t know the nature and costs of the functions devolved. This means that outlining models for ‘fiscal devolution’ at the start of working on schemes of enhanced devolution rather than the end of them is like putting the cart before the horse. The deeply-established fiscal centralisation of the United Kingdom – which goes back at least to the Middle Ages, and which in both Tudor times and the late seventeenth century was key to the power of the English state – is a major factor here. Under the existing model of devolution, health, education and local government services are the most costly functions in devolved hands. For this, I think it’s possible to create something workable through devolving (all) personal income tax, assigning a large proportion of VAT to devolved governments, and devolving the various land taxes and alcohol and tobacco duties (though that will require quite a major restructuring of how those work). That needs to be accompanied by an equalisation grant, and there are some big questions about how that works.
I haven’t properly posted about the Welsh Government’s consultation on the idea of establishing a separate Welsh legal jurisdiction. They launched this in late March and it’s reputedly a concern close to Carwyn Jones’s heart. Details are here, the consultation paper itself is available here, and the closing date for responses is 19 June. The consultation paper is open-ended (or open-minded) in the extreme. In essence, the paper is a set of exam questions about whether there should be a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales and what form it should take. Examinees, sorry respondents, are required to ‘give reasons’ for all their answers.
One important point about legal jurisdictions is that, in the common-law world, they invariably coincide with the existence of a legislature. Thus, in Canada, even a tiny province like Prince Edward Island has its own legal jurisdiction – as well as a provincial legislature. In federal systems, there will also be a legal jurisdiction attached to the federal order/level; so PEI is both a jurisdiction of its own, in relation to exclusively provincial matters, and part of the jurisdiction of Canada in relation to federal ones. The civil-law world works differently, and can more easily accommodate multiple legislatures passing laws for particular territories within a single legal jurisdiction. Thus, there is a single German or Swiss jurisdiction, despite the existence of federal and Land or cantonal parliaments that can both pass laws.
I’m taking part in a conference organised by Holyrood Magazine conferences, taking place in central London on 3 July 2012. It’s got an impressive line-up of speakers, including Henry McLeish, Jeremy Purvis and Jim Mather, MPs including Stewart Hosie, Margaret Curran and Danny Alexander, as well as a clutch of academics. The aim of the event is to survey the current shifting ground of Scottish politics, as the independence referendum comes seriously onto the agenda. I’m taking part in a panel discussion about economic and financial issues, along with Brian Ashcroft of Strathclyde University, Drew Scott of Edinburgh University, and Jeremy Purvis, the former MSP now involved in Reform Scotland’s Devolution Plus initiative.
Details of the event, including booking arrangements, are here. It should be a good event, though it’s also rather expensive.
I shall be taking part in a seminar at the Constitution Unit at UCL on a Scottish independence referendum at 1 pm on Monday 12 March, talking about the politics of an independence referendum, along with Professor Robert Hazell. Details of the event can be found on the Unit’s website here. Please visit the website to book a (free) place if you’d like to come.
UPDATE, 12 March: My slides from this seminar, and Robert Hazell’s, are now available on the Constitution Unit’s website here. Mine are also available as a PDF file here.