Category Archives: Media issues

‘Financing Devo More’ in Scotland on Sunday

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.

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Filed under Devolution finance, Events, Media issues, Scotland, Scottish independence, Wales

Scottish referendum debates: some useful links

The last 10 days or so have been rather hectic for anyone interested in constitutional politics, or Scotland, and particularly a referendum on Scottish independence.  I thought it might be useful to bring together a collection of useful links regarding this debate.

The UK Government’s consultation paper on a referendum, proposing a section 30 order (and already discussed HERE) can be found here.

The Advocate General for Scotland, Lord (Jim) Wallace of Tankerness (the UK Government’s law officer for Scotland) gave a speech at Glasgow University on Friday regarding questions of legal competence to hold a referendum.  His speech highlights a number of legal problems already highlighted on this blog.  The speech can be downloaded from here.

His earlier statement about the legal competence of a referendum, widely quoted in the press, can be found here.  There’s news coverage of that from the Scotsman, with an interview, here, and from BBC News here.

Also on Friday, Iain Jamieson (formerly a Scottish Office and Scottish Executive lawyer, heavily involved in framing the Scotland Act 1998) had an article in the Scotsman on the legal problems a referendum would face.  That’s available here.

A piece in Wednesday’s Telegraph by Sir Tom Hunter about the need for ‘pragmatism’ in the constitutional debate is here.

The coming week is due to see publication of the Scottish Government’s consultation paper regarding a referendum, and I’ll add a link to that when it’s available.  That can now (25 January) be downloaded from here.

For light relief, there’s a video explainer about independence issues from the Taiwanese TV company that specialises in animating complex world news stories.  It features ‘Braveheart’ painted faces, men in kilts, caber-tossing, bottles of Buckfast, a calendar with Maggie Thatcher in a bikini, a guy in a Star Trek red shirt, a version of the USS Enterprise powered by cans of Irn-Bru, and a guy nutting a TV set saying ‘I’ll see you Jimmie’ (so no clichés there then).  Curiously, Alex Salmond’s name turns into ‘Saruman’ when it’s transliterated into Mandarin.  That can be found from Youtube here, and is highly recommended for a laugh.

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Filed under Courts and legal issues, Media issues, Referendums, Scotland

Wales’s oddest political row

The story about Labour concerns about changes to the electoral system for the National Assembly (which I was on BBC Radio Wales to discuss on Sunday morning) continues to run.  Today’s Western Mail describes Carwyn Jones as appealing directly to David Cameron over Cheryl Gillan’s head to deal with an ‘explosive row’.  There’s also coverage from BBC News here.

This is a completely bizarre row.  For one thing, there’s no reason that it’s an issue now.  Section 13 of the Parliamentary Voting and Constituencies Act 2011 decoupled National Assembly constituency boundaries from those for Westminster.  This was readily offered by the UK Government when the reduction in the number of Westminster constituencies was first mooted, and avoided the size of the National Assembly being reduced to around 45 as a result of the proposed new Westminster arrangements.  The loss of ‘co-terminosity’ (the fact that Westminster and Cardiff Bay boundaries will no longer coincide) causes significant problems for political parties, and is widely disliked by the parties in Scotland, where this has already happened.  But to ordinary voters it makes little noticeable difference.  That it’s a matter of such anxiety to politicians but no-one else illustrates, I’m sorry to say, the gulf between them and their voters.

For a second, this issue is on no-one’s official agenda.  The remit of the Silk Commission is Continue reading

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Filed under Elections, Intergovernmental relations, Labour, Media issues, Wales, Westminster, Whitehall

The Guardian’s ‘Disunited Kingdom’ series

I’m sure most readers have already noticed that this week the Guardian has been running a series of items about the UK’s territorial politics, under the banner  ‘Disunited Kingdom’.  Of particular interest to me have been pieces by John Curtice about public opinion (here), and an interview with Alex Salmond (here). The whole series can be found here.

What’s particularly encouraging about the series is that I’m told by those involved that it marks the start of much more thorough coverage of devolution- and territorial-related issues by the Guardian, and won’t just be a week’s flash in the pan.  I do hope that is true; the issues involved merit more extensive coverage than they have had up to now, particularly in England.

As part of this series, I took part in a discussion recorded on Thursday chaired by Hugh Muir with Joan McAlpine MSP and Michael White from the Guardian.  This was a pretty wide-ranging tour d’horizon of most of the big questions devolution raises, and will be a ‘Guardian Focus’ podcast.  It’s available here.

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Filed under English questions, Events, Media issues, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Westminster

The summer hiatus: what you may have missed

There have been a few notable developments since mid-July.

First, the four party leaders in the National Assembly for Wales wrote a joint letter to the Secretary of State about the long-promised ‘Calman style commission’ for Wales, calling for its early establishment with a wide remit.  The best coverage of that is on ClickonWales, here.  The letter called for the commission to start work this month, and to produce its first report on financial matters within 12 months and a further report on wider constitutional matters by March 2013.  These proposals appear to have been largely accepted by the Wales Office, in press statement of 19 July (available here) that calls for the commission to start work this autumn and complete its work by 2013.  There’s also an article about that from Cheryl Gillan in the Western Mail, here.  There is still no news about the establishment of the commission, however, but there is word of considerable ongoing wrangling between Cardiff and London about it.

Second, the Daily Mail led on Tuesday 30 August with a story about the disparities in public spending across the UK, available here.  (Well, it led with it in the English edition.  I gather the story was buried some way inside the Scottish one.)  It’s a fine example of factually accurate but substantively misleading journalism.  The story wasn’t new (it was based on looking at table 9.2 of the 2011 edition of Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses, published in July), it confused differences in spending on devolved services with that on non-devolved Continue reading

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Filed under Calman Commission/Scotland bill, Devolution finance, Media issues, Scotland, Wales

End of the summer hiatus

The (English and Welsh) August bank holiday is past, and most folk are back from their holidays.  Yvonne the cow has been found, which must mark an end to the silly season.  It’s a toss-up whether the weather has been more of a damp squib than the silliness of the summer, given the war in Libya, the economic troubles of the Euro and the Eurozone, revelations regarding the Murdoch empire and ‘Hackgate’, the bombing and shootings in Norway, or August’s rioting in some English cities. The riots excepted, however, there hasn’t been much devolution interest in these issues.  As more normal political life resumes and Westminster returns for its short September sitting, it’s time to end the summer hiatus on this blog.

Unlike the summer’s other news stories, the riots do have some important devolution effects.  Outside London, they were in fact highly localised – Manchester city centre and Handsworth in Birmingham were the main areas affected.  I was in Leicester when they happened.  Admittedly, a strong police response contained the disorder, but according to the Leicester Mercury this amounted to about 30 people, with 12 arrests made.  The main damage was to a few shop windows on the road linking the railway station to the shopping centre proper.  (It says something that the heights of the would-be rioters’ aspirations were Nando and Poundstretcher.  In Nottingham, the main target appears to have been a school uniform outfitters’, so any looters must have been young and very pragmatic in their choice of target.)  This wasn’t very much worse than a rough Friday night. Not only were Wales and Scotland unaffected, but so were many major English cities, Leeds, Newcastle and Liverpool among them.  Claims that Wales was excepted because of some ‘social democratic tradition’ there seem rather off the mark as a result.

However, the way the riots and response to those play out in government, and in the media, reflect the UK’s asymmetries pretty profoundly.  This has become a key issue for many in Westminster and Whitehall, and for many middle-class voters in greater London, so it’s no surprise that it gets a good deal of attention.  But it’s of very little interest to voters in Scotland or Wales.  (The main excitement in Scotland derived from the First Minister’s attempt to make some political capital from it.)  All the attention given to it by the ‘London media will attract an uninterested ‘huh?’ from an awful lot of readers, listeners and viewers (and voters).  English policy responses are likely to accentuate the differences between ‘UK’ policies and those in devolved parts of the country, and the fact that something of such territorially limited interest takes so much attention will only emphasise differences across the UK.  If Wales is subjected to changes in policing policy or practice as a result, though, it’s easy to expect serious opposition rather than mere indifference.

The fact that it’s UK institutions that are responding will raise, once again, questions of why it’s supposedly shared institutions that are doing so.  Those questions of even more interest to those concerned with England than to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, but don’t appear to have crossed anyone’s mind in Whitehall during the post-riot discussions.

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Filed under English questions, Media issues, Scotland, Wales

Appearance on Radio 4′s ‘The Westminster Hour’

I’ve recorded an interview with Caroline Quinn for broadcast on Radio 4′s The Westminster Hour, which goes out at 10 pm on Sunday evening.  Those looking to listen again afterward should be able to do so as well as find details here.  We talked about the various devolution issues that are live at Westminster – notably ‘Ap Calman’, the Scotland bill and the Scottish referendum.  Given all the excitements at Westminster this week, I was rather pleased that such an important if lower-profile issue hasn’t been crowded out.

UPDATE, 18 July: Those listening on Sunday evening will have realised that the Westminster excitements extended into Sunday, with Rebekah Brooks’s arrest and Sir Paul Stephenson’s resignation as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.  As result, the programme’s running order was turned on its head and that interview pushed out of the schedule.  I’m assured it will run at a later date.

FURTHER UPDATE: The interview was broadcast on 31 July.

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Filed under Devolution finance, Intergovernmental relations, Media issues, Scotland, Wales, Westminster

Radio 4′s ‘Beyond Westminster’ discusses devolution

When the UK Parliament is in recess, the Saturday morning slot on BBC Radio 4 usually given over to ‘The Week in Westminster’ gets taken over by ‘Beyond Westminster’.  This week’s was devoted to an appraisal  of devolution in Scotland and Wales, and included a studio discussion featuring me, Robert Hazell from the Constitution Unit at UCL and Richard Wyn Jones from the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University (after discussions of a couple of policy areas – higher education in Wales and health in Scotland).  Details of the programme are here.  Those in the UK can ‘listen again’ to it using the iPlayer for the next seven days, and a podcast can be downloaded here for the next 30 days.

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Filed under Events, Media issues, Scotland, Wales

The Scottish variable rate, ‘Labour sources’ and confidentiality

A couple of remarks I made in front of (and also outside) the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee on Wednesday appear to have caused some excitement in the Scottish press – see a short piece from Thursday’s Scotsman here and a longer story from the Herald here.  It seems to be news to some that the Scottish variable rate wasn’t meant to be used, and that people knew this at the time.  I don’t know why; I’ve said this on quite a few occasions, in most detail in writing in my post from November 2010 on ‘The Uselessness of the Scottish Variable Rate’ (available HERE).

It’s sad that an unnamed ‘Labour source’ is quoted by the Herald as claiming that I ‘didn’t perform well at the committee’.  This sounds rather like sour grapes because what I’m saying doesn’t appear to suit Labour at the present time.  After all, my mark of 48 per cent for the Scotland bill’s financial provisions is on the basis not of a preferred alternative to the bill, but what would be needed for the bill to deliver the Calman proposals effectively.  Readers can Continue reading

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Filed under Devolution finance, General, Labour, Media issues, Scotland, Westminster

The Welsh referendum: the BBC misinforming the public?

One rather sad aspect of the referendum campaign in Wales is that it appears the BBC, in the interest of making the issues ‘comprehensible’, is perpetuating a couple of myths put forward by ‘No’ campaigners about how Welsh devolution currently works.  The Beeb has form, of course, both in ignoring Wales and in getting the issues there wrong.  One is that the present arrangements provide for ‘better scrutiny’ of Welsh law-making, as Welsh legislation is subject to further consideration in Parliament as well as in Cardiff Bay.  The other is that the present arrangements, under Part 3 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, lead to the same ultimate destination as the legislative powers that the Assembly would enjoy if there is a Yes vote, and the ‘Assembly Act’ provisions in Part 4 come into effect.

Both these are, quite simply, myths.  Parliament confers legislative powers on the National Assembly before it legislates, but it does not scrutinise the Assembly’s legislation either before that legislation is made or afterward.  It is concerned with what legislative powers the Assembly gets. It may look at the first proposed use of that legislative power, but that’s only the first use, and it’s only what the Assembly Government proposes when it seeks those powers.  The Assembly Government’s proposals may change before legislation is introduced; Continue reading

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Filed under Media issues, Referendums, Wales