Edinburgh seminar on intergovernmental relations and Scotland’s Constitutional Future

I took part in a private seminar on ‘Scotland’s Constitutional Future’ in Edinburgh on Friday, organised by Stephen Tierney from Edinburgh Law School and Tom Mullen from Glasgow Law School.  I’m happy to out myself as taking part, as I thought my presentation might be of interest to a wider group than those who were present in the splendid setting of the University’s Playfair Library.  It can be found HERE.

In my presentation, I start by sketching four reasonably plausible outcomes from the Scottish debates: the status quo, including implementation of the Scotland bill still before Parliament; ‘Devolution Plus’ (whatever that is); ‘Devolution Max’; and Scottish independence.  I then outline some of the key effects of those for intergovernmental relations.  Each, I argue, creates a significant and increasing amount of need for governments to co-ordinate their policies with each other, and to create adequate and effective machinery to do so.  That is as much the case to make the Scotland bill arrangements work as for more extended forms of devolution, and also remains true for independence.  For forms of ‘Devolution Plus’, involving (as I see it) signficant fiscal devolution and at least a measure of devolution of welfare benefits, that would raise major questions about how tax collection and administration of ‘Scottish’ benefits might work, which would imply very extensive changes for HM Revenue & Customs and the Benefits Agency.  Devolution Max would imply major changes relating to macroeconomic and monetary policy, and to European Union matters.

One big question here is whether the UK Government has the will and capability to embark on such large changes, given its reluctance to make even minor ones in the wake of devolution so far.

1 Comment

Filed under Devolution finance, Implications of Scottish independence, Intergovernmental relations, Scotland, Scottish independence, Westminster, Whitehall

One response to “Edinburgh seminar on intergovernmental relations and Scotland’s Constitutional Future

  1. Dave

    Your final paragraph is central to the entire issue.

    The fundamental question which the unionist party leaders need to consider, is what is to be gained by thwarting the desire of the majority of Scottish people for far greater powers for their Parliament and Government?

    It appears to me to be driven by a desire to maintain as much of the status quo as possible, probably for partisan reasons. True, I think, of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband.

    You seem to have avoided the fundamental constitutional changes which are implied certainly by Devo Max, if not Devo Plus. That is, the likely requirement, which the Scots might insist on, of entrenching the devolved powers as a means of protecting them from subsequent encroachment. (There are attempts at encroachment of the current settlement in the Scotland Bill) . I can’t imagine that entrenchment could be achieved without the destruction of parliamentary sovereignty at Westminster, a written constitution, and the creation of a de facto federal UK.

    The ill-conceived 1998 devolution settlement has brought to the surface the fundamental weakness of the UK’s unwritten, nebulous, constitution.

    You touch on the instability which an asymmetric federation would create. The ensuing tensions over defence and foreign affairs issues are likely to lead to early fracture. I can well understand Cameron’s desire to avoid embarking on that path, and the tendency to leave the Scots with the stark choice of the status quo (plus Scotland Bill) or independence. A kind of high stakes ‘call my bluff’.

    Will the Scots opt to remain under toxic Tory rule from London, or will they prefer to go their own way? Increasingly, and instinctively, I suspect they’ll go for the latter. Does Cameron perceive it as the lesser of two evils, considering that Devo Max is likely to lead to the same end result?

    The West Lothian Question can only be addressed by a federal solution, or by a break up of the UK. There is no other workable solution. If the English electorate, goaded by a right-wing press, can live with the WL issue, then maybe a devolved UK can continue, but it won’t be a happy Union on both sides of the border.

    The unionists are between a rock and a hard place – and they have no-one but themselves to blame for it.

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