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.