2007 - 2022

En Route to Nova Scotia

Scotland-map-web2For those of us who regard devolution as the fusty, cluttered waiting-room for independence, and who rely on the constitutional fairmindedness of the Westminster state as far as we could tip it into the Thames, the “fiscal framework” dispute isn’t the most gripping, inspiring affair.

But before the detail resolves itself, and the vape-filled rooms clear, there has been something ironic to enjoy. At times it’s felt like an am-dram rehearsal of what macro-economic relations might well have been like under an “Indy Lite” victory in September 2014 (and may well be again). ‘Holyrood set for historic powers transfer after fiscal framework deal finally agreed’.

Wasn’t the scenario often floated that a Sterling Zone would imply “sensible” negotiations about overall tax-and-spend packages between Mr Swinney and the Bank of England/Chancellor, in order that the economies would, well, incur not that much relative “detriment”?

Because, as we were regularly told by Salmond, the essential harmony between the performance levels of two economies is what would make the currency union work anyway – at least, in terms of assuaging wider financial markets that the whole construction would proceed stably?

Well, that’s what I remember (and I remember being not that crazy about the Sterling Zone anyway). Worth noting that, hilariously, Boris Johnson’s single announcement of his intent to join the Leave campaign in the EU referendum has caused more financial damage to “Oor Ain Poond” on global markets in one day than the threat of Scots Independence-in-Threadneedle-Street ever did. What, aren’t you laughing?

As the Scottish ministerial BA flights rack up, at least as professional political theatre, this situation doesn’t feel that different. Each process has its sanctified clause of agreement – the Edinburgh Agreement’s commitment to “constructive” working after the event, and the Smith Commission’s principle of “no detriment”.

And no doubt, under the harsh and penetrating Sauron stare of international bodies and nervy/predatory markets around a post-Yes vote, those “constructive” relations would have ensued (and will ensue).

But maybe the devolution-averse like myself should listen to the old gradualists a bit more. The ratchet effect of Scottish self-government has gotten us to a level where there are quite a few opportunites to act (or strut) “as if” Scotland was independent already.

Foreign economic policy develops apace (Bill Kidd and Tasmina Sheikh in Iran, Salmond – no, not Nixon – in China, etc), declarations of “innovation nation” are made. Not only do there seem to be significant broadcasting concessions about to be made to BBC Scotland in the forms of a Scottish Six. But Prestwick might even be a spaceport soon! Ad astra, Nova Scotia!

For me, the continuing and huge frustration of the No vote is that – for all the White Paper’s fatal muffing of the currency issue –  there was still, deep inside there, a plan to start a state afresh. To look at efficiencies in the design of so many areas – whether welfare, taxation, land use, r&d investment, public service media, public diplomacy, and all the ways they could join up together anew. What an extraordinary opportunity for institutional clarity and functionality. Let’s hope we get it again.

But in the meantime – until the old Palace and its shuffling fossils are sucked into Chthulu’s maw, somewhere beneath Tower Bridge – I do have a basic respect for what the ScotGov are trying to wrest out of the situation, and build into the Scottish polity, as the UK totters a little under its own decay, and opens up options.

I am properly ambivalent, and flip around the issue day by day, on tax-raising powers. Should we try to make progress towards a level of overall taxation-in-relation-to-GDP at Danish levels anyway, on the basis that a better Scottish society should be drawing different social-democratic boundaries, but that we maybe should get used to how that feels first? And trust to constitutional and historical momentum to eventually bring in the nation-state arrangement which will make that logical and viable?

Or do we persist in pointing out the combination of Byzantine complexity, and incoherent sovereignty, that “power devolved is power retained” means? The rank absurdity of what now looks darkly like a long stretch of Conservative government, pulling in a radically diverent socio-economic direction from our own? How can any “commission” of good souls deal with the omissions of a Scottish polity that has less than independence?

What’s my position? It depends how impatient my inner Angry Corrie is, of a morning. As it is, I was listening to Swinney first thing this morning as he gave testimony to the Holyrood economy committee. I noted and enjoyed the subtlety that he had sneaked into one of his answers about the “no detriment” principle. No detriment applies to the basic financial structures of how the two adminstrations went forward – but Swinney also assured his audience that it also allowed for revenue generated by “better performance” in Scottish parliament over and above those structures, and with those revenues to be retained in the Holyrood budget.

Really? Will that one get through? Because that sounds like the opening up of a Devo-Quite-Big, in fact almost a Californian-federal front. Even within the stupid, horrible limitations of devolution – our inability to stop the crippling of our renewables industry, or the maddening recommission of Trident – it looksl like we still have some opportunity to modernise and grow, according to our own decisions. (Though I hope we have more Greens and RISE after May, so we can start a proper conversation about different visions of “growth” for Scotland).

So while robots get smarter, migrants are thrown round the world, the planet warms, potable water recedes, our societies age, tyrants tyrannize and global poverty is still a utter fucking outrage, it is at least good to know that our trusted YeSNP tribunes can negotiate effectively with their silky opponents in the UK Establishment. To a greater and nobler ultimate end, we all trust.

Read Nicola Sturgeon’s statement on the agreement here. 

Comments (14)

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  1. muttley79 says:

    Sorry Pat, but I really cannot see the reasons for celebrating the latest Scotland Bill being enacted. The Smith Commission was watered down by political giants such as Douglas Alexander, Jim Murphy, and company. Even before it was watered down it was completely inadequate. Most of the real power still lies at Westminster. We know fine well that the major taxation, welfare, energy powers, and much else besides remain in London. Now that the SNP have agreed with the UK government over the Scotland Bill, there is no reason for them not to try the more powers if you reject independence line next time we have an independence referendum.

    So in concrete terms what have we gained since 2007? Very, very little is the sad true. The MSM and unionists are going to be crowing about the Vow being delivered now. I think the SNP should have been much bolder here, far too timid for my liking. Not pleased at all with this.

    1. Pat Kane says:

      I’m hardly celebrating… I was trying not to blot it all out as a distraction from a serious independence policy platform, nor to fall into the trap (as you suggest) that getting some powers blurs the focus and critique on getting all the nation-state powers. Do we get to Yes through anger, fury, fear and loathing — or through a determined strengthening of powers and confidence, in a rational, inclusive way, such that 300 years of Unionist clinging eventually lets go (enough)? We lost an independence referendum. There’s the sadness. We need an indy majority. There’s a profound challenge.

      1. muttley79 says:

        Pat, don’t take my post personally. You may well be right in the long term. But there was no doubt that the SNP in particular have benefited greatly since the referendum on the real betrayal over Labour’s role in the No campaign. The SG have more of less now put a line through that, the unionists and MSM can say with a fair amount of accuracy that the Vow/Smith has been delivered.

        What is going to fuel the drive for independence in the next 5 years or so? The SNP are inherently cautious and technocratic; you just need to look at the almost unreal, insipid handing of land reform over the last 2 years or so. We were promised radical land reform and what did we get?…The new powers are not going to make any real difference, lets be honest the coming Scottish Bill is utterly lame and inadequate. Where is the inspiration and excitement going to come from now, because I cannot see it coming from the SNP, and I am a member as well!!

    2. robert graham says:

      agreed not happy one little bit on this one , and having watched a procession of Scottish lords rubbishing everything north of hadrian’s wall , and all but licking English arses in the House of Rejects yesterday during the Scotland Bill debate , this is far from a done deal , it still has to be butchered again by both houses before it receives lizzies approval ( royal consent i think is the posh term ) for being royally f/kd over again .

  2. John Mooney says:

    Watched that smarmy oleaginous S****hawk Osborne smirking on the news tonight with regard to the “VOW”which suddenly made me check that I still had the clothes on my back!Methinks we have been royally shafted,as time will certainly prove!

  3. Lochside says:

    I’m afraid I have to agree with the preceding comments……the SNP have confirmed my suspicion of being a reformist ‘managerial’ collection of ‘softly softly’ bourgeois fearties.
    Handed the biggest electoral results in history in both parliaments, but particularly in Westminster, what do they do?…..bend over and let the Bullington boys royally bugger them stupid.

    I’m sure many recent SNP members, like me, will be considering the options. In the most likely event that Project Fear UK is unleashed and the ukippers led by the motley crew of Farage, Johnson and Galloway are humiliated…where does that leave Scotland? …the UK clasped in a cold embrace of EU capital and TTIP deals in waiting…..we would be even more marginalised as a viable state……Or if the opposite occurs and middle England caught in a racist frenzy jumps overboard with us tied to them into the cold waters of isolation….would the EU really be interested in welcoming us back…and would the parasitic RUK allow us to even try?

    Our failure to assert ourselves as a national entity from the moment we achieved the 56 MPs will come to haunt us. Our voices and aspirations are already drowned out by the braying idiocy of the British overseers and as was proved during the REF, paradoxically ,their opponents are bigger allies to them than they could ever be for us.

  4. Pat kane says:

    I’m fascinated by so many negative, despairing comments. I’m a constant hawk against a “post-nationalist” settling for devolution short of full statehood – I greatly admired Prof Maccormick, but respectfully disagreed with his analysis. Look at this historically, no matter how frustrating the short to medium term, and time’s arrow only brings more powers for a scotland that is ever more able to determine itself. Confidence seems to generate even deeper, profounder confidence – how can we explain a No vote but a regnant SNP? I think NS’s letter tonight makes a clear narrative of defense of Scottish resources against reduction possible. The work of demonstrating competence and mild progress in the next term may find a few extra tools in the box. But if we want the SNP to remain alive to the main goal, stay active and thinking in the broader Yes/Indy movement – you know the organisations, this site is a map to them. They know they cannot be the only instrument to independence – nor even to handling the huge problems and opportunities of 21c life that I briefly mentioned at the end. Be critical friends, keep them on their toes. But as far as I understand the people involved, they know the prize the seek.

    1. David Martin says:

      “Confidence seems to generate even deeper, profounder confidence”; got it in one. I felt the 2014 referendum came too soon. The structures of government were not all there to give a seamless transition to Independence. For me, collecting taxes, in Scotland for Scotland, is the missing link and will engender that confidence required to move to independence.
      The governments of 1999-2007 were a good start, the SNP minority turned it up to 11, demonstrating competent (not perfect by any means) government.
      If the SNP manage to continue with that, as it is abundantly clear that Kezia IS carping from the sidelines, confidence will keep increasing.

  5. bringiton says:

    It’s a matter of trust.
    Convincing the doubters that we can manage our own affairs and that the sky will not fall in should we part company with Westminster.
    Creating the mind set that the majority of Scots look to Holyrood and not Westminster for leadership and governance.
    You won’t do that overnight and prudence is the watchword if you want to build that trust.
    However,we do need progress on important issues like land reform if people are to see that there is benefit to having our government elected by Scots for Scots.
    A difficult balance to achieve but essential if we are to be successful in becoming independent.

    1. greatbighoo says:

      “It’s a matter of trust … convincing the doubters …. that we can manage our own affairs”.

      It’s not a matter of trust, or about “doubters”.

      That’s just more weasel-word doublespeak for “the cause (which cannot fail, it can only BE failed) was failed by those quisling traitor weakling feartie ‘doubters’.

      It’s about being convinced – which is quite different.

      Apparently just over half of Scottish voters “Trust” the SNP. Good luck to them.

      The SNP are probably no more or less worthy of ‘trust’ than any other politicians.

      People are very naive to ‘trust’ politicians though. They are not there to be ‘trusted’. They are there to do as I say (when i vote for them) and to be held accountable.

      It’s must more sensible to look at the evidence. (Relatively, very few people really look at the evidence).

      And certainly in Scotland, far too many people listen to politicians. (They should stop, and start looking at the evidence).

      But 55% of Voters were not convinced by the case for independence.

      You carry on howling at the moon about ‘trust’ though.

  6. greatbighoo says:

    “our inability to stop the crippling of our renewables industry,”

    Put taxes up and subsidise it and its development yourself, instead of demanding that the evil rUK subsidise it and its development, you whinger.

    “or the maddening recommission of Trident”

    My impression from the social attitudes surveys and polls is that opinion in Scotland is fairly evenly split about Trident. And Scotland voted, conclusively, to remain part of the UK. So suck it up.

  7. David Fee says:

    Prestwick OR Machrihanish in Kintyre could be a Spaceport soon. Corrected that for you.

    Can we carry on the Small Is Beautiful narrative to our own Scotland FGS…i.e The out of the way places might actually matter too. Or are we really as governed by the mainstream media reporting as everybody else?

  8. yesindyref2 says:

    During most of these months long negotiations, the anti-SNP activists have been constantly saying “the SNP don’t want these powers, they’re negotiating in false faith, and don’t you want the UK to be treated fairly?”. Joined by all the opposition parties. Then came the IFS, and other independent experts, and then the STUC, and we saw Labour and the LibDems change to backing Swinney’s negotiations. This has all had some attention from the non-active Scottish public.

    Around 68% of Scotland wanted more powers according to the polls after the Ref, which Curtice equated to Devo-Max. So presumably around 68% of people will be pleased the more powers have been delivered at last, but will notice that there has been a long fight to stop Scotland being robbed of £7 billion in the process. Also that it’s a long way short of Devo-Max.

    In the Referendum 45% voted YES, well, this brings the 45% closer to that extra 23%, and we can’t get to over 50% (preferably a good bit higher), without some, many, of that extra 23% who wanted more powers, but not Independence. Meanwhile some of the more sensible NO activists and posters have already acknowledged that the SNP have done a good job over these negotiations. Yes, there are sensible NO activists.

    That’s the main victory of these more powers, but by my quick and ready reckoning (guess) they could bring in an extra say £1 billion in year 1, and perhaps be upped to £2 billion extra in year 2. That would be a real financial benefit, and money that can be used to help grow an economy that is still at 99% of the UK economy despite the oil downturn, and still growing its onshore economy. It can also help build confidence in Scotland, and that was one of the big absences for the Referendum.

    So it might not seem like much, but personally I think it’s a big deal in a lot of ways. May there be mony more!

  9. David Allan says:

    What’s needed now ? – it is vital that the SNP Manifesto shows the population what radical measures and tax proposals will it pursue in the next session. The Scottish People now want to witness the Scottish Government deliver some tangible benefits from the ” Most Powerful Assembly in the World ” as Gideon keeps repeating.

    What in real terms will be the benefits of the highly publicised VOW and lenghty discussions/negotiations of the Smith Commission and the Fiscal Framework etc etc .

    Joe Public now expect delivery are the SNP truly aware of expectations ? Delivery of a damp squib and the SNP risk incurring not only Cameron’s and Osbourne mirth the wrath of voters from both sides of the referendum vote could follow.

    A crucial time for the gradualistas .

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