Brown’s three stooges at Holyrood

Wendy Alexander may be under intense pressure to step down over the Labour donations row, but that didn’t stop the Tories and the Lib Dems falling in behind the Scottish Labour leader at Holyrood yesterday.

The three parties united to push through a proposal for a constitutional commission that would consider new powers for the Scottish Parliament, in a rival process to the Scottish Government’s National Conversation.

Two important flaws in the tripartite plan were pointed out by Green MSP Patrick Harvie:

Wendy Alexander says that the SNP should not push its own agenda,
but the remit of the proposed commission deliberately restricts its
work and binds its hands, while calling it independent. If it were to
be an independent commission, it would be given a free hand to consider
all the options. If it were genuinely to seek to generate the broadest
debate, it would be inherently inclusive. If it were genuinely to
attempt to find common ground, it would welcome into its discussions
every strand of political opinion.

There is another
problem with the motion—the lack of any mention of a referendum. There
is a well-established principle that major constitutional change should
be put to the people for a vote. Beyond that, we should take care when
we consider some of Wendy Alexander’s comments. She said that the
Parliament was a fitting tribute to the efforts of those who campaigned
for it and that many people in Scotland take pride in it, but we should
be careful not to overestimate the esteem in which the Parliament or,
indeed, our entire political culture is held by the public. It would be
wrong for Scotland’s constitutional future to be determined by
politicians alone or by commissions that we appoint. It should be
determined by the people in a vote, which should include all the
options. (Scottish Parliament)

It remains to be seen whether the three unionist parties can reconcile their different aspirations for devolution in practice.

Brian Taylor’s account of the settlement envisaged by Alexander and Des Browne suggests it could be a troubling prospect for Scottish voters:

On finance, she indicated that Holyrood should be less reliant on
the block grant. That would mean reverting to the original Convention
plan of assigned revenues – which was sidelined in the final version.

Under that system, cash raised in Scotland through particular taxes
is retained in Scotland – instead of being sent to the Treasury for
subsequent disbursement.

But there were limits. Ms Alexander was sceptical as to whether, under EU rules, Scotland could vary VAT or corporation tax.

They might be partially assigned – but Scotland could not alter their rate. (BBC News)

Assigning revenues without tax-varying powers is the worst of all possible worlds. Scottish finances would still be controlled from Westminster, just in a more arbitrary way. It would effectively mean abolish unionist fiscal solidarity, but retaining unionist fiscal authority.

The most absurd aspect of Alexander’s argument is that if the Scottish Government were financed through assigned revenues, the main objection to tax-varying powers under EU rules would be removed.

Further, she offered a vigorous nod in the direction of those in England who complain that Scotland is over-funded.

Naturally, she did this subtly, stressing the requirement to be
“fair to all parts of the UK.” But she was promising a needs
assessment, presumably instigated by the Treasury.

I have long argued that such a needs assessment, perpetually desired
by the Treasury and repeatedly resisted by Scottish Secretaries and
First Ministers, will happen eventually.

But we should not pretend that it would be anything other than a
challenge to Scotland. Unless a vigorous defence could be mounted,
Scotland would be likely to lose funding.

That might be right, it might be fair – but it would be a tough exercise.

Presumably any needs assessment would also have implications elsewhere. Wales might expect to be a net beneficiary, but I can’t see Northern Ireland coming out of any review better off.

Gordon Brown’s speech to the Newspaper Society this week suggests that tax-varying powers are off the agenda in the North as well:      

  Gordon Brown last night indicated he is unlikely to back down over a tax cut in Northern Ireland as he insisted a package of incentives could make the
  province as competitive as the Republic.   

  The Prime Minister said there was a number of ways to encourage investment
  in the province without cutting corporation bills to 12.5%.

  It came as the Treasury prepares to release the much-anticipated Sir David Varney review of taxation in Ulster, which leading businesses figures hope will mean exemption from standard UK rates.

  Mr Brown said: "I think we could make Northern Ireland as competitive as the south through incentives." (Belfast Telegraph)

Brown’s emerging strategy seems to be to concede the minimum of new powers to the devolved administrations while imposing a financial squeeze to buy off English discontent. Whatever else this is, it surely isn’t a recipe for killing nationalism stone dead.








6 responses to “Brown’s three stooges at Holyrood”

  1. DougtheDug avatar

    Patrick Harvie is right with both the lack of independence in the remit of the commission and the lack of a referendum promise.
    What the three unionist parties have done is created a commission which has been constrained to ignore and disenfranchise about a third of the Scottish electorate, those who voted SNP.
    The political miscalculation goes much further than that. What the Conservatives and Lib-Dems have done is given a vote of confidence to Wendy Alexander despite the ongoing dodgy donations and funding scandal. They’re claiming that they haven’t, it’s all about some long term strategy but they woke up and smelt the coffee only after the vote. Alex Salmond is always accused of being smug but the final shot of Wendy on the TV as she got the vote outsmugged him by an order of magnitude. She had got her commission and a vote of confidence from Goldie and Stephen.
    It’s perhaps not surprising that Nicol Stephen of the Lib-Dems supported Labour, the Lib-Dems are just, “Junior Labour”, in Scotland and he may well have realised it was a vote of confidence in Alexander but it was a major blunder by Annabel Goldie.
    The original constitutional convention was a grass-roots unionist organisation which wanted to change the way local government was organised in the UK. It was subsumed to some extent into the Labour party. This new commission is purely a creation of the Labour Party. Already some of the members of the orginal convention are complaining about a lack of consultation. Have a look at this story on the Herald.
    With the Lib-Lab-Con alliance becoming apparent it looks like the Labour inspired stories about an SNP and Tory alliance will have to take a back seat to reality.
    The two major hurdles that will cause this commission to plough into the ground are the nightmare of fiscal devolution and the fact that any additional powers are not something that the Scottish parliament can take but are in the gift of Westminster. It’s going to turn into a proxy battleground between the main wings of the three English parties involved.

  2. Tom Griffin avatar

    It looks like you’ve been vindicated, Doug.
    If Brian Taylor is right about a forthcoming needs assessment, then the SNP can legitimately argue that Goldie and Stephen have signed up to a Labour attempt to shore up Gordon Brown in England at the expense of Scottish public services.

  3. Mike Small avatar

    The original constitutional convention was limited, limiting, narrow and unimaginative, kept in check by the clergy and the self-regulation of a couthy civic clique. But it was also grassroots, unkempt and genuine.
    This political Frankenstein is a monstrosity of political opportunism and Unionist desperation. There is no positive agenda, only scared politicians grasping hands with their former enemies for powers sake.

  4. English Nat avatar
    English Nat

    Too late. The stable doors are open. An Independent England is the ONLY satisfactory outcome.

  5. John avatar

    The Commission that most people wish already exusts see Join it and make your contribution to a better country.

  6. Alex Buchan avatar
    Alex Buchan

    This is the start of the fight back by the British political establishment. Increasing the powers of Holyrood is the gloss that will be put on this. This is not the reason the other two parties have signed up to this commission, however. Instead it is because they will have been given assurances that its proposals will be enacted by Westminster in such a way as to block the SNP’s advance.
    All three parties are now more scared of the SNP than they are of each other. The latest opinion poll where Salmond’s rating is even higher amongst Torry and Lib Dem voters than it is amongst Labour voters, will have strengthened Brown’s argument that the other two parties have just as much to lose from a strong SNP as Labour does.
    It could be argued that the SNP should have prepared better for this well trailed initiative by being more open to a genuinely free commission as already mooted by the people involved in the previous convention. The SNP needs to carry civic Scotland with it if it is to successfully resist the attempts of the British state to push Scotland back into a straightjacket of its own devising.

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