Is it time to scrap the Smith Commission?

The advice from all sides is that Cameron needs to go further if he wants to avoid another referendum


Will they or won’t they?

That’s the question that now hangs over the SNP. How will the party handle its ambitions for independence following an astonishingly good election showing?

Just days before the independence referendum last September, the then-first minister Alex Salmond made clear that in the event of a No vote there would not be another referendum within this ‘political generation’.

After yesterday however, there can be little doubt that the SNP are more likely than not to include a commitment to a new referendum in their manifesto for elections to Holyrood next year.

The official line being taken by Nicola Sturgeon is that she’s not planning anything at the moment, and that a referendum would only return as an issue if something ‘material changed’.

With that in mind, the SNP is clearly now playing a cynical game to engineer such a material change. It is doing so by constantly upping the stakes and not really accepting any of the levels of power that Westminster is now proposing for Scotland.

Already Sturgeon has argued that the proposed new powers for the Scottish Parliament, outlined within the Smith Commission and supported by David Cameron, don’t go ‘far enough’. Speaking on on ITV’s Loose Women yesterday she argued that David Cameron did not have a right to decide when or if Scotland voted again on its constitutional future.

Her calls for the prime minister to go further are the latest in a line of similar announcements.

The former Conservative Scottish secretary Lord Forsyth has called on the government to publish a white paper outlining the impact of providing Scotland with full fiscal autonomy. Meanwhile the former chancellor and head of the Better Together Campaign Alistair Darling has concluded that only a federal system will save the UK, arguing that ‘the Smith Commission proposals have been completely overtaken by events.’

Over the weekend, Labour’s last first minister in Scotland, Lord McConnell, concluded in fairly stark language that the Smith Commission proposals are outdated:

“The idea that the response to what happened last Thursday is to plough ahead with what will become a shambles cannot be the solution.”

He continued:

“The prime minister needs to take a pause rather than ploughing ahead and appointing a Scottish secretary, going ahead with Smith Commission proposals that will fall apart in due course and stop talking about ‘one nation’ as if everybody is the same.”

McConnell instead called for a constitutional convention to address the ‘disillusionment with the way the country is governed’, adding that feelings ran ‘deeper than just what happened in Scotland.’

It is against this backdrop that the new Scottish secretary David Mundell – the Tories’ only MP in Scotland – was yesterday appointed to the cabinet.

Whilst concluding that initial legislation in the Queen’s Speech will focus largely on implementing the Smith Commission proposals, he nevertheless left wriggle room for the government to go further, noting last night:

“Obviously if people bring forward amendments they will be looked at. We are not going to prejudge that.”

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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6 Responses to “Is it time to scrap the Smith Commission?”

  1. Chrisso

    Isn’t the graphic of Salmond a tad outdated? Salmond is not the SNP spokesman, either at Holyrood or at Westminster. Influential? Yes. Deterministic? No.

  2. JustAnotherNumber

    I rather like the stylised picture accompanying this article, although I am left wondering why it features an ordinary SNP backbencher, the honourable member for Gordon, and not the party’s overall leader, or indeed its leader in Westminster.

    I’m also keen to learn more about the material change you believe the SNP are engineering. Would such a material change perhaps be an in/out EU referendum, which resulted in England and Scotland voting different ways?
    If so, I just wanted to confirm with you exactly which party in Westminster was in fact engineering such a change.

  3. Alasdair Macdonald

    I endorse what JAN has written and await, with low expectations, answers to the questions posed. I thought the use of the word ‘cynically’ in the article is instructive. It is obvious that the First Minister is acting in ways that she hopes will further the aims of her party, and, that, surely, is what all politicians do. It is what politics is about. However, I think what this shows is how detached Labour has become from the mainstream of politics in all parts of the UK. It has become locked into a paradigm, but it is unaware of it, and the paradigm has become so deeply hegemonic, that it prevents any alternative thinking.

  4. GTE

    Dump a Barnet formula share on the Scots.

    They get all the tax raised in Scotland.

    They pay for their NHS. They pay their pensions for all those north of the border.

    Common goods, such as defense, come out of a shared pot.

    The Scots will then have to grow up very quickly.

  5. Leon Wolfeson

    “Grow up”. Ah, sunder the Union. Right. Same old.

  6. John Mitchell

    I’d implement the Smith Commission proposals which were agreed last year by all the political parties in Scotland. I see no reason to force a knee-jerk reaction. Yes, Labour were decimated at the hands of the SNP in Scotland but as a result the Conservatives have the power in a majority to make whatever decision or direction they choose in many areas. The SNP are never going to be happy with anything that is offered and as the Conservative MP David Davis said in a television interview at the weekend, the Scottish parliament has become a ‘grievance machine’. The Smith Commission proposals will seek to rectify that with more tax raising powers being devolved to Edinburgh.

    My concern is that some Conservative MPs that appeal to English nationalism will be more than happy to deal out Full Fiscal Automony which will make the path easier to EVEL and save the UK Government money in the process. This in my view would be misguided and rushed which is precisely not what is needed. If there is to be a change, and a radical change, it needs to be across the UK and towards some sort of federalism. Labour’s proposals for a constutional convention across the UK were much more thoughtful.

    I don’t see federalism as a priority for a Conservative government. Handing out FFA casually could be particularly detrimental to Scotland. If offered, I’m not sure the SNP wouldn’t balk at the idea, at least until a later period, seeing as another election is on the horizon at Holyrood next May. FFA was never voted on by anyone in Scotland and was downplayed by the SNP. If the Conservatives were to pursue a aggressive line on FFA then I think that there should be a referendum on it.

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