By Russell Bruce
This article was written very late last night, but not published till today. With the Smith Commission report now out little requires to be amended
It was always my view the Smith Commission was a process to be engaged with and my submission is available on this blog, the Smith Commission website and on that of Business for Scotland. http://www.businessforscotland.co.uk/submission-to-smith-commission-from-bfs-borders-group/
Never did I think a process that had a built in majority of the three unionist parties would grant full control over all taxation.
And I mean all taxation, not just income tax, which is what the media have focused on in an agenda of their own in expectation management. Control over all Welfare? Well we would not get that either, just a few bits and pieces.
What is important are the two main consequences of the process. The Labour Party have been dragged kicking and screaming to transfer all tax rates, but not, as some early reports have suggested, control over tax bands on the insistence of one Ed Balls, Shadow Labour Chancellor.
It is the Tories that have pushed all tax rates, aided and abetted by their coalition partners. What more evidence do we need that any reputation the Labour Party had, as progressive in policy and devolution, is one long behind them when they have been outflanked by the Tories?
The Tories, of course, have a vested interest in seeing the Labour Party damaged in Scotland, as do the Lib Dems given their current ratings that suggest they will lose just about all their Westminster seats.
The second important consequence of the Smith recommendations is they fall so far short of the clear majority view in Scotland for all taxation including oil revenues, all welfare, state pensions, broadcasting and some direct input to the EU.
The Referendum was lost and we will not become independent 17 months from now, but all the evidence in the wake of the referendum, indicates it is not 17 years away. For now the game is maximum devolution as vowed -something close to federalism.
Smith is not a one shot game. It is just part of a process. The SNP and the Greens did not have the seats on the Smith Commission to ensure a better deal as they were outnumbered by the tripartite unionist sandwich.
Independence and devo max campaigners should be elated. The vow has not been delivered. If anyone doubts that, just remember the meltdown in the Labour vote in recent polls.
Even more heartening is the despondency in Labour inner circles. The early cheering of Labour activists as the No votes mounted has been drowned in the icy cold buckets of reality that have poured over their heads in the days and weeks after the result.
Gary Gibbon, political editor of Channel 4 News, has been gauging the mood in Westminster. ‘Labour in despair’ he reports in his blog and has some choice quotes:
“We walked straight into the trap… I don’t see how we can win a second referendum” Labour MP and former minister.
“I don’t see how this doesn’t lead to independence… I just can’t see it going anywhere else” Labour MP
“We had no choice, we were boxed in … But yeah, it could be the end” Shadow cabinet member.
“ We have been completely and utterly out-manoeuvred” Former Labour whip.
So we have plenty to work with in these next few months to press hard for the powers Gordon Brown vowed. In the meantime he is vacating his seat and the green benches he has spent so little time on in the last 5 years.
Not for him now the risk of facing a disappointed electorate. He is damaged goods.
Like Sir Alex Douglas-Home, he was a former Scottish Prime Minister who promised something ‘better’ and failed to deliver. 1979 was a long time ago and many were not aware of the precedent and now regret they waivered in the last few days.
The Labour Party are very well aware of the consequences that befell the Tories in the years that followed and are staring blindly at a similar fate steamrolling towards them.
But let us not forget the quote attributed to Harold Wilson – “a week is a long time in politics.” There are still five months to go to the General Election and Labour will fight like cornered rats. Douglas-Home had already moved to the Lords by 1979. Brown seems likely to follow shortly onto the inappropriately coloured red benches.
There is another really important aspect of the Smith Commission we must recognise and acknowledge. It was set up under Westminster rules and I have no doubt he has worked hard and delivered the best deal that was possible.
He was a brave man to take on the role and he must be respected. If his recommendations fall short that is due to the limited horizons and ambitions of the three unionist parties.
When I went to bed at 5am on the 19th September, the one outcome of the result I was sure of was that Alex Salmond would resign.
It did not improve the mood, but he was right, as events have shown. It has been a long journey from 1979 and the lessons of ’79 have not changed.
I was a member of the ’79 group, subsequently banned by the SNP. The thinking behind the ’79 group eventually changed the strategy of the SNP and brought about the adoption of left of centre policies and the willingness to join with others to campaign for devolution as a stage on the roadmap to independence.
Without devolution there would not have been a minority SNP government in 2007, a majority SNP government in 2011 or an independence referendum in 2014.
So we must welcome the proposals from the Smith Commission, in as far as they go, but we can also be very clear they are very far short of ‘The Vow’ Gordon Brown and the three UK party leaders signed up to.
Just because we are not now negotiating independence terms and are back to Westminster rules does not mean we can not win by playing our Westminster cards in May next year. Smith is just a staging post in a longer game.
As Alex Salmond learned many years ago we might have to play by Westminster rules for now. But we do have our hands on the rulebook and the tremors are rippling out across a disconcerted UK and a terrified Labour Party.