Since the date of the referendum on Scottish Independence was announced, I have been frequently asked about my views on further devolution in Scotland.
Here, then, are some thoughts.
In spite of some comments to the contrary, devolution in Scotland has been a success. The Scotland Act 2012 gives additional powers to the Scottish Parliament and some are being implemented. These include: air weapons; drug misuse; drink-driving limits; speed limits; and landfill tax. There is more to come in terms of financial accountability in 2016. This will involve the largest ever transfer of financial powers to Scotland. So should it stop there, or is there room for further devolution? How can the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK continue to develop?
It is not a static situation and it can continue to evolve. As chairman of the Commission on Scottish Devolution which led to the Scotland Act, we realised this was not the end of the story. So what next?
Two general points might be raised. First, devolution can only be seen in the context of the UK as a whole. One of the reasons for the success of the Scotland Act was that the other UK nations were kept informed as the discussions progressed. If there were to be further devolution the same would need to apply. This is a process about the Constitutional Framework of the whole UK. Secondly, if the powers were to be extended, there would need to be a wide consensus within Scotland and all parties would need to be involved. While the discussions would inevitably be political, they should not be partisan. This would be a real opportunity for civic and political Scotland to work together; what matters is what is best for Scotland, within the UK. The task is more than just adding a few more powers to the Scottish Parliament; it is about reviewing the constitutional framework of the UK.
Scotland has control over much of what it does including education, the legal system and the NHS. Scotland is a world leader in innovation and creativity with a strong education and research capacity. It has excellent links with the rest of the UK, including bodies such as the research councils. Scots work best when working with others and are natural leaders in every area of human endeavour. Scotland has a strong sense of its own culture and we have made huge contributions to science, engineering, medicine, and the arts. We have strong international links and recognise the value of interdependence to get things done.
How, then, should a review of the country's constitutional future be carried out? Much thought has been given to what could be done by the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party in Scotland. The Scottish Conservatives are also reviewing the possibilities, as have many other organisations, private and public. After the referendum, should the vote be to stay in the UK, what will be the mechanism to take these ideas forward and to co-ordinate activity in Scotland and the rest of the UK? This is, of course, not a short-term issue, but one needing thought to agree a settlement which is stable for the long run. One proposal could be to establish a commission, council or convention to bring this work together.
What would such a commission do? It would review the constitutional question; the present and future distribution of powers, reserved and devolved, within the UK. It would examine the proposals from the political parties, other organisations and individuals. It could include consideration of a federal model. One way to do this would be through an examination of what powers are reserved, and if so why? It would report to the UK Parliament and to the devolved administrations.
It would not be necessary for such a commission to start work until after September 2014 but the concept and composition would be agreed before then so it would be ready to go, should the referendum result be that Scotland remains in the UK. This would reassure the public in Scotland that the journey of devolution will continue.
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