Intergovernmental relations and Scotland`s constitutional debates

The United Kingdom on the path
to quasi-federalism?
Presentation by Alan Trench
Dalhousie University, Halifax
22 October 2014
Getting to the referendum
• A 2007 manifesto commitment for the SNP – qualified
in their 2011 manifesto (‘introduce a bill’) – but
politically inevitable with their majority
• ‘Legal, clear, (fair) and decisive’ v. ‘made in Scotland’
• Terms agreed October 2012 – the ‘Edinburgh
Conferred powers on Scottish Parliament to call referendum
One poll, one question (no ‘third option’)
By end of December 2014
Regulation by (UK) Electoral Commission – incl advice on
– The Scottish Parliament franchise (residential qualification –
no expat voting) but 16/17 year olds able to vote
– Simple majority
The question – first attempt
First attempt in 2010 draft referendum bill involved two
1. The Scottish Parliament should have its financial powers and
responsibilities extended as recommended by the
Commission on Scottish Devolution.
Do you agree with this proposal? [Yes/no]
2. The Scottish Government proposes that, in addition to the
extension of the powers and responsibilities of the Scottish
Parliament set out in Proposal 1, the Parliament’s powers
should also be extended to enable independence to be
Do you agree with this proposal? [Yes/no]
The question
as approved by Electoral Commission
Should Scotland be an independent
Not much room for ambiguity
• But no mention of being ‘outside’ or separate
from the United Kingdom
• Or of statehood (since Scotland is a ‘country’,
even within the United Kingdom
Constitutional Preferences In Scotland, 1997-2010
Who ought to have the most say over how Scotland is run? (%)
Who has the most say over how Scotland is run? (%)
Referendum strategies: Yes side
• The SNP did well in 2007 and 2011 by splitting a vote
for the party from a vote for independence:
– its constitutional position was its least popular policy
• Expanding the ‘Overton window’ of what people could
• And moving from ‘could’ to ‘should’ to ‘must’
• Target of traditionally Labour, (ex) working class voters
• Grassroots strategy: local meetings and engagement
– Lots of ‘ginger groups’ – Women for Yes, Business for Yes, etc
– Relationship between Yes Scotland, the SNP and ‘Radical
Independence’ movement
Referendum strategies: No side
• Divided campaign: ‘Better Together’ coalition of three
parties, animosity between them
• Initial determination to draw clear distinction between
‘Union’ and ‘separation’ – ‘excluded middle’ strategy
– Inherent in a Yes/No choice between two options, neither of
which was what voters most wanted
– Reluctance to talk positively especially about ‘more powers’
– Negative strategy was one thing they could agree on
• Problems with grass roots organisation
– Danger for Labour activists of working alongside Tories
– Bureaucracy/top heavy
• Ended up with mediatised campaign
• ‘More powers’ offers appeared late in the day, therefore
seemed reluctant, half-hearted, made under pressure
Role of UK Government
• Largely played the game ‘straight’ (Michael Moore’s
• Respecting mandate for referendum
• ‘Scotland Analysis’ programme: informing debate
about status quo and its advantages (and what would
be lost with Yes vote)
• No ‘pre-negotiation’ of independence
• But did take sterling currency union off the table
• No preparation for Yes vote
Key events in the campaign
• Theatre of the ‘Edinburgh Agreement’, October 2012
• Passage of Referendum bill, mid-2013, passed
November 2013
• Scotland’s Future white paper, published November
• Chancellor’s announcement on currency union,
February 2014
• TV debates between campaign leaders (A Salmond and
A Darling) – 5 and 25 August
• Poll: 18 September 2014
The result
Turnout: 84.59 per cent (and boosted by late
Where they voted
Who voted Yes
Yes voters were:
• More male than female
• More in age groups 25-34 (and majority in 34-44, 44-54)
– older voters were strongly No
• SNP, Labour, or Lib Dem voters – not Conservatives
– But 10% of SNP voters voted No!
• More likely to have decided how to vote in closing
stages of campaign – No voters more likely to have
decided a year ago
• Yes voters influenced by the NHS, disenchantment with
Westminster politics
• No voters influenced by keeping the pound, pensions,
How No won
• The referendum was No’s to lose. They came quite close
to doing so.
• Pushing the ‘negative side’ of independence appears to
have swung undecided voters their way as well as
consolidating core vote.
• Also benefitted from ‘quiet Nos’ who didn’t want to talk
about it (note late polls all gave No 53%, were 2 points
• No positive story: the positive one of ‘more devolution’
came in late, in way that made it easy to doubt
• Had little answer to the late Yes surge, built on long-term
grassroots ground-work, and different ideas about the
sort of society Scotland should be
How Yes lost
• Yes did well in the (ex-) industrial West of Scotland
(Glasgow and surroundings), but not well enough
– Yes did poorly in the SNP heartland areas of NE Scotland
• Yes voters were ‘traditional Labour’ types, many
disenchanted, many with little stake in status quo (no
mortgages, savings, pensions)
– Campaign lines about the welfare state particularly resonant
with these voters
– Many keen to say ‘I’m not a nationalist but I’m voting Yes’
• BUT Yes fell into trap of believing their own energy,
activity and ‘mood’ were enough
– deceived much of commentariat as well
• Also believed 4-point lead in private polling just before
the poll
‘More devolution’
• Greater self-government within UK clear preference of
plurality (often majority) of Scottish voters in run-up to
• Always unclear what that meant in terms of powers:
Scottish Govt already responsible for c. 65% of public
spending in Scotland
• But focus on taxation and welfare
– C. 60 per cent of voters thought these should be devolved –
around same levels as health and education
– SG funded by block grant from Westminster, minimal tax
– No welfare competence – including spending power
‘Devo Max’
• What the SNP was really seeking?
– Set out most clearly in Scottish Govt 2009 white paper Your
Scotland Your Choice
• Devolution of all non-sovereign functions: everything
but defence, foreign affairs, currency and macroeconomy
- Immigration?
- Business & financial regulation?
- EU matters?
- Pensions?
• Implies full fiscal autonomy: Scottish Parliament responsible for setting and collecting all taxes in/for Scotland
– End to UK welfare state
– Tax competition?
• What sort of a Union is one Scotland largely opts out
Delivering ‘more devolution’
• First steps through Calman Commission (2009) and
Scotland Act 2012
– Devolution of 10 points of personal income tax, same rate on
all three bands (‘fiscal accountability’ – not about autonomy)
– Due to take effect April 2016
– Plus two land taxes, on transactions and waste disposals to
landfill – from April 2015
– No welfare devolution, minor changes to other functions
• ‘Devo Plus’ (linked to Reform Scotland)
• Institute for Public Policy Research’s ‘Devo More’
• 3 party commissions: Lib Dem reported Oct 2012,
Labour interim report April 2013, final March 2014,
Conservatives May 2014
The key Devo More proposals
• Intended to be union-reinforcing, not destabilising, and
to work for Wales and N Ireland too if they wish
• Aim also to eliminate blame-shifting to Westminster
• Taxation:
Devolve all personal income tax
Assign 10 points (of 20) of VAT
Alcohol and tobacco duties?
Employers’ National Insurance contributions?? (payroll tax)
• Welfare:
– Devolve Housing Benefit (problems with Universal Credit
– Attendance Allowance (overlap with personal social services)
– Operation of Work Programme (active labour market
programme: but not out-of-work benefits)
– Power to supplement UK-level welfare (spending power)
‘More devolution’ and the parties
• Lib Dems:
– Devolve all personal income tax save personal allowance
– Assign corporation tax revenues
– No welfare devolution
• Labour
Increase devolution of income tax from 10 to 15 points
Upward but not downward differential increases of top rates
Preserve Barnett formula
Devolve Housing Benefit, Attendance Allowance, operation
of Work Programme
• Conservatives
– Devolve all personal income tax save personal allowance
– Assign proportion of VAT revenues
– Devolve HB, AA, power to supplement UK-level welfare
What happens next?
Scottish politics I
A bright future for the SNP
• Did well in 2007 and 2011 despite unpopularity of
– Success through valence politics verging on catch-all party
• Yes campaign connected to a large number of voters
traditionally hostile to SNP.
– Independence now more popular than SNP – was other way
• Huge membership surge post-referendum
– Much energy came from outside SNP – Radical
Independence/Commonweal movement
What happens next?
Scottish politics II
• SNP can now reposition itself as broad party of the
(centre) left
– Though that will weaken its appeal to centre and right
– How much to the left? Impact of new members
• Still most impressive party of government
• But must find a compelling constitutional position
– Devo max arguments might have appeal especially if moredevo promises aren’t delivered
Lib Dems:
• Likely to lose votes but not many Westminster seats
– What happens when those voters look for a new party?
• And already down to core vote for Holyrood
What happens next?
Scottish politics III
Not good for Scottish Labour
• Already weak in membership (c. 15,000), organisation,
ideas, leadership
• Convoluted, complicated and limited more-devo
platform (‘devo nano’)
• Now likely to lose large numbers of votes to SNP
• Weakening it at both Westminster and Holyrood
– And GB-Labour depends on S-Lab to bolster its Westminster
position; what happens if it goes down to 25 Scottish MPs
(from 40)?
What happens next?
Scottish politics IV
Better outlook for Conservatives
• Strongest and most coherent more-devo programme
• Effective leadership
• Possibility of becoming strongest pro-Union party if
Labour collapse?
– But how to attract centrist votes? ‘Unionists’ (protestants)
did that when religion was a major cleavage. It now isn’t.
• Willing to move to centre ground?
• How could Tories form/enter government? Alliances
with both Labour and SNP very problematic.
What happens next?
Constitutional processes and debates
Step 1: the Smith Commission
• Membership from 5 main parties in Scottish Parliament
• To come up with ‘heads of agreement’ by end
November for more devolution
• Draft clauses by 25 January 2015
• Inclusion in 2015 UK General Election manifestoes
(electoral mandate), bill from new government
• The first time ever that all parties have been engaged in
the same process with the same remit
• What position/role will SNP play?
• Scottish Parliament will need to consent to any bill.
What happens next?
Constitutional processes II
Step 2: Cabinet committee on devolution
• Despite name, concerned with ‘English votes for English
laws’ at Westminster
• Announced by Cameron as part of post-devolution
package on more powers for Scotland
• Supposed to work to same timescale as ‘more powers’
(but needs to deliver actual change by April 2015 – not
just draft clauses – to handicap a possible Labour govt)
• A Conservative issue opposed by Labour, limited support
from Lib Dems
• Intended for ‘English lobby’ on Tory back benches, and to
outflank UKIP
What happens next?
Constitutional processes III
Step 2: Cabinet committee on devolution cont’d
• But English are unhappy and something needs to be done
• EVEL not straightforward technically (what’s an ‘English
law’? Financial implications given how Barnett works?)
• And governability issues if there are different majorities
in England and Great Britain as a whole
• There are essentially two variants of EVEL
– ‘Soft’: English MPs only voting, at certain stages – e.g.
committee or report stage
– ‘Hard’: English MPs only voting on all stages of legislation
relating only to England – including 2nd and 3rd reading
• Both Conservative policy (Clarke Democracy Task Force)
and McKay Commission recommended ‘soft’ version.
What happens next?
Constitutional processes IV
Step 3: Wales bill
• Currently before Parliament
• Measure of fiscal devolution for Wales, like Scotland
Act 2012
• Controversy over lockstep, to be removed in Lords
Cttee stage
• Question of what happens to Silk Commission Part 2
recommendations – notably devolution of policing,
energy schemes
What happens next?
Constitutional processes V
Step 4: Northern Ireland
• Recognition of past/flags/parades: lack of progress
through Haass.
• Rows over welfare reform
• Corporation tax devolution – still under debate
Step 5: A constitutional convention
• Long advocated by Welsh First Minister and other Welsh
interests, Commons PCR Cttee
• Now adopted by UK-level Labour
• Problematic: remit, timescale, composition, mandate?
• At best could be stalling tactic; at worst, break up in
A sort-of federal future for the UK?
• For Scotland and Wales, the ‘self-rule’ side of a federal
system is conceivable and not that far off
• For N Ireland, it’s harder because of the consociational
elements of the Belfast Agreement, and role of UK and
Irish Govts in assuring that
• England is a major obstacle to any moves toward
– Symmetrical regionalism has no popular support
– But England is so big as a whole it would distort, perhaps
destroy any federal system
• The ‘shared rule’ side is even more difficult:
– Lords reform has to be a key part
– And also implies changes to role of the Commons, the UK
Cabinet and civil service that have been avoided so far
Some conclusions
• The UK has plunged itself into a new era of
constitutional mega-politics
• The problems are made worse by
– General disenchantment with Westminster
– The way Scottish politics is changing: high levels of
debate, engagement and expectation
– The relative unfamiliarity with constitutional politics
of Westminster politicians
– Their unstrategic approach: both in sense of being
concerned with short-term tactics and party
– And failure to take a UK-wide view
Some conclusions II
• Cameron has made this messier and more complex by
putting England, and EVEL, on the table as well
– Blatantly party-political, in way most of UK Govt
devolution/ referendum policy under the Coalition
has not been
– Antagonism between Labour & Conservatives makes
any deal very hard to achieve
• The ‘Scottish issue’ is likely to come back – particularly if
there is a referendum on EU membership
– Dream scenario for SNP: England votes against,
Scotland votes for, SNP in govt and holds referendum
to leave one Union in order to stay in the other
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