Saturday, September 20, 2014

Reflections on Scotland's Referendum.

In the end, the Scottish voters decided by a more comfortable margin than we expected that they preferred their nation to remain part of the United Kingdom. The canny Scots refused to follow the pied piper over the edge. Not enough of them joined in surfing the wave of emotion. Hopefully the repair work needed to mend the divisions created by such a ferocious debate will not be too difficult. This blog post is an early assessment of where go from here, and written from a Wales perspective.

We have learned that commitment to the United Kingdom by its member nations cannot be taken for granted. Leaders of the three main Westminster parties decided they needed to make a last-minute offer to Scotland before the vote. This 'Vow' must be delivered. No ifs or buts. And we now have to answer the West Lothian Question, which I've always thought best not asked. This all has a significant impact on the future governance arrangements for Wales, even though I expect this to be of only passing interest to the rest of the UK. But it matters to me.

The most concerning part of the 'Vow' was the commitment to an unreformed Barnett Formula, which gives Scotland significantly more than 'needs ' dictate she should have. While Wales receives more per head than England, it does not receive the level of funding justified by her 'needs'. Difficult to know the precise size of Wales underfunding, but a figure of £300 million per annum is usually used. It's very much my view that the Wales Office and the Treasury need to find a satisfactory way of addressing this Barnett deficit. It's not a huge sum of money in the greater scheme of things.

There will be a significant change in the tax arrangements/powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament. In future 100% of income tax will be devolved. A huge change with no referendum, though there was one on the principle of devolved tax-raising in 1997. We are just going to do it. I very much agree with this change. To devolve powers without matching financial accountability is a recipe for division between the Scottish and UK Parliaments. It allowed the Scottish First Minister to play the victim card to great effect. It almost destroyed the United Kingdom. The same situation exists in Wales. My view is that we should transfer responsibility for 50% of income tax to the Welsh Assembly without any referendum. We have seen just how destabilising a devolved  government without fiscal accountability can be. We need to act on this now. If it's decided there must be consultation with the people of a Wales, this should be done through our 2015 manifesto rather than a referendum. I fully expect the Labour Party in Wales to do everything possible to stop this happening, thus retaining the happy position of only taking responsibility for one side of the ledger.

My final observation in this post is the proposal to prevent Scottish MPs voting on laws that apply only to England. Unfortunately, the anti-English tone of the Yes campaign in Scotland has made this inevitable. Personally, I do not like it one bit, believing it to be far more complex (to the point of being unworkable) than is thought. But it is much better than the appalling prospect of an English Parliament. I am not at all sure it can be applied to Wales in the same way, because the level of shared services across the border is so much greater. Again, Labour will do everything possible to prevent this happening. Already we see much discussion about a constitutional convention - a fairly blatant tactic to avoid anything at all happening.

I'd better stop. This post could become a long essay. I have just written as the words tumbled out. It's probably a bit jumbled, and I'll probably edit tomorrow. Inevitably, so soon after the referendum, all of our thoughts are a 'work in progress'. Writing it down helps firm me things up.


Democritus said...

I tend to agree with most of that.

EVEL is a necessary evil to counter the otherwise inevitable UKIP demand for an English Parliament or English referendum on independence. It is probably unworkable and as the Parliament Act can't be used to ram it through the Lords then this will be clearly exposed during the legislative process. My guess is we will wind up with an English Grand Committee, which considers the committee stage of any Bill agreed by the House at 2nd Reading to pertain only to England. This will be a formality most of the time, but on those pretty rare occasions when the Celtic fringe holds the balance it could get really interesting as the EGC either fillybusters Bills or amends them out of recognition ...

You're also right about not wishing to overdo referenda. The 2006 Wales Act requirement triggered in 2011 was a farce. Also if you make this entire exercise subject to referenda everywhere sooner or later one is bound to be lost - blowing up the whole federal settlement!

As to Barnett, well Sue Essex used to say 'be careful what you wish for'. I struggle to see how major fiscal devolution could fail to impact the distribution mechanism.

Finally this discussion needs to consider not only the effects on Wales, but also Northern Ireland where the powersharing arrangements enshrined in the NIA already impose an effective gridlock on policymaking.

Cai Larsen said...

Glyn - o ddifri ydych chi'n gallu cyfeirio at gymaint ag un esiampl o wrth Seisnigrwydd o'r ymgyrch Ia - ta gwneud stwff i fyny ydych chi?