It’s been over two months since the outcome of the referendum came to fruition. For me and over 1.6 million voters, the outcome was distastefully sour. The tears, grief, bewilderment and the anxiety about what was to lie ahead dominated our feelings from the moment just after 6am on the 19th September when Scotland decided it’s own future.
Fast forward time now and we are days away from St Andrew’s Day. And today could mark a significant milestone in Scotland’s constitutional journey. The recommendations of the Smith Commission are now out in the open air and we have an idea of what new powers the Scottish Parliament might receive. Powers such as control over income tax rates and bands, welfare powers such as cold weather payments and carer’s allowance plus other powers in other areas such as air passenger duty are just a selection of some of the new powers that are probably coming Edinburgh’s way.
After digesting the news that has come through this morning, it’s fair to say that the outcome of the Smith Commission has fallen way short of my expectations. That is not to say that the man who headed the commission has done a bad job – rather he has done a commendable job under the most difficult of circumstances, especially just a short time after overseeing the whole organisation of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. But, ironically, I also think Scotland has taken a major step closer to full independence.
And why is this? I attribute this observation for two key reasons. Firstly, the key power that has been recommended for devolution is control over income tax rates and bands. Gary Gibbon from Channel 4 News wrote a very potent blog entry about the reaction of Labour MP’s at Westminster over their thoughts on this specific recommendation. Their reaction gives a strong indication that there is a strong probability that the dynamic of the union will change forever and irreversibly.
To flip that around, that can be also seen as a key power that will give Scotland more self-control over it’s finances to an extent and that will be very important in terms of raising the required amount of revenue to pay for the public services north of the border, although I am still not sure whether we will actually get full control over those specific revenues from income tax as a result (maybe someone can clear this up for me please?).
And secondly, the forthcoming UK and Scottish elections. I am very confident that if the polls give an accurate indication of what is to come and stay the way they are, then the Scottish National Party will record it’s best ever result at a Westminster election in it’s entire history. Furthermore, if winning an overall majority was not spectacular enough in 2011 then the idea of the party of government at Holyrood winning an overall majority for a second successive Scottish election will just be extraordinary and will fly beyond anyone’s imagination. This will give a strong indication that the people of Scotland will still not be satisfied with the overall governance of the nation and this fails to surprise me.
Let’s face it, had “devolution max” been present on the ballot paper, it would have probably won. I myself would have voted for it, but didn’t because it wasn’t available as an alternative. Hence, I switched to Yes. And although my previous observation that it was all or nothing in the September referendum was wrong, I am still left disappointed that Scotland will still be powerless to take it’s own distinctive decisions on areas that will not be devolved as a result of the Smith Commission, for example immigration.
Finally, despite the settlement that has emerged today, let’s make sure that our politicians at Holyrood make the most of the enhanced autonomy that is to come, when it comes. There is still a lot that can be done in terms of policy when the newly devolved powers come into force. Although my opinion and that of the many people who backed a Yes vote (and dare I say it, some who may have voted No as well) might be one of disappointment, it’s not a disaster either.
To be fair to the Prime Minister, I don’t think he gets enough credit for even taking the decisions that he has made over the future of Scotland. At least we had a referendum and at least he paved the way for the Smith Commission to take it’s course. And that is something that we can all be grateful for.