So we sadly won’t be seeing Full Fiscal Autonomy (FFA) come into full force in Scotland any moment soon after it was defeated in the House of Commons earlier this week. Scotland will continue to be at the mercy of a Westminster Government which it didn’t democratically approve at the last General Election when it comes to how much money will be flowing up the A1 through the Barnett Formula. The negativity that has been chucked at the common sense idea of taking full control over your tax and spending has been relentless, misconstrued and hysterical, but alas whilst the nation’s hands remain tied, critics of FFA continue to turn a blind eye to the fact that the lack of control over how much money we will have to spend will risk the chances of any potential damage to many areas such as NHS Scotland and education.
It is just as well that we have a very competent Finance Secretary at the helm in John Swinney. Common Space reported this week that the Scottish budget has been underspent by nearly £200 million, demonstrating the prudence that the MSP for Perthshire North has demonstrated. Perhaps George Osborne, the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, can learn a thing or two about keeping the finances in tact. It’s ironic how I backed the latter of the two gentlemen five years ago when it came to bringing the finances under control, yet the former of the two wins my vote now as he has achieved the competence in keeping the state of the nation’s finances in tact.
But why am I getting bothered about money when this blog post should be about next year’s SNP manifesto? Precisely because the opening two paragraphs symbolises why Scotland cannot just receive a little power here and a little power there just to keep it’s desires for enhanced devolution satisfied. It’s still, to an extent, early days but things haven’t looked promising so far with the new Scotland Bill that is being debated at the House of Commons. Scotland by a scarcely moderate margin voted to stay within the United Kingdom last year, but also voted overwhelmingly for a meaningful new and ambitious settlement for more devolution in last month’s General Election. And the consequences for any miserable compromises will be major if the final settlement for increased devolution falls short.
Last week, George Galloway predicted Scottish independence in five years (Press and Journal) and this week Jim Murphy predicted a second independence referendum (Scotsman) – they are both not supporters of Scottish independence I hasten to add. And both men are certainly more optimistic than me, a pro-independence individual. The 2014 Scottish independence referendum was just over nine months ago and I am wary of the idea of a snap second referendum. The consequences of holding such a vote so soon could be absolutely catastrophic for the pro-independence side. The electorate is currently and not fully in the mood to elevate the issue of Scottish independence to the top of the list at this stage and may yet react with fury if the Scottish National Party propose an immediate second referendum without condition. And despite the ambiguity coming out of Westminster from the pro-union side over the Scotland Bill, that is by no means any excuse to demand a second vote so soon.
Something major will have to happen if a second independence referendum is to arise. There are only around eleven months left until the next Scottish Parliamentary elections. But whilst I am wary of an immediate second referendum, I can also acknowledge that not including a pledge to hold a second vote in next year’s SNP manifesto could also have major consequences. What will happen to the hopes of the many people who have become newly engaged with Scottish politics if a second vote is off the table? Will people turn away? And will a significant number of people end up feeling resigned to defeat for many years ahead if the country’s constitutional future is hung up to dry? All potential scenarios must not escape the minds of those proposing ideas before the forthcoming Holyrood elections.
And what is my overall solution to tackling the constitutional issue next year? If I was lucky enough to share the same table as either Nicola Sturgeon or John Swinney, I would propose that the SNP should include a pledge to hold a second independence referendum, but on condition or conditions. If Scotland is dragged out of the European Union against it’s will, then holding a second independence vote will become mandatory. If Trident is renewed against the democratic wishes of the Scottish electorate then there is a serious case to bring back the issue of independence to the centre of the debate. And if the final result of the Scotland Bill is nothing more than a bunch of new powers which can only fill the capacity of one of the palms of my hands then the appetite for a second referendum will soar.
The Scottish independence referendum of last year might have felt like ages away. But the issue of our constitutional future will just not go away. And probably never will for the forseeable future.