The Long and Winding Road to a Devolved Parliament in Scotland



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1960: The Long and Winding Road to a Devolved Parliament in Scotland

1967: In the late 1960s, support in Scotland for the pro-independence Scottish National Party was growing (seen spectacularly in Winnie Ewing’s victory at the Hamilton by-election of 1967). This created panic at Westminster and both Tory and labour Party’s responded.

1968: The Conservative Party in Scotland was traditionally a unionist party. But at the Conservative Party Conference of 1968, held in Perth in Scotland, Edward Heath announced a party policy of support for devolution. Heath then formed a constitutional committee chaired by former Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home.

1970:  The committee produced “Scotland’s Government”, a report that recommended the creation of a Scottish Assembly with 125 elected members and powers to initiate and discuss bills. However, all Bills were to require approval of the United Kingdom Parliament.

1970: The 1970 General Election was won by the Conservative Party, and Heath became Prime Minister. However, the electoral weakness of the Nationalists removed the political pressure for devolution, causing it to slip from the agenda.

1974: The two general elections of 1974 saw the return of a minority Labour Government and advances by the Nationalists (they won 7 seats in the February election and 11 in the October election). Labour was thus dependent on Nationalist support in Parliament.

1979: Despite opposition from within its own party, the labour government passed the Scotland Act 1978. This act provided for devolution, subject to approval by a referendum which took place in 1979. The referendum had been “rigged to fail” by the labour Party and the required mandate for devolution was not delivered.

Under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher the Conservatives had returned to a policy of opposing Scottish devolution. However, former Tory leader Alec Douglas-Home was still able to urge Scots to vote ‘no’ to Labour’s proposal in 1979, with the promise that a Conservative government would offer a “better” bill.

A general election was held late 1979, which was won by the Conservatives, who despite being the only major party now opposing constitutional reform and a reducing return of MP’s in each election in Scotland, went on to win electoral victories in 1983, 1987 and 1992 steadfastly ensuring that no further legislative progress would be made.



1980: Campaign for a Scottish Assembly

The Campaign for a Scottish Assembly (CSA), was formed in the aftermath of the 1979 referendum that failed to establish a devolved Scottish Assembly. Launched in 1980 and led by Jack Brand (1) and later headed by Jim Boyack (father of current MSP Sarah Boyack), the CSA contained individuals committed to some form of Home Rule for Scotland. Most were members of the Labour Party, but many Scottish National Party members actively participated.

The CSA kept up the pressure for devolution in the early years of the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher, which was totally opposed to any form of Home Rule. Faced with the Tory Party intransigence the CSA came to the stance that the cause of Scottish devolution would be best served by a convention with more democratic legitimacy invested in it.

The CSA organised a committee, chaired by Professor Sir Robert Grieve,(2) which published the “Claim of Right for Scotland.” The Claim held that it was the Scottish people’s right to choose the form of government that best suited them (a long-established principle, first formally stated in the Declaration of Arbroath, 1320), and which also recommended the establishment of a convention to discuss this.



1989: The Scottish Constitutional Convention

The Convention was established in 1989 after prominent Scottish individuals signed the Claim of Right, and superseded the role of the CSA.

Various organisations participated in the Convention, such as the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Green Party, the Communist Party, the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, the Small Business Federation and various bodies representing other strands of political opinion as well as civic society in general. Representatives of the two largest churches – the Church of Scotland, the Catholic Church – as well as smaller church groups were involved as were some non-Christian communities which decided to participate.

Initially the Scottish National Party (SNP) participated, but the then party leader Gordon Wilson, along with Jim Sillars, decided to withdraw the SNP from participation owing to the convention’s unwillingness to discuss Scottish independence as a constitutional option.

The Conservative government of the day was very hostile to the convention and challenged the local authorities’ right to finance the convention, although the courts found that they were in fact entitled to do so.

Under its executive chairman, Canon Kenyon Wright, (3) the convention published its blueprint for devolution, Scotland’s Parliament, Scotland’s Right, on 30 November 1995, St Andrew’s Day. This provided the basis for the structure of the existent Scottish Parliament, established in 1999.









The Scotland Act 1998

1998: The election of Labour in 1997 led to a second devolution referendum. Again the Conservatives opposed devolution in the 1997 debate but this time their opposition was unsuccessful, and the Scottish Parliament was created by the Scotland Act 1998. Subsequent to its creation, the Conservative Party indicated its acceptance of Scottish devolution as an irreversible political fact.



September 2007: Council of Economic Advisers (Scotland)

The Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) is a group of eminent economists and captains of industry who advise the Scottish Government. It was established in 2007, meeting for the first time on 21 September. Minutes of its quarterly meetings will be published a fortnight after each meeting. It is intended that the council will publish an annual report on the condition of the Scottish economy. Members at time of establishment:

Sir George Mathewson (convener), former chief executive and then chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland; previously chief executive of the Scottish Development Agency
Frances Cairncross, Rector of Exeter College at Oxford University; previously journalist at The Economist, chair of the Economic and Social Research. Author.
Sir Robert Smith, chairman of the Weir Group and Scottish and Southern Energy; non-executive director of 3i group, Standard Bank Group and Aegon UK; chair of the Smith Group
Professor Andrew Hughes Hallett, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at George Mason University and visiting Professor of Economics at the University of St Andrews; has been consultant for the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Federal Reserve Board, the United Nations, the OECD, the European Commission and various central banks.
Professor Alex Kemp, Schlumberger Professor of Petroleum Economics at the University of Aberdeen; previously advised the World Bank, the United Nations, and various governments
Jim McColl, Chairman and Chief Executive of Clyde Blowers
Professor Frances P. Ruane, Director of Ireland’s Economic and Social Research Institute; previously Associate Professor of Economics at Trinity College, Dublin
Professor John Kay, a fellow of St John’s College, Oxford, visiting professor at the London School of Economics, regular contributor to the Financial Times; previously Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Professor at the London Business School and the University of Oxford
Crawford Beveridge, Executive Vice President and Chairman of Sun Microsystems in Europe, the Middle East and Africa; previously Chief Executive of Scottish Enterprise
Professor Finn Kydland, Henley Professor of Economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara; awarded the Nobel Prize for his work in dynamic macroeconomics
Professor Sir James Mirrlees, Professor Emeritus at Cambridge University and distinguished professor-at-large at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; awarded the Nobel Prize forhis work on economic models and equations about situations where information is asymmetrical or incomplete.



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December 2007: The Calman Commission

The Commission on Scottish Devolution, also referred to as the Calman Commission, Scottish Parliament Commission or Review was established by an opposition Labour Party motion passed by the Scottish Parliament on 6 December 2007, with the support of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The governing Scottish National Party opposed the creation of the commission. Its terms of reference were “To review the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998 in the light of experience and to recommend any changes to the present constitutional arrangements that would enable the Scottish Parliament to better serve the people of Scotland, that would improve the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament and that would continue to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom.”




November 2008: Expert group examining new powers for Holyrood has “tampered with the evidence” to suit the Labour Party, one of its own economic advisers suggested last night.

Professor Andrew Hughes Hallett, one of 11 economics experts tasked with examining tax powers north of the border, said its final report did not have “much legitimacy” because it was skewed towards preserving the status quo. Hughes Hallett said he had wanted the expert group to look at whether the Scottish Government should be given the power to borrow money but claims this was glossed over in the final report. He told Scotland on Sunday: “Had it been a criminal issue, you would call it tampering with the evidence by not considering all the options.”

The Calman Commission, which was set up to look at all aspects of constitutional reform, itself appointed an expert group of economists to specifically study the case for extending the tax powers of the Scottish Parliament. Hughes Hallett was a member of that group, which published its report earlier this month, laying out options for giving Holyrood greater financial powers.

In the final version of the report, compiled by the experts under the leadership of Professor Anton Muscatelli, the principal of Heriot-Watt university, Hughes Hallett said debt was hardly mentioned. He said: “There is a very brief note that debt and borrowing may be necessary, but there is no discussion of any of the consequences or consideration of how much debt a Scottish Government can issue.

The issue is how we can manage debt and how it can be issued. It would be helpful to know what that was.” Hughes Hallett added that he could understand why the Labour Government might not want such issues fully explored if ministers were not keen on handing over more powers to Holyrood. He said: “You can see from the London end why they might not want to get into some of these issues.

I can understand the political view from London that you don’t want to go into it. “I could imagine that if you’re a sitting government, you probably have vested interest in keeping things more or less as they are. There may be all sorts of political reasons for keeping things as they are and they are legitimate. But they are not reasons to keep options out of the discussions.”

Hughes Hallett explained that the ability to issue debt was essential if Scotland were to replace the current Barnett Formula funding mechanism with an assigned taxation system, which would see the Scottish Government’s funds being calculated on the basis of the tax revenues paid by Scots to the UK Treasury.

He said the ability to issue debt was essential because tax revenue adjusts quickly to variations in income, but public expenditure for projects such as new schools and hospitals adjust at a slower pace. Therefore the ability to raise money by going into debt is essential to keep projects going when tax revenue diminishes during economic downturns. “You can’t just close hospitals and schools every time the economy slows down,” Hughes Hallett said.

He also argued that the report had omitted to explore fully the merits of other economic models that could form the basis for a new constitutional settlement for Scotland. “If you have to decide what you want and if people can’t find that laid out, it (the report] doesn’t have much legitimacy.

“What’s missing here is any consideration of how these sorts of schemes might work.” Hughes Hallett said the report failed to examine the “trade-offs” between various systems. The economist claimed the report did not properly analyse the advantages and disadvantages of the Barnett Formula, assigned taxes and fiscal autonomy.

A Scottish National Party spokesman said: “From what we know about the Calman Commission, it doesn’t meet the challenges of the times in that Scotland needs to build a lion economy, but it appears that all it has produced is a constitutional mouse. Certainly what was intended to be a an entirely independent review has become far too closely connected and controlled by the UK Government.”

A Calman Commission spokesman said: “This was an independent report, which was handed to the commission and it would be inappropriate for Sir Kenneth Calman to make any comment.”



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December 2008: Limited Powers transferred to Scotland over planning and nature conservation matters at sea

During 2008, agreement was reached to transfer responsibility for all planning and nature conservation matters at sea up to 200 miles from the Scottish coast to the Scottish Government. The change has implications for the offshore industry, wind and wave power and to a lesser extent, fishing, though responsibility for fishing quotas remains an European Union issue and oil and gas licensing and permitting remains a reserved matter.






August 2009: Scottish Independence Referendum Proposal Rejected

In August 2009 the SNP announced a Referendum Bill would be included in its package of bills to be debated before Parliament in 2009–10, with the intention of holding a referendum on the issues of Scottish independence in November 2010. The bill did not pass due to the SNP’s status as a minority administration, and due to the initial opposition to the Bill from all other major parties in the Scottish Parliament.



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July 2011: Scottish Independence Referendum Proposal Passed  By Scottish Parliament

Following the Scottish Parliament general election, the SNP had a majority in parliament and again brought forward an Independence Referendum Bill. The Scottish Government also suggested that full fiscal autonomy for Scotland (known as “devo-max”) could be an alternative option in the vote.




May 2012:  Negotiation of the Edinburgh Agreement (2012)

The UK government legislated to provide the Scottish Parliament with the powers to hold the referendum. The “devo-max” option was not included, however, as the Edinburgh Agreement stipulated that the referendum had to be a clear binary choice between independence or the existing devolution arrangements. The Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Act 2013 was passed by the Scottish Parliament and campaigning commenced.






September 2014

Two days before the referendum was held, with polls very close, the leaders of the three main UK political parties publicly pledged to devolve a form of “devo-max” to the Scottish Parliament if independence was rejected. They also agreed to a devolution timetable proposed by Gordon Brown.

Approximately 25% of the electorate had voted by “Postal Ballot” at the date of Gordon Brown and the three main political party’s  intervention Under the rules of the referendum the entire process should have been declared null and void and the referendum re-run with the 2 options being placed before the electorate. This was not done.

Voting took place on 18 September 2014 and independence was rejected by a margin of 45% in favour to 55% against. The following day David Cameron announced the formation of the Smith Commission to “convene cross-party talks” concerning “recommendations for further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament”.








The Scotland Bill – If You Wish To Keep A Cobra As A Pet – You Must First remove it’s fangs




3 February 2015: If you wish to keep a cobra as a pet – First remove it’s fangs

There is no guarantee that a future UK Government could not hold up Holyrood decision-making indefinitely under Scotland’s new devolution settlement, according to a Scotland Office minister.

The Westminster establishment has repeatedly dismissed SNP claims that they have written a right of “veto” into the draft devolution law to prevent Holyrood making benefit changes that Westminster might find unacceptable.

But implementation of any proposed Scottish benefit change must be agreed beforehand with the UK Government, fuelling SNP accusations that Westminster could use this clause to hold up benefit changes unpalatable to Westminster for years.

David Mundell, Scotland’s only Conservative MP and junior minister in the Scotland Office, told Holyrood’s Welfare Reform Committee that he would personally make sure an agreement on benefits does not take years.

But he said he “couldn’t guarantee” he would be around after the 2015 general election. But, he said it would “not be feasible in terms of the political reality” for any future government to hold up Scottish benefits amid the inevitable outcry it would provoke from MSPs.

But he refused to commit to redrafting the “Scotland Bill” removing the SNP’s supposed “implication” of veto, saying only that the clauses “are out for discussion and consideration” and open to Scottish Government “feedback”.





Q & A Session
SNP MSP Kevin Stewart: “Could you give us some clarity on how long a consultation between the two governments could go on for?”

Mundell: “Over my period in the Scotland Office I found that sometimes these matters can be resolved in hours and sometimes they take considerably longer. But I am making it clear that there is goodwill on our part in terms of bringing these objectives about.”

Stewart: “Can you confirm to the committee that it would not be a matter of many years for one of these consultations to be dragged over?”

Mundell: “If it’s anything to do with me, which I can’t guarantee, it would not be a matter of years.”

Stewart: “As you say, you can’t guarantee that it will be you. Could you confirm that one of these consultations cannot go on indefinitely, which is effectively a veto?”

Mundell: “Nobody wants to see that happening. I think everybody also understands the politics of Scotland, the respect that the UK Government has demonstrated for the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, and would not engage in that sort of subversive delay because it would simply not be feasible in terms of the political reality. I’m sure you (MSPs) and others would be making that point. There would be no intention to veto proposals put forward by the Scottish Government, either upfront or by some sort of behind the scenes way.”

Stewart: “So it would have been better if the language in the draft clauses had been put in a different way?”

Mundell: “The draft clauses are out for discussion and consideration. There is an opportunity for the committee, for individuals within the parliament, for the Scottish Government, and we’re in a very close dialogue with John Swinney who is leading for the Scottish Government in these matters in relation to the clause. If there is particular feedback in relation to the clauses then that can be given.”

Stewart: “But you can categorically say that although the implication in the language in the clause is of veto that there is no veto.”

Mundell: “Well, I wouldn’t have taken that implication of veto. I take the clear position of working together, but there is no veto.”




Seems to me Cameron and the Tory’s are setting out to de-fang the Scots