The powers we need

Jam Tomorrow
‘Tomorrow’ Jam
The unionists sometimes talk about the extra powers Scotland will get if we vote No. Apart from the fact that it will probably just be a case of jam tomorrow (given that there won’t be any political necessity to increase devolution), nobody has so far put forward a case for devolving any further policy areas to Scotland, just making Scotland responsible for raising more revenue.

However, which powers would the Scottish public actually like to see devolved to Scotland? Let’s have a look at some of the reserved matters:

  1. Social security: The strong reaction to the bedroom tax makes it clear that Scots would prefer to see the majority of the responsibilities of the Department of Work and Pensions devolved to Scotland. However, it’s one of the few remaining areas where Westminster still plays a massive role in the life of ordinary Scots so I doubt any UK government would be happy to transfer these powers.
  2. EU representation: It’s constantly a problem that Scotland doesn’t always get as good a deal in the EU as independent countries because Westminster ministers do the negotiating for us, even in fully devolved areas. However, even if Westminster agreed to this, the EU would probably veto it.
  3. Military and foreign affairs: The Scottish reaction to the Iraq war and to having the UK’s nuclear weapons stationed just outside Glasgow makes it clear that most people would prefer to devolve these areas to Scotland. However, this is one of the hallmarks of an independent country, so it really won’t happen without independence.
  4. Postal services: Given that Westminster are constantly talking about privatising the Royal Mail, it would probably be very popular to keep it state-owned in Scotland, but exactly because it’d be popular, there’s no way it will happen.
  5. Broadcasting: Many Scots are reasonably happy with the BBC, but at the same time it would be great to get more dedicated Scottish programming (such as the “Scottish Six”), which would be more likely if some broadcasting powers were devolved. However, Westminster would be worried at the prospect of the BBC turning into a pro-independence channel, so there’s no way they’d do this.
  6. Air transport: Scottish politicians often complain that Scotland needs a lower air passenger duty than England to keep the Highlands and islands inhabitable, but I have a feeling London-based politicians would fear that some international airlines would start flying to Scotland instead of London to take advantage of this, so again I doubt this would happen.
  7. Immigration: Whereas English politicians (who can feel UKIP breathing down their necks) are getting very wary of immigration, Scotland is a much more welcoming place, and we need some immigration to keep the country going. It would be very useful if immigration was devolved. However, Westminster would be worried that immigrants would enter through Scotland and then move down to London, so this is a non-starter.

When you look at this list, two things strike me: Firstly there’s no chance in a lifetime that Westminster will actually consider devolving any of them, and secondly, most of them are attributes of an independent state.

The powers we need in Scotland are not those of a region with devolved powers, but those of an independent state.

Sweden in the north, Freeport Ho! in the south

The divided electorate in England and Wales
The divided electorate in England and Wales
In their book Going South: Why Britain will have a Third World Economy by 2014, Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson claim the UK needs to make a fundamental choice: Should it move in the direction of a Scandinavian welfare state (similar to the Common Weal ideas currently being discussed in Scotland), or should it become a low-tax state based on free trade (called “Freeport Ho!” and “Freeport Britain” in their book)?

They don’t really discuss Scottish independence in their book, and they seem to think that the UK must make the choice as a whole.

However, it appears to me that Scotland and London have already chosen. Scotland wants to go down the Common Weal path (and what we’re really discussing in the independence referendum campaign is whether we can convince the rUK to go down that road with us, or whether we should do so alone), and Greater London has practically decided to become a global free port (which is why so many people in the South-East want to leave the EU, dismantle the NHS, and all that).

It’s probably the case that a majority of people in Wales and Northern England actually agree more with Scotland than with London, but given that the Tories are essentially a Southern English party (see the map above), and that Labour are forever chasing the swing voters in Southern England, they have unfortunately handed over the power to make this decision to London.

Only in Scotland have we got a chance to choose a different route, which is why we have to vote Yes now, before the process of becoming Freeport Ho! makes it utterly impossible for Scotland to make a different choice.