The Scottish Saltire

The Scottish Saltire

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Scottish Independance

Yesterday was a good day. A landslide win for the Scottish National Party. For my American friends who (understandably) don't know the political workings over here, let me give you a wee primer...

Scotland was once a free and independent nation. In 1603 when the Scottish king, James VI, "inherited" the throne of England he also became James I of England and he moved his court to London. James VI/I ruled both countries from there, although each country retained its own parliament. History has shown that, from then on, in decisions made from London, Scotland usually got the short end of the stick. 104 years later, in 1707, the Scottish parliament was abolished (the reasons for this are complicated but many Scots still believe that Scotland was "bought and sold for English gold"). With the abolition of the Scottish parliament the parliament at Westminster in London made all decisions for the newly created 'United Kingdom". It was in 1707 that Scotland ceased to be an independent nation and became part of the UK, to the satisfaction of many modern day Scots but also to the very strong dissatisfaction of many others.

Calls for the re-establishment of the Scottish parliament (within the UK) began 'in earnest' in the 1970's by the Scottish National Party (SNP, founded in 1934) and in 1999 their efforts bore victorious fruit. The Scottish Parliament was re-convened after 292 years. Scotland remains a part of the UK but many of its laws are now decided upon by the parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh. Many others, however, are still made in London. This is called devolution. The Scottish parliament at Holyrood has limited 'devolved' powers. Again, some Scots are happy with this, some are not. Those who are not will be happy with nothing less than full independence and a return of Scotland's historic position as a free and sovereign nation. This is the ultimate goal of the SNP. (end of primer)

This past Thursday (May 5th) Scotland held a routine election of members to the Scottish parliament. As in any election, each party hopes to take control of the governing body. There are 3 other 'major' parties in Scotland. Before yesterday, although the SNP had control of the parliament they didn't have a clear majority (unlike U.S. politics the first does not necessarily equal the second). Yesterday that changed. The SNP took 69 of the available 129 seats up for grabs. Their closest opposition took 37 seats. In fact the minister for our area got more votes than all of his opponents combined. Needless to say I know a lot of people who are on a really big high right now (It reminds me of the euphoria felt by so many of us when Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008). The reality of independence feels so close they can almost taste it. A majority in the Scottish parliament gives the SNP much more leverage to advance their goal of independence and gain additional support from the public. Currently a referendum is scheduled to be put to the Scottish voters in 2014.

This is where I make my disclaimer. I do not presume to know more about the desires of the Sottish people or the realities of their politics than they do themselves. This is simply my own perspective of the situation as someone who has lived here for a while and is keenly interested in the topic. Most who know me also know that I support Scottish independence 100%. The UK is not a homogeneous society, despite 304 years of amalgamation. Over the last three centuries and against all odds, Scotland has retained its culture, its national pride and its identity on the world stage. The people of Scotland deserve control of their own country, not just partial control as devolution provides, but complete. That being said, there is still a lot of work to do and a long road ahead before independence becomes a reality (and I believe it will).

Rather than re-writing what I've already written, here is a paper I wrote for my politics class last year on devolution and Scottish independence...

In the 1990’s John Major claimed that devolution would lead to
“ the break-up of the United Kingdom”. On the other hand, George Robinson believed it would “kill nationalism stone dead”. Eleven years after the re-convening of the Scottish Parliament neither extreme has yet happened. The United Kingdom remains intact, yet Scottish nationalism is alive and well. However, the future of devolution is still a much-debated issue in UK politics. The debate centers not on whether it should be continued; devolution is definitely here to stay. “The Scottish Parliament… has embedded itself in both the consciousness of the people of Scotland and the constitution of the United Kingdom.” Rather, the debate centers on how far devolution should be extended. Some would argue that the current balance between powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament and those reserved to Westminster is sufficient, at least for now. The Calman Commission has recommended that devolution be extended to give the Scottish Parliament more control over issues that directly affect the Scottish people. Yet the SNP led Scottish Government is calling for even further reaching changes toward full devolution and fiscal autonomy within the United Kingdom, which they see as an acceptable, albeit temporary, alternative to their ultimate goal of independence. To further complicate matters, in the midst of this debate sits the West Lothian Question: Should Scottish ministers in Westminster have the right to vote on matters that affect only England when like issues affecting only Scotland are now decided upon solely within the Scottish Parliament? Devolution may be ‘the will of the Scottish people’ but it is far from being ‘settled’.
In June 2009, the Commission on Scottish Devolution (or the ‘Calman Commission’ as it became known) published its review of Scottish devolution in a report that had been commissioned by the Parliament at Holyrood and supported by Westminster. The purpose of the Calman Commission was to explore ways of:

•“enabling the Scottish Parliament to serve the people of Scotland better;
•improving the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament; and
•continuing to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom.”

Among the issues considered by the commission in Part Three of the final report was a focus on “Strengthening accountability in finance”. The main recommendations in this area were:

“The Scottish Variable Rate of income tax should be
replaced by a new Scottish rate of income tax, collected by
HMRC, which should apply to the basic and higher rates of
income tax.
To make this possible, the basic and higher rates of
income tax levied by the UK Government in Scotland should be
reduced by 10 pence in the pound…

Income tax on savings and distributions should not be
devolved to the Scottish Parliament, but half of the yield should be
assigned to the Scottish Parliament’s Budget…”

“Stamp Duty Land Tax, Aggregates Levy, Landfill Tax and Air
Passenger Duty should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament…”

It was recommended that all of these changes should be reflected in a corresponding reduction in the block grant made from the UK Parliament, which should continue to make up the remainder of the Scottish Parliament’s Budget but it should be justified by need. The commission also recommended that:

“The structure of the income tax system…should remain entirely the responsibility of the UK Parliament.”

“The Scottish Parliament should be given a power to
legislate with the agreement of the UK Parliament to introduce specified new taxes that apply across Scotland.”

“Until such times as a proper assessment of relative spending need across the UK is carried out, the Barnett formula, should continue to be used as the basis for calculating the proportionately
reduced block grant.”

All of the commission’s recommendations were made with consideration of Scotland’s position within the United Kingdom, the constitutionality of such changes and the goal of bringing financial responsibility to the level of government closest to the people of Scotland.

In November 2009 Scotland’s SNP government published its own recommendations in what it called a ‘National Conversation’, a consultation process based on their previously published white paper titled ‘Choosing Scotland’s Future’ and aimed at addressing Scotland’s constitutional options. These options included:

•“continuing with the current constitutional settlement with no or minimal change;
•extending devolved power in Scotland in areas identified during the National Conversation; or
•taking the steps to allow Scotland to become a fully independent country.”

The Scottish Government, through the National Conversation, addressed the recommendations of the Calman Commission point by point agreeing with the commission’s list of additional powers that can and should be devolved. The National Conversation, however, took the process further by expanding that list to incorporate other powers it believes should be devolved or, in a few cases, shared with the UK Parliament, leading to full devolution within the United Kingdom. The preference of the current Scottish Government is first and foremost independence, with full devolution being seen as an acceptable stepping-stone to that end.
In considering full devolution the National Conversation addressed many issues including full fiscal autonomy for the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government rather than the piecemeal proposals of the Calman Commission. They should be responsible for “raising, collecting and administering all (or the vast majority of) revenues in Scotland. "A remittance or subvention from Scotland to the United Kingdom would be required to cover common United Kingdom public goods and services, such as defence and foreign affairs.” A fully devolved benefits system is also recommended, citing devolved child support, social security and pensions in Northern Ireland. This would be dependent on “appropriate levels of fiscal autonomy in Scotland”. Further devolution on Transport is proposed, including Fuel duty and vehicle excise duty. This is in contrast to the Calman Commission’s single recommendation of a devolved Air Passenger Duty. The Calman Commission gave no recommendations for the further devolution of Scotland’s very limited responsibilities in the area of Energy. The National Conversation calls for extensive devolution in this area including the oil and gas industry and the Fossil Fuel Levy Fund to encourage renewable energy.
While the Calman Commission took no consideration of an independent Scotland, The National Conversation put it forth as the ideal alternative in every area: “Under independence Scotland would assume the rights and responsibilities of a normal sovereign state. This would include all decisions on economic and fiscal affairs, currency, the constitution, foreign affairs, security and defence. Scotland would be recognized as a state by the international community and be a part of the European Union as a full member state.”
Though the status quo of Scottish devolution was used, in both reports, as a reference point in relation to the proposed changes, it was never suggested as an option. There is, however, a minority population decidedly in favor of the status quo. In response to the recommendations of the Calman Commission Dr. Norman Bonney, of the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, believes the argument that ‘further powers of taxation would make the Scottish Parliament more fiscally responsible’ is an argument that is often asserted yet “rarely justified”. Bonney argues that the Scottish Parliament should be required to show that they have “effectively managed the spending responsibilities they have before there should be consideration of additional taxation and spending powers”. He asserts that, until it can be shown that the money spent on healthcare per person in Scotland has “led to greater gains in health…compared to the period 1990-1999 in Scotland prior to devolution” as well as that local government expenditures have been more effective since devolution, “it is difficult to demonstrate that additional powers will result in improved outcomes for the Scottish people”.
Further devolution is likely to give rise to further discussion of the West Lothian Question. According to one constitutional expert, Bernard Crick, who addressed the WLQ in advance of devolution in 1995, the only “rational answer is a federal constitution with an English Parliament as well as a United Kingdom one”. That proving very unpopular with the English people, other options have been put forth, such as the Conservative proposal to restrict Scottish MP’s voting privileges on legislation that would affect only England. The counter argument to this proposal is that Scottish MP’s are full members of the UK Parliament and have every right to vote on all matters brought before the House of Commons. To exclude them from any stage of the legislative process “would create a two-tier Parliament, with Scottish MP’s turned into second-class members of the Commons”.
Devolution is a process, not a one-off constitutional settlement, perpetually set in stone. It remains to be seen, though, just how far that process will go. It is only natural that, over time, as the Scottish Parliament finds its footing it will believe itself entitled to more control over the issues and legislation that affect the Scottish people. But there is a limit to what powers can realistically and, more importantly, constitutionally be devolved while Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom, the position currently favored by most Scots. The Scottish National Party, however, will undoubtedly continue to push the boundaries of devolution in its efforts toward independence and it remains to be seen whether John Major’s prophesy of doom for the United Kingdom will eventually be proven correct. Either way, devolution is, most assuredly, ‘unfinished business’ and will remain so for some time to come.


Commission on Scottish Devolution, Serving Scotland Better: Scotland and the United Kingdom in the 21st Century, [15 June 2009].

Bonney, N., ‘Looming Issues for Scotland and the Union’ Political Quarterly, vol. 79 no. 4 [2008].

Chidwick, R., “Conservatives deny they plan West Lothian veto”, [15 April 2010].$1371420.htm

Crick, B., ‘Ambushes and Advances: The Scottish Act 1998’ Political Quarterly, vol. 66 no. 4 [1995].

Devine, T., “Old Scotland took the high road. New Scotland is upwardly mobile” The Independent on Sunday [online]. [11 May 2008].

Jeffery, C., ‘An Outbreak of Consensus: Scottish Politics after Devolution’. Political Insight Magazine, [online] [April 2010].

Kirkup, J., “David Cameron to ban Scottish MPs from voting on English laws”, [30 June 2008].

McSmith, A., “The Big Question: What is the West Lothian question, and can it be resolved satisfactorily?”, The Independent [online]. [4 July 2006]. westlothian-question-and-can-it-be-resolved-satisfactorily-406571.html

This was an academic paper so I had to be very careful to avoid my own bias when I wrote it but I can tell you that for every point made in the Calman Commission's Report concerning certain powers that they felt should be retained by Westminster, the SNP responded with solid and responsible reasons why they should be devolved. Of course the commission did not consider independence as an option at all but the SNP, in their response, put it forth as the best option in every situation.

Here's the problem though. The Scottish people themselves are divided on the issue of independence. There is a minority who actually believe that there is no need for a Scottish parliament at all and that the UK parliament at Westminster should make all laws pertaining to the entire United Kingdom. There are others who think devolution is a good thing but that no further changes are necessary. Still others believe that more powers should be devolved to the Scottish parliament but they don't support full independence. Even those who desire independence are divided. The Scots who have been on a high since Thursday want independence and they want it NOW. Others would 'ideally' like to see Scotland gain its independence from the rest of the UK (which includes England, Wales and Northern Ireland) but they don't believe Scotland could survive and grow economically on its own so they prefer to remain part of the larger union. It's these people that the SNP needs to target! They need to be convinced that it is possible; that Scotland DOES have the capability to be politically and economically independent.

There are other small European nations who have flourished economically after independence. Certain tax breaks and incentives could be extended to draw international business and foreign investment to Scotland but under the current conditions Scotland does not have the power to make those changes. Those are some of the powers 'reserved' to Westminster. Many people site the oil industry as Scotland's cash cow. Unfortunately the oil industry is a diminishing resource and can't be relied on in the long term. But Scotland has other industries that, if it had full control over, could help to secure its independent economy.

As I said before, I love the Nationalist headiness that I have seen over the last couple of days but I believe the patriotic duty of every Scottish citizen who dreams of independence is to educate themselves so they can effectively lobby their fellow citizens when the subject of independence comes up!

The Calman Commission's Report can be found at

The SNP response to it can be found at

So that's my 2 cents. I applaud anyone who has gotten through my entire rant!

1 comment:

Sam Manila said...
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