Referendums BBC Devolution Scotland Wales

assembly building
One possible site for the Scottish Assembly - the old Royal High School in Edinburgh

Scottish Devolution

Briefing by Brian Taylor, Political Editor, BBC Scotland

Government Approach
Key Proposals
Devolution Support
Legislation and Powers
The Scottish Parliament
The Referendum
Plus Ca Change
1979 Remembered
Opposition Perspectives


Scottish devolution or home rule is an issue for the whole of the United Kingdom. If it is to be enacted, it will be enacted by the UK Parliament. There are consequential issues for UK governance. That does not mean, however, that each element of the devolution debate is of uniform importance across the UK. Voters in Scotland may attach more importance to the issue of self-government or the question of tax-varying powers.

The "West Lothian" question - covering the impact upon subsequent voting at Westminster - may be of more importance to electors in England.

It may be valuable to bear that distinction in mind in the run-up to the referendum and - depending on outcome - subsequent legislation. What is critical to one section of the UK may be a matter of relative indifference to another.

That is perhaps a function of the Union - as opposed to unitary - state in which we live. The Government's proposals for devolution are the latest efforts to accommodate the apparent desire for Scottish self-determination within that Union state.

Government Approach

Labour set out its proposals in opposition and now intends to legislate, subsequent to the consent of Scottish electors in a two question referendum. The Bill for referendums in Scotland and Wales was published on 15 May 1997: with the people of Scotland scheduled to deliver their verdict on September 11.

We should note first of all that - by contrast with the previous devolution referendum in 1979 - the people will be offering that verdict upon a White Paper setting out the framework of proposed reforms rather than upon finished legislation.

That has provoked some controversy among those generally hostile to Home Rule, with much use of the phrase "pig in a poke". Critics insist that a FURTHER referendum may be necessary if the final package which emerges from Parliamentary scrutiny varies considerably from the White Paper.

The Government's response is that the White Paper is a comprehensive document setting out in considerable detail their plans for legislative devolution. In addition, they argue that their approach has two advantages: to determine finally the extent of popular support for devolution and the notion of tax-varying powers which is addressed in a separate referendum question; and to ensure that the legislation passes speedily through Parliament backed with the anticipated force of a popular mandate.

It's also claimed that such a popular mandate would provide entrenchment - moral if not constitutional - against those who might in future seek to reverse the devolutionary process.

Depending on the outcome of the referendum, full-scale devolution legislation would then follow. The aim would be to hold elections to the first devolved Scottish Parliament in May 1999. Following a transitional period to effect the handover of power, the new devolved Parliament would have full responsibility from the start of the new millennium.

Key Proposals

Detailed content of the White Paper can be found in a BBC briefing elsewhere on the net. My object here is to analyse matters arising which may provoke interest or controversy.

But in short the Government proposes an elected, devolved Scottish Parliament - firmly part of the United Kingdom constitutional arrangements. Its principal role would be to legislate for matters affecting Scotland: those areas such as education, health, the criminal law, the environment and industrial support which are already administratively devolved to the Scottish Office.

Matters such as defence, foreign policy and the broad economy would still be run by Westminster. By contrast with the 1970s, the legislation will define those issues to be reserved to Westminster - with all else assumed to be devolved.

The Parliament would have 129 members elected partly via the Additional Member system through regional party lists in an effort to match Parliamentary membership to party support. There would be a First Minister: generally from the largest party or lead party in a governing coalition. The Queen would remain Head of State in Scotland.

Funding would follow the present system: broadly a Block Grant distributed annually by the Treasury and varied according to a formula which links Scottish funding to the changes in English departmental budgets. In addition, it's envisaged that the Scottish Parliament would be given the power to raise or lower the basic rate of income tax by three pence in the pound. The Scottish Parliament would have no power over other taxation. Specifically, it would not be able to vary business taxation.. That's the bare framework. Let's look at a few matters arising from that framework: matters of controversy, matters of consensus.

Devolution Support

We should note first of all that the scheme for Scottish devolution did not surface solely in the weeks following the May 1 General Election. Rather it was a product of months, years - some would say centuries - considering the question of self-government for Scotland.

Specifically, the Government's plan broadly follows the detailed scheme worked out by the cross-party Constitutional Convention which began its work in 1989 while Labour was in opposition - and had been in opposition for ten years.

Before that, Labour had attempted to legislate for Scottish Home Rule with the 1978 Act. Before that, there had been a century of varying efforts to devolve power to Scotland. Before THAT, there had been advocacy of Scottish self-determination in various forms dating back to the Union of the Parliaments of Scotland and England in 1707.

It is indeed a standing joke in Scotland that devolution resembles evolution - but takes longer. There had been some speculation that the Government might overturn the work of the Convention: which brought together the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the trades unions, the local authorities, the churches and various civic groups. It was claimed that the new Labour Ministers would find the constraints of government demanded different solutions from the pressures of opposition.

In the event, though, the White Paper is very familiar to those who followed the Convention's work: retaining the voting system, the broad list of powers to be devolved, the funding mechanism, and the tax-varying power. This has considerably encouraged those who worked within the Convention mechanism. The Scottish National Party stayed out of the Convention because they feared their policy of full independence for Scotland would not be offered to the people as an alternative in any subsequent test of popular opinion. They feared in short that they would find themselves recruited as foot soldiers in a campaign for another party's policy: broadly, Labour's devolution strategy.

Now, however, the Nationalists have decided to campaign vigorously for a Yes/Yes vote in the Referendum. Their National Council - meeting in Perth on August 2 - took the view, with only a few voices dissenting, that the immediate interests of Scotland and the SNP were served by endorsing the programme of limited self-government on offer while still adhering to the ultimate objective of full independence.

The party leader Alex Salmond argued that once Scots had tasted a little power, they would hanker after the "real thing" - and move towards independence. His predecessor Gordon Wilson warned that devolution was a blind alley. Mr Wilson, calling upon his memories of the 1979 Referendum Campaign, argued that the SNP would suffer electorally from attaching themselves to the unsatisfactory policy of a rival party.

SNP support has been warmly welcomed by the Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar - and by the umbrella Yes campaign Scotland Forward.

No campaigners however will point to an apparent devolution dichotomy. Donald Dewar says devolution will bind the Union together. Alex Salmond says devolution will break the Union. That fundamental division has the potential to pose problems for the range of opinion now supporting the Government's plans.

When challenged, Mr Dewar and Mr Salmond both resolve that apparent dichotomy by an accommodation based around popular sovereignty. The formula they use rests with the will of the Scottish people. Both indicate that, ultimately, the Scots must determine their own constitutional future. In other words, no Westminster statute can bind Scots into the Union if they have demonstrably voted for independence. Equally, Scotland cannot be driven into independence through the mechanism of devolution if Scots demonstrably don't want independence. Alex Salmond, naturally, lays stress on the first part of that equation. Donald Dewar lays stress on the second.

Legislation and Powers

The core of devolution lies in the power to legislate. It's argued by supporters that this will allow Scottish legislation to be tailored precisely to the demonstrable wishes of the Scots. It's further argued that this has plainly not been the case during the recent extended period of Conservative rule at Westminster. Scots, we're reminded, repeatedly voted for parties other than the Conservatives. England's relative voting strength produced Conservative government for the whole of the UK including Scotland.

In addition, it's argued that the existing, distinct body of Scots Law does not get sufficient time or attention from Westminster to ensure that it is updated and revised. It's argued that Scotland has the only separate legal system in the world without a distinctive legislature to amend it.

The essence of the Government's approach is that those matters which are already administratively devolved to the Scottish Office or contained within the ambit of Scots Law will in future be covered by a Parliament directly elected by the people of Scotland alone.

There has already been publicity over the extent of those devolved powers. It's pointed out that a Scottish Parliament could restore hanging. Yes, say Home Rulers, it could. That's the whole point of devolution. But, they add, in all likelihood it wouldn't.

Intriguingly, however, controversy up to and beyond the referendum may focus more upon those powers RETAINED at Westminster. There are the single issues which concern particular groups of voters. Is it right, for example, that abortion law should be retained as an area for Westminster decision-making?

Then there are the large-scale controversies which go right to the heart of the self-government debate. What will be the relationship between Scotland and Westminster? Between Scotland and Europe? What about the West Lothian question? Let's look at these in turn.

Scotland and Westminster

One power which is retained at Westminster is the power over the Constitution. It's claimed by some Nationalists that this places a "concrete ceiling" upon their aspirations to transform devolution into ultimate independence: that Westminster could veto such moves by a Scottish Parliament.

Certainly, the White Paper is very firm about the fact that this is devolution: not independence. That Scotland would remain part of the United Kingdom. That Westminster is sovereign.

But perhaps the true answer to this issue lies in the Dewar/Salmond attitudes outlined above. If the Nationalists gain a clear majority, then there would be agitation for the process of independence negotiations between Scotland and London to begin, regardless of previous Westminster statute. If they don't gain that majority, then the issue doesn't arise.

Then what about possible conflict between the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments over legislation? It's argued - again by those sceptical or hostile - that tension between the two Parliaments would create instability, perhaps posing a question mark over the future of the Union. Legislative conflict, it's claimed, would be an element of that.

The White Paper specifies that there should be pre-legislative checks in Scotland to ensure that the planned new Parliament is not acting beyond its remit. There would be a pause after Scottish Parliamentary legislation to allow the UK Parliament to ensure that their territory is not being breached. Any disputes would be tackled by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, consisting of at least five Law Lords.

Another key question is what would happen to the office of Secretary for State for Scotland. The White Paper envisages that this individual would remain a member of the UK government to liaise between Scotland and Westminster - and to look after Scottish interests within fields such as defence which remain under London control.

But - with the Scottish Office civil service broadly transferred to the new Parliament - there are already question marks over this arrangement. The Liberal Democrats have said that they see no role for the Scottish Secretary - and even some Labour figures are prepared to concede privately that the continuation of the office may prove an interim arrangement to allow the new Parliament to bed down. The key to the entire thing would appear to be the development of a working arrangement - both formal and informal - between what would be two Parliaments and two Governments.

Scotland and Europe

This is another area of potential controversy which may well feature during the referendum and beyond. The White Paper stresses repeatedly that "relations with Europe are the responsibility of the United Kingdom Parliament and Government."

It's envisaged however that Ministers of the Scottish Parliament would be consulted - and might speak at European Council meetings: always provided that they adhere precisely to the agreed UK line. The White Paper sees this working, both formally and informally, as a collaborative arrangement for the mutual good.

This may come under questioning from two fronts. One, the question of influence in Europe has grown in importance for the Nationalists who have developed - from a previous position of opposition to the EEC - a platform of arguing that Scotland's interests are best served by independent representation in European talks and decision-making.

If not in the run-up to the referendum, they might be expected to argue this case vigorously should a Scottish devolved Parliament be established.

Take an example. What if critical European fisheries talks are under way? The UK government requires to establish the UK line. But might that not differ markedly from the Scottish line: if sectoral Scottish interests are particularly under threat? It is at the very least an area of potential tension - although the tone of the White Paper is that regular (and confidential) contact can produce an accommodation.

Secondly, there's the mirror image question. What if Scottish interests are seen to be leading the UK perspective - because of the role of Scottish Ministers in formulating the UK line? Tory critics in the Commons have already complained that - in such circumstances - they would be unable to question or call to account the Scottish Ministers involved.

Again, the White Paper lays stress on the ultimate primacy of the UK government - and, in effect, challenges the future Scottish Executive and Parliament to adopt the collaborative approach which would be needed to make such an arrangement work.

The West Lothian Question

This has become a convenient shorthand for the tensions which would allegedly arise upon the establishment of devolution for one part of the United Kingdom only.

In its original form - as advanced by the Labour MP Tam Dalyell, whose constituency was formerly called West Lothian - the question asked how it could be right that a Scottish MP at WESTMINSTER after devolution could vote upon matters such as education affecting English seats - but that same MP could not vote on such matters affecting his own constituency because they would have been devolved to a Scottish Parliament.

Today the question is more commonly assumed to challenge the fact that Scottish members at Westminster would continue to vote upon English matters while MPs from England had lost the power to influence Scottish affairs which had been devolved to Edinburgh.

According to Mr Dalyell and others, this would create resentment in England, constitutional instability and ultimately the breaking of the Union.

It is presumed there would be particular resentment if the addition of Scottish votes altered the political make-up of the Commons: for example, if England had returned mostly Conservatives but Scotland's Labour Mps produced an overall Labour majority.

It has become a political cliche to say that there is no answer to the West Lothian question. As so often in politics, however, there are a series of potential rebuttals which we can expect to hear offered during the course of devolutionary debate.

One, it will be pointed out that the West Lothian question patently doesn't apply at present - England has voted Labour - and has applied very infrequently in the past.

Two, it will be argued that the potential West Lothian anomaly is outweighed by the actual past anomaly of Scotland voting predominantly for one party - Labour - and being governed by the Conservatives.

Three, the Government case is that the sovereign Westminster Parliament will be opting of its own free will to devolve power to Scotland - to create the anomaly, if you like. This is broadly an extension of the mandate argument: the Government has been granted power by the people and proposes to use it. Four, it will be pointed out that there has been in the past a parallel anomaly when Northern Ireland had its own assembly but continued to send members to Westminster. The particularly sensitivities of Northern Ireland tend to reduce the frequency with which this argument is deployed.

These, as I say, are rebuttals - not answers. The principal Government endeavour to remove the sting from West Lothian lies with signalling a reduction in the number of Scottish Mps at Westminster. This is to be done by liberating the Boundaries Commission from the stipulation that there must be a minimum of 71 Mps from Scotland. There are presently 72. The outcome of the Boundary Commission's new free-thinking approach would be implemented for the General Election after next: in other words, up to a decade hence.

Rough parity with England in terms of constituents per MP would cut Scotland's stake from 72 to around 58. From a previous position of insisting that Scotland should retain 72 Westminster Mps, Labour is now effectively prepared to accept such a reduction - without, of course, specifying numbers.

This of itself wouldn't answer West Lothian. That could be done in three ways. One, the Liberal Democrat policy of federalism - which doesn't presently commend itself to either the Labour or Conservative Parties. Two, by obliging Scottish Mps to absent themselves from Westminster votes on purely English matters. That is unlikely to commend itself as a practical solution to a government - of either colour - seeking a consistent and reliable majority in a House where votes on a range of issues can occasionally arise without notice. It is of course possible that individual parties may opt to abstain voluntarily. Three, Scottish Mps may be removed permanently from the Commons - with the breaking of the Union settlement.

If the controversy over West Lothian becomes ever more strident, we may expect to hear Labour warn that the third option could become the inadvertent outcome.

There is a core argument underpinning the strategy of reducing the number of Scottish Mps at Westminster. This is that - as long as England is prepared to accept the continuation of the Union settlement - then Westminster should accept Scottish Mps with the new proviso that there wouldn't be exceptional numbers beyond Scotland's population entitlement.

In raw terms, England's constitutional position will not be perceived to be any worse as a consequence of devolution. Indeed, it could be argued that the concomitant cut in Scottish Mps at Westminster brings a relative strengthening of England's position.

Again, this doesn't answer West Lothian. And it doesn't guarantee the removal of personal or institutional tensions post-devolution. But it may at the very least look like an acknowledgement of understandable English concerns.

The Scottish Parliament

There would be a corollary to the potential reduction of Scottish Mps at Westminster. The proposed size of the Scottish Parliament - 129 members - would be reduced. This has caused a certain amount of grief among the wider pro-devolution camp as the figure of 129 was the result of endless agonising among members of the Convention.

The knock-on cut comes because of the wish to make Westminster's constituency map the same as the one for the Scottish Parliament. So, if a seat is abolished for Westminster, it would similarly be abolished for Edinburgh.

There would then be a proportionate reduction in the number of additional members from the list. The hypothetical nature of this issue has tended to mute protest so far - but it may be an issue to watch. Turning to voting for the Scottish Parliament itself. Perhaps it should be stressed at the outset that - although the constituency map is intended to be the same - the Mps in the Scottish Parliament would be DIFFERENT individuals from those at Westminster. They would be separately elected.

Individual parties are likely to allow an overlap for the first term. In other words, a Westminster politician could seek membership of the Scottish Parliament - and then serve out the remainder of a Westminster term. After that, they would have to choose where the political future lay.

People living in Scotland - including peers, citizens of the European Union and Commonwealth citizens - would cast two votes in Scottish Parliamentary elections. They'd vote on one ballot paper for a constituency MP in the familiar way. They'd vote a second time for a party or group on a regional list. It's envisaged of course that parties would publish their lists of hopefuls so that the voters would know what they were in for.

Those list votes would be counted in each of Scotland's eight Euro-constituencies - and seats allocated so that the TOTAL representation from each area (including those elected first past the post) corresponded as nearly as possible to the share of the vote obtained by each party in that area.

Those advocating this system cite two advantages. They say it will remove the fear of those outwith the central belt of Scotland that they would simply be substituting one form of remote government (London) for another (Edinburgh). And they say it would remove the prospect of near-permanent Labour rule with a minority of the popular vote which the present electoral system would entail. Labour leaders themselves talk of the political sacrifice which their party is making in the interests of wider Scottish consensus.

There may be other motivations, however. During the election, Labour's Scottish General Secretary Jack McConnell was challenged to confirm that the intention of the reformed voting system was to prevent the SNP from gaining power in the devolved Parliament with a minority of the popular vote. Mr McConnell replied: "Correct."

The initial motivation, of course, was to keep the Liberal Democrats onside in the Convention at a time when Labour, in Opposition, was anxious to demonstrate its willingness to respond constructively to the democratic crisis allegedly created in Scotland by Conservative rule.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have additionally endorsed an electoral pact whereby they pledge to aim for equal numbers of men and women in the new Parliament.

Conservative critics say the proposed voting system puts too much power in the hands of party elites to pick the lists. Supporters say it provides a possible motivation to consider electoral reform for Westminster.


As outlined above, the present funding arrangements for Scotland would broadly continue. At an earlier stage, there was talk of "assigned revenues" whereby all the taxes collected in Scotland would accrue to Edinburgh - with subventions to/from the Treasury where necessary.

But that has been abandoned as cumbersome. Instead, it's proposed that Scotland will continue to be funded by a form of Block Grant varied annually according to the existing Barnett/Goschen formula whereby Scotland's budget is amended by a proportion of the CHANGE in budgets elsewhere. This was intended -over a long period - to narrow the relative spending advantage which Scotland enjoys: although in practice the gap has not diminished all that much.

In addition, it's envisaged that the Parliament would have the POWER to raise or lower the basic rate of income tax by three pence in the pound. Labour has stressed that - were it to govern in a devolved Scotland - it would not envisage USING this power in the initial stages. This means it would not breach its UK pledge of no increase in tax rates for the lifetime of the Westminster Parliament. Back-up information from the Scottish Office stresses that liability to this tax power would be restricted to Scottish residents: around 2.4 million Scottish income tax payers. It's said that more than 25 per cent of these would not be affected by tax-varying powers because they are lower rate tax payers.

Of the rest, it's said that nearly two-thirds would pay 145 per year on average IF tax were to be increased by the full 3p. The maximum payable is said to be 660 - affecting only 7 per cent of Scottish income tax payers.

In addition, Mr Dewar is now indicating that he might favour this power being used - if at all - for special, time-limited projects requiring a clear subvention from the taxpayer. This, however, would not be specified in the legislation and would remain a matter for the Scottish Parliament to decide. If Edinburgh opted to increase income tax, it would self-evidently keep the additional revenue.

Equally, if Edinburgh opted to cut income tax it would have to forego the equivalent in cash from the Treasury and make cuts in its budget. As the original Convention document says: "There will be no question of England subsidising tax cuts in Scotland."

There are still questions arising however. The former Tory Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth made considerable play of his attacks on the tax power - which he dubbed the Tartan Tax. This is now forming the basis of the No campaign - which is formally distinct from the Conservative Party although a number of Tory supporters are on board.

More than one Home Ruler fears that the referendum campaign is descending into a slanging match over tax rather than the wider purpose of devolution. The Liberal Democrats, in particular, see this as a consequence of Labour's decision to insist upon a second question covering tax.

In addition, it's probable that the devolution debate will spotlight Scotland's relative spending advantage. It may be - as the Convention points out - that subsequent tax cuts would not be sponsored by England. However, it's likely that the EXISTING financial set-up will come under close scrutiny. The Treasury has long regarded Scotland as over-funded and has sought retrenchment.

The White Paper itself indicates that any "substantial revision" of the formula governing the change in Scotland's funding would require "an in-depth study of relative spending requirements" and maximum consultation between London and Edinburgh.

In due course, this could presumably turn into the study of relative needs which some argue would result in cuts in Scotland's historically high level of funding. But for now it is important to stress that Mr Dewar has secured the retention of the existing financial set-up.

These issues will undoubtedly be raised again - although it's scarcely credible that the PRESENT administration would raid Scotland's budget: given its political make-up and its determination to make devolution succeed.

The Referendum

This will be on the 11th of September with the Welsh popular ballot following a week later. The intention is to clear the ground before the autumn party conferences.

For the Scottish count, there will be a chief counting officer - Neil McIntosh, formerly the chief executive of Strathclyde Regional Council - with local effort supervised by Scotland's 32 councils under Scottish Office guidance. The electorate will be the same as for local council elections. The total number entitled to vote in Scotland would therefore be 3,995,923. The council electorate is based, naturally, on residence and differs somewhat from general election registers. The figure includes 123 peers who would be entitled to vote - as well as 12,660 EU nationals resident in Scotland who would also have their say. It excludes 1466 overseas electors who have registered to vote in general elections.

It also excludes, as Tam Dalyell has pointed out, Scots resident in England. The Government insists it has followed the precedent of 1979 - with the exception of EU nationals for whom the provision has changed by European law. Ministers also insist it's reasonable for the franchise to include those resident in Scotland who would be governed by the planned Parliament.

Voters will be given two ballot papers. The first will deal with the principle of devolution. They'll be asked to mark their cross against one of two statements as follows:

  • I agree that there should be a Scottish Parliament, OR
  • I do not agree that there should be a Scottish Parliament.

The second paper will follow a similar format, asking voters to choose between two options on tax powers.

  • I agree that a Scottish Parliament should have tax varying powers OR
  • I do not agree that the Scottish Parliament should have tax varying powers.

Voting will be by a simple majority in each case. Opinion polls published since the Bill was introduced suggest support for the Government on both counts: although enthusiasm for the second question on tax powers would appear to be less and there are variations between supporters of individual parties.

Opinion polls, of course, carry the customary warnings as to accuracy and reliability. The hyper-cautious - if they have been around for a while - might recollect that opinion polls before the 1979 referendum suggested a comfortable lead for devolution: although not as wide as the present apparent gap. A System Three poll in February 1979, for example, indicated devolution favoured by 45 per cent to 35, with 20 per cent undecided. Scotsman/ORC figures in the same month were: 49 in favour, 33 against, 13 per cent undecided and 4 per cent not voting. The outcome of course was a very narrow victory for the Yes camp.

This time around the Yes campaign has formed around an organisation born out of the Convention and fronted by a businessman, Nigel Smith. Entitled Scotland Forward, it's intended to form the umbrella campaign for individual party campaigns. It's already had a successful launch, a well-attended Edinburgh conference and events around the country.

Behind the scenes, there are concerns: does this umbrella organisation have the verve and drive to motivate the Scots; will voters receive a confusing message from party campaigns PLUS Scotland Forward; will the voters feel they have already delivered their verdict in the general election and fail to see the point of the referendum; and might the continuing controversy over elements of Scottish Labour - Paisley, Govan, Glasgow Council - foster exactly the wrong image at a time when the object is to depict Scotland striding forward from its divided and divisive past? Scotland Forward is confident it can address all these nagging doubts.

The No campaign is proving sluggish. It was brought together by Brian Monteith - a free-market Tory who maintains Scottish grassroots through passionate support of Hibernian FC. Prominent names on board include Donald Findlay QC, the vice-chairman of Glasgow Rangers, and senior Tory peer Lord Fraser whose task is apparently to act as a conduit for business support.

It's unlikely that the No camp will have the punch it had in 1979. Business, in particular, is notably reluctant to come out bluntly against a project which has the fervent support of a new Government with a large majority which looks set to wield power for some considerable time. In addition, Government Ministers have worked tirelessly to convince key sectors of business opinion that they should at least remain neutral.

That's in sharp contrast with the position in 1979 - when the government was apparently reaching its close. It would be a mistake, however, to underestimate the residual suspicion of the commercial and industrial establishment regarding change which they perceive as damaging or, at the very least, unnecessary. Privately, senior No campaigners indicate that they're seeking mainly to dent or defeat the second question on tax.


Perhaps the classic error in observing devolution is to consider it as an end in itself. I would argue that the factor which motivates devolution is the same as the factor which formed the SNP and helped in the obliteration of the Scottish Tories at the last election. It's Scottish patriotism: a vague, non-specific wish for self-determination.

That's NOT to say that Labour is motivated by fear of Nationalism. That charge has been levelled in the past. Rather Labour is alert to the same emotion, the same drive as the SNP.

Independence is the SNP answer. Federalism is the Liberal Democrat answer. Devolution is the answer offered by the Labour party.

Research published by Dr James Mitchell of Strathclyde University appears to confirm what is anecdotally obvious: that people living in Scotland increasingly feel Scottish rather than British and want that reflected in their political structures.

Mitchell suggests that's partly a function of the relative decline in importance of the British state. It might also be said to be a function of the revival in Scottish cultural nationalism. Whatever, it's there.

It created the SNP. It has brought the Scottish Labour party through periods of relative hostility towards devolution to the present position of confirmed support. Perhaps most strikingly, it is a significant factor in the decline of the Conservative Party in Scotland.

Even Tory supporters will concede that the party is identified with England by many Scots voters: with results which we witnessed on May 1.

The Tories - once known as the Scottish Unionists and able to command 50.1 per cent of the popular vote with 36 Mps in 1955 - now have no Scottish Members of Parliament, no MEPs and control no councils.

Plus Ca Change

Do you remember the first meeting of the Scottish Convention to draw up a scheme of devolution? It was on 15 November 1924. There was yet another convention after World War II - before the latest one which has led to the present scheme.

Do you remember when the Scottish Tories advocated increased administrative devolution in a strategy paper? No, not Michael Forsyth. But 3 November 1949.

Do you remember the Commons carrying a Scottish Home Rule motion? No, not the 1970s. But 3 April 1894.

It's important to bear in mind that Home Rule is a very long-running story in Scotland. There have been a bewildering range of organisations featuring amalgams of various political parties which have campaigned for devolution for around a century or more. Throughout that period there has been widespread administrative devolution through the establishment and development of the Scottish Office: often initiated by Conservative governments. There have been Royal Commissions, SNP support has ebbed and flowed, the Tories have adopted then renounced Home Rule.

John Smith - the former Labour leader - undoubtedly had this background in mind when he described devolution as "unfinished business" - although, personally, he was also referring to his own role in the 1970s. Whether he was right to describe Home Rule as "the settled will of the Scottish people" will presumably be determined in the referendum.

1979 Remembered

When Labour first proposed a pre-legislative referendum on devolution, sections of its own Scottish support were dismayed and angry. Partly, that's owing to folk memories of the 1979 experience. As outlined above, Scottish devolution has been a long trail.

More are now prepared to accept that the referendum plan steered Labour through a difficult patch in Opposition - when Michael Forsyth appeared to be hitting home with his Tartan Tax jibes - and may help entrench Home Rule against Parliamentary opposition, particularly from the House of Lords.

But suspicions remain. In 1979, there was a similar expectation that Home Rule was about to happen. The referendum was altered by the amendment - introduced by the Labour MP George Cunningham - which provided that the Government must repeal the Scotland Act if fewer than 40 per cent of those entitled to vote opted to vote Yes. This, as critics pointed out at the time, attached weight to those who decided to stay at home for whatever reason.

The final result on 1 March 1979 was as follows:

  • YES - 51.6 per cent
  • NO - 48.4 per cent

Of the total electorate, the outcome was as follows:

  • YES - 32.9 per cent
  • NO - 30.8 per cent
  • No vote - 36.3 per cent

The Cunningham amendment was consequently in play. As the Commons considered the outcome, the Opposition tabled a motion of No Confidence. On 28 March 1979, the Callaghan government was defeated by one vote - with the SNP supporting the Opposition. The Scotland Act was finally repealed by the Tories on 20 June 1979.

Opposition Perspectives

The devolution initiative and the referendum obviously confront the Opposition parties with a choice. That choice is not as straightforward as might otherwise appear.

The Conservatives

John Major made hostility to Home Rule a key plank of his UK election appeal. He believes personally and passionately that devolution would lead to independence by the back door for Scotland and the break-up of the Union. He consequently formed a Shadow Cabinet committee - with input from the Scottish party in the absence of elected Mps - to build a strategy of opposition.

His successor, William Hague, has declared his continuing opposition to devolution. Tory leaders have promised that they will subject the Bill to close and critical scrutiny.

The SCOTTISH Conservatives however are in a difficult position. In the immediate aftermath of the election, a number of senior figures indicated that the party might have to undertake a rethink. In particular, in a BBC Scotland interview, the then chairman Annabel Goldie speculated that the Scottish Party would NOT take a collective view in the referendum. Individuals would campaign for Yes or No as they wished. The party, collectively, regarded devolution as inevitable: and effort would be expended on ensuring a substantial Conservative share of the seats in that Scottish Parliament.

There has been some retrenchment: some re-emphasis of the Conservative and Unionist position since. But, as outlined above, the party is not formally running the No campaign and few in the Scottish Tory hierarchy show much appetite for trench-warfare against devolution. There are others who argue that the Scottish Party must develop autonomously from London.

That notion won little support at a special conference of the Scottish party on June 27 in Perth. A committee was established to determine the future structure of the Scottish Tories. Defeated MP Raymond Robertson has been appointed Scottish party chairman.

In essence, the Tories are operating a twin-track policy. They are maintaining their stated opposition to devolution - while stressing all along that they would seek to represent a right-of centre perspective in a Scottish Parliament should one come about.

In practice, the Tories are quietly preparing for such an eventuality: privately hoping that their party could GAIN electorally from devolution if they can reshape themselves and shed their image as a predominantly English party.

The Liberal Democrats

They opposed the referendum - and remain particularly aggrieved over the tax question, regarding tax powers as integral rather than optional. But - after a century of support for Home Rule - they're not about to place obstacles in the way of reform. The LibDems were prominent members of the Convention, are on board for Scotland Forward, and are campaigning for a Yes vote on both counts. They regard themselves as the guarantors of devolution.

The Scottish National Party

History matters for the SNP. They remember that their early predecessors were involved in devolution co-operation in the 1920s. They remember that their party endorsed devolution in the 1970s - and suffered internal splits in the aftermath. They are fond of equating Labour with alleged betrayal over Home Rule.

The party contains fissures between the fundamentalists and the gradualists. Some - notably the former leader Gordon Wilson - have counselled against campaigning for devolution: citing memories of 1979, partly, when SNP supporters were allegedly left to carry out the work - and accept the blame for ultimate failure. They argue it is a basic error to campaign on another party's ground for an objective which you do not truly share.

There are many within the party who remain suspicious. But the overwhelming decision of the party is to follow the lead of Alex Salmond the party executive - and declare for Yes/Yes. Alex Salmond argues that the SNP is in business to advance Scottish interests - and that devolved self-government, however unsatisfactory by contrast with full independence from a Nationalist perspective, is demonstrably an improvement on the status quo. He argues it would consequently be perverse for Nationalists to oppose such a development.

Further, Mr Salmond argues that Scots will enjoy the limited taste of power on offer - and will agitate for more. He stresses that the Nationalists intend to run a distinctive campaign - while joining Scotland Forward. They do not disguise in other words that their objective is independence. They will stress as much when challenged on the doorsteps. But they will also stress - as per the formula outlined above - that the decision rests with the Scots.

Mr Salmond admits that he was tempted to argue for Yes to the first question - while rejecting the second. The early thinking here was that the very limited tax plan bore no relation to the SNP's demand for full fiscal autonomy - and that the party's commitment to place no obstacle in the path of devolution would be fulfilled by voting Yes to question one. It was even envisaged that SNP supporters might be encouraged to write the word "Independence" on the ballot paper for the second question.

But Alex Salmond and the Nationalists have concluded that the greater interest is served by maintaining a display of unity among those seeking various forms of constitutional change: that a variety of Yes/No message would only serve to confuse the voting public.

The SNP consequently insist that they will campaign honestly for the Government's proposals to be adopted in full by Scots - while stressing that their ultimate objective remains independence.


Government Ministers stress that they expect popular support for both questions in the referendum. Privately, there are two concerns. Will the turnout be sufficiently high to dispel any lingering doubts in Whitehall that this is a serious subject for Scots, deserving considerable Parliamentary time? Will voters endorse the second question on tax in the face of a prolonged if patchy onslaught from the No campaign?

Mr Dewar has attempted to pre-empt both these issues by warning that it would be a "tragedy" if the "stay-at-homes" influenced the outcome - and by arguing that Scotland requires a "grown-up" Parliament with "grown-up" powers. He further warns that - while he does not anticipate a negative outcome - devolution would plainly be off the agenda for some considerable time to come if it stumbles now. September 11 will presumably determine to what extent the various campaigns are engaging with genuine popular concern.

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