ECLECTIC RANT: The Scottish Referendum in a Nutshell

Ralph E. Stone
Friday October 03, 2014 - 01:04:00 PM

My wife and I just returned from a week's stay in Edinburgh, which was shortly after the Scottish independence vote. The Scots voted to stay with England 55 to 45 percent. There was no rioting in the street over the vote results. 

The "no" campaign always led in the polls but the "yes" campaign was gaining ground. Then Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Millbrand, and Nick Clegg, the leaders of the three major British parties, signed a pledge to devolve more powers to Scotland, if the Scots rejected independence. It is not clear how much this "pledge" effected the vote, but it might have stopped the growing support for the "yes" campaign.  

What does devolution mean? Scotland is not independent although it has control over some of its affairs through its elected parliament. In the Scotland Act of 2001, Scotland has control or devolved powers over health, education and training, local government, law, social work, housing, tourism and economic development, some aspects of transport, planning and environment, agriculture, forestry and fishing, and sport and the arts. 

The United Kingdom's Parliament retains control or reserved powers over constitutional matters, UK defense and national security, UK foreign policy, immigration and nationality, UK economic and monetary policy, energy, employment legislation, social security, some aspects of transport, and regulation of certain professions such as medicine and dentistry. 

Lord Smith was appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron to head the commission on devolution. The Smith Commission hopes to get agreement between the Scottish National Party, Scottish Labour, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Greens on the way forward by 30 November. Everyone involved agrees that it will not be easy to get agreement by 30 November. A "command paper," setting out the issues, is also due to be published by October 31, with draft legislation unveiled by 25 January. 

What problems face the commission on devolution? The Scottish parliament wants more authority over tax revenue and housing funds. However most of the funds for these items are determined by a budget set in London. Scotland has a limited ability to raise extra tax revenue, but lacks any kind of borrowing authority. One problem cited is that there is no English Parliament. Rather there is a UK Parliament, which includes Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland Members of Parliament, makes policy. This gives rise to the so-called West Lothian question, which refers to whether MPs from Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales should be able to vote on matters that affect only England in the House of Commons of the UK, while English MPs could not vote on Scottish devolution matters. 

If nothing else, the Smith Commission's progress will be watched and debated until October 31 and beyond..