Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Now is the time to act (again) : make your own submission to the Smith Commission

Well, it's only a few weeks since we all took a few minutes out of our time to vote for the independence of our country, so surely we can all spare an hour or so to argue the case for the maximum amount of powers to be transferred to our national parliament? A few days ago, the Smith Commission started accepting submissions from the public - you can read the guidelines, and find the email address to send submissions to, by clicking HERE.

Here's the submission I've just sent in...

As I understand it, the commission is particularly keen to hear about the principles or 'unifying themes' that underpin any proposal for a package of powers that should be transferred to the Scottish Parliament. In my view there are two principles which must apply, and they are both simple and largely self-evident. Firstly, there is the logic upon which the current devolution settlement is founded, namely that any powers which are not specifically reserved are deemed to be automatically devolved. This means that the burden of proof does not properly lie with the proponents of devolution when they explain why any given power should be devolved, but rather with the devo-sceptics when they explain why it should remain reserved. Looking at the extraordinary "everything but the kitchen sink" list of powers that are currently reserved, it's hard to imagine that a large portion of it would survive such a test.

The second principle is that the new settlement must reflect the democratic will of voters as expressed in the independence referendum on 18th September. The insistence of the UK government that Devo Max (universally defined as the transfer of all powers to Scotland other than the small number absolutely essential to the functioning of a unified state) should not be included as an additional option on the ballot paper was presumably motivated by a desire to thwart the likelihood of the referendum resulting in a mandate for that option. However, there is overwhelming evidence that the two parties represented in the UK government, plus the Labour party and the official No campaign as a whole, abandoned that desire in the latter stages of the campaign and instead invited the electorate to vote No on the specific basis that it would be interpreted as providing a mandate for Devo Max, as opposed to a mandate for no change. This was most explicitly stated by Mr George Galloway, who was nominated by the official Better Together campaign to speak on their behalf in a major televised BBC debate in the Hydro in Glasgow one week before polling day. He pledged that a No vote would automatically result in "not just Devo Max, but Devo SUPER Max". Many viewers were startled by the apparent implication that more powers will somehow be devolved over and above the maximum amount that is actually possible, but nevertheless they were left in no doubt that a No vote was a vote for Devo Max at the absolute minimum. Mr Galloway's fellow representative from Better Together in that debate was Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative party, who made no attempt to correct or even to qualify the Devo Max pledge. Nor did the Better Together campaign issue a retraction or clarification after the debate. So the pledge made by their official representative must be regarded as a solemn and binding contract with the electorate, which the commission should assist in delivering now that the mandate that was sought for Devo Max has been secured in the form of a No majority. Statements from other Better Together representatives backed up Mr Galloway's pledge - Gordon Brown, for example, promised that a No vote would lead automatically to a "modern form of Scottish Home Rule" and something close to "federalism".

There is also ample opinion poll evidence that the referendum vote in favour of the option tied to Devo Max (or "Devo SUPER Max") accurately reflects the popular will. A Panelbase poll conducted between 29th September and 1st October found that voters support the transfer of all powers other than foreign affairs and defence to the Scottish Parliament by an emphatic margin of 66% to 19%. The exit poll conducted by Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft on referendum day itself found that no fewer than 25% of people who voted No did so primarily and specifically on the basis of the promises of more powers for the Scottish Parliament. When combined with the 45% of the electorate who voted Yes, this means that a grand total of 59% of people were consciously voting in favour of either full sovereign independence or Devo Max (or indeed "Devo SUPER Max").

In a nutshell, then, the principles that I have outlined demand the transfer of absolutely all powers to the Scottish Parliament, with the exception of foreign affairs and defence, and a very small number of other powers that can realistically be regarded as essential to maintaining the United Kingdom as a single state, such as currency and immigration.  [UPDATE : The Scottish Government's submission calls for some immigration powers, and specifically the power to reintroduce the post-study work visa, to be devolved.]

It's therefore largely self-explanatory which powers should be devolved - there are a vast number of them, and I won't go through them all individually. I will, however, highlight just a few, because it is particularly important that these are not permitted to slip through the cracks -

1) The Scottish Parliament must be constitutionally entrenched, and Westminster must permanently relinquish its right to legislate on devolved powers except when granted specific permission to do so by the Scottish Parliament via the Sewel Motion process, which should be given a statutory basis. There can really be no dispute about this - the most unambiguous part of the No campaign's "vow" to the Scottish people was that "the Scottish Parliament is permanent". It would be a clear breach of faith if legislation was not passed to that effect, because there is literally no other way in which it is possible for the three political leaders who put their name to the vow to bind their successors in perpetuity. 'Permanent' is a slightly misleading word, however - the important principle is that Westminster must relinquish its right to take powers back, but it would still be open to the Scottish Parliament to voluntarily return powers. It's highly unlikely that it would ever choose to do so, but it's nevertheless important that enthusiasts for Westminster rule retain a clear democratic route by which to achieve their goal, just as supporters of full independence will have a clear democratic route by which to achieve theirs as soon as a majority of the electorate have been persuaded of the case.

2) The power to hold referenda on Scotland's constitutional future must be unambiguously transferred to the Scottish Parliament. The route by which the Scottish people can most appropriately exercise their inalienable right to national self-determination has now been established by precedent - namely the election of a majority government at Holyrood that has a commitment to a constitutional referendum in its manifesto(s), followed by the holding of that referendum. It's clearly an unsatisfactory and unsustainable situation that there is any legal ambiguity over the ability of the people to replicate that process, if they so choose, after 31st December of this year. It also runs counter to the logic of existing legislation that establishes the means by which the people of Northern Ireland can exercise their right to self-determination at any time, not just in the year 2014.

I gather that concerns have been expressed about the possibility of a so-called "neverendum", but there will be a clear safeguard against that eventuality after powers over constitutional referenda have been permanently transferred to Holyrood. That safeguard is called 'democracy'. If the electorate agree with the Prime Minister's view that there should not be a second independence referendum for "a generation, perhaps a lifetime", then all they need to do to maintain that principle is to vote against any party that proposes a referendum. If, on the other hand, what the politicians who oppose a future referendum really mean is that it should not take place even if the electorate wishes it to, then that is plainly an anti-democratic view, and one that the commission has no business entertaining even for a microsecond.

3) Control over oil revenues should be transferred to Holyrood. I understand from listening to the official No campaign, and also to an impressive number of informed commentators in London, that oil is a dwindling resource and is really more of a burden than a blessing. So this should be a relatively uncontroversial reform in the corridors of power in Whitehall, and I imagine it will trigger little more than a disinterested shrug of the shoulders.

4) Broadcasting should be devolved. The referendum campaign perfectly illustrated how inadequately Scotland is currently served by news and current affairs programmes in particular, and it's likely that only devolution can ever hope to address that. There need be no fears about this reform leading to Scotland decoupling from UK broadcast networks more generally - that would only occur if there was a clear democratic will for it to occur. It's also worth noting that the recent Panelbase poll asked a specific question about this topic, and found that the devolution of broadcasting is supported by an overwhelming 54% to 30% margin.

5) Abortion law should be devolved. There is no rational basis for the current position of abortion law being reserved to Westminster, because the two policy areas that touch upon it (health and criminal law) are both generally devolved. The anomaly seemed to come about because of a view in the late 1990s that abortion was a grown-up subject that mustn't be entrusted to a 'junior' legislature - such patronising views are clearly now long outdated. The oft-cited concern about 'abortion tourism' occurring if Scotland adopts a different law is something that the Scottish Parliament is perfectly capable of taking account of in its deliberations, and it's conceivable that MSPs will opt to keep the law closely aligned with England and Wales for that very reason. But the decision should be properly made in Edinburgh, not in London.

6) Appeals in criminal cases over alleged breaches of the ECHR should in future be made to the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh, not to the UK Supreme Court. The current position is eroding the integrity of Scots Law, and the argument that removing the Supreme Court's jurisdiction would lead to Scots becoming second-class citizens in respect of human rights protection is an obvious red herring. A Scottish court is perfectly capable of processing ECHR cases with the same speed as the Supreme Court.

The almost (but not quite) total devolution of powers to Scotland outlined above would have numerous advantages. It would trigger a democratic revolution, repatriating the levers of power necessary to revitalise our economy, create jobs, protect the environment, and reinvent public service broadcasting as something that actually serves the public. But most importantly of all, it would represent the honouring of a solemn vow. At a time when public trust in politics is understandably at an all-time low, a keeping of faith now would light a beacon of hope that will radiate warmth to the entire democratic world.

Once again, if you'd like to make your own submission to the Smith Commission, here is the link.  (Submissions don't necessarily have to be very long - even just a few bullet-points would be fine.)


  1. Brilliant and very logical! Sadly however the Smith commission comprises mostly politicians, and will be pressured by other politicians to "give away" as little as possible, especially in the area of taxation.
    James you should have been one of our negotiators!

  2. No as James said , it's now open to the public and in the blurb on the SC site, it states the wider publics view will be taken into consideration.
    Everyone should put in their view

  3. The Labour, Tory and LibDem members of the Commission will read what is received from organisations and individuals, but the logic will be overridden by the views of their masters in Westminster. Do you really think that WM will give all oil revenues to Scotland? All Income Tax? All VAT?
    But write in anyway if you feel you will make a difference.

  4. It's really important that as many people make a submission as possible. Yes, the political parties will make the decision, but the Smith Commission have a) promised to take public submissions into account, and b) promised to publish most submissions, and seemingly to summarise the balance of opinion of any unpublished submissions. If there's a huge disparity between what the public is seen to want and what is finally agreed, that will be embarrassing for those involved, so at the very least a large number of public submissions will maintain a degree of pressure. What is there to lose? Even if it only ekes out an extra minor power or two that wouldn't otherwise have been devolved, it would be well worth it.

    A submission doesn't have to be very long - it could just be a few bullet-points of which powers you think you should be devolved, and the reason why.

  5. Perhaps a better way of summarising what I've just said is : "a large number of favourable public submissions will improve the negotiating hand of the SNP and the Greens".

  6. James surely the best way of putting forward recommendations (ie supported by a large number of voters) is for someone like yourself to ask ordinary folk to sign up to a petition supporting your proposals.
    Then submit that/those to Smith
    Anyone good quality blogger with a large 'readership' could do thsi?

  7. I really think actual submissions are a better idea than petitions, because the Smith Commission have indicated they will publish as many submissions as possible, and summarise the balance of opinion of any that they don't publish. There's no guarantee that a petition will be given any more weight than a single submission, no matter how many signatures it attracts.

  8. I gather that MPs and MSPs regard individual letters much more highly than petitions and templates from the web because it shows that the writer cares enough to invest the time to write out their thoughts, not just sign and send. I guess the commission will be much the same - so do give it a go. The worst that happens is that you've lost a few minutes!

  9. Hearing, and reading, about a Yougov subsample, giving SNP big lead in UK GE.
    But some say it is meaningless in terms of what would really happen.
    What is the difference irrelevance for subsample and full sample?

  10. Any chance someone could set up a website to record the submissions independently of the Smith Commission so we can track what has really been submitted?

    Not that I have lost all trust in UK gov institutions or anything...

  11. James,

    I have plagiarised some of your submission to add to mine. Hope that's ok.

  12. Today's YouGov subsample has SNP on 42, Lab on 29 Tories on 17 and LD on 7 in Scotland.

    The problem with the results are the small sample (198, weighted down to 162 for the GB results) and the fact it is not weighted by Scottish demographics or previous voting patterns.

    Also interesting to note that the Greens are almost at parity with the LD across GB.

  13. The STARTING POINT, is that Scotland is Sovereign with all powers.

    The question is which powers does she concede to Westminster for its own good and for the good of all people in the four nations.

    Scotland should not be with the begger bowl seeing what crumbs it may get.

  14. James do you mind if I use bits of your submission in mine. I already intend to use parts of the "Legal Knowledge Scotland" submission but in a bullet point form.

  15. I'll leave it to people's discretion whether to use parts of what I've written, but just bear in mind that the Smith Commission have said that submissions that are substantially identical may not be published (which presumably means they might also be given less weight).

  16. Magnificent James! I sent something along those lines but much shorter.

    Oh and I answered a you gov poll yesterday that was asking about what powers should be devolved...

  17. No comment on the fact that there will be 6+ unionists and only 4 indy guys to argue seems undemocratic to me especially with prof Tomkins and Tavish who both have very narrow view points.

    Thanks for putting your letter up as it has some very good salient points.

  18. I have more chance of getting a handjob off Scarlett Johansen than we do of getting substantial more powers....its not the point though....the point is to take part in the process and win round the floating no voters

  19. Chalks, you had a half chance of getting a handjob off Scarlett Johansson a couple of years back...

    "[Under the Skin is] loosely based on author Michael Faber's novel and set on the streets of Glasgow, 29-year-old Johansson plays an alien seducing random humans to harvest their bodies."

  20. Chalks : I don't fully agree, but the two objectives conveniently overlap anyway.

    CynicalHighlander : I suppose they would probably make the point that numbers don't matter so much, because the aim (it may be a hopeless aim, but we'll see) is to find agreement between the five parties, rather than to decide anything by majority vote. Whether it should be restricted only to those five parties is maybe a bigger issue.

  21. Mad ranting labour crone scrapes a win against UKIP in Heywood and starts screaming about people endorsing Edlippede's manifesto and saving the NHS from the evil Tories.

    617 vote majority over a party of racists and she lays into the traditional enemy. Labour all over.

    English politics stinks.

  22. I'd like to see more powers James, but I fear the worst.

    She'll be visit an indy Scotland.

  23. Cynical highlander
    I'm sure that Tavish Scott will consult all of his constituents before attending the Smith Commission meetings.

  24. Good article James and there will be plenty of submissions that will need to be taken note of I'm sure. The fact is if the Smith Commission merely looks and feels like a pointless talking shop set up by panicking westminster politicians then it has zero chance of convincing the scottish public of anything. Therefore it will need the public submissions hugely if it wants any kind of credibility.

    Meanwhile it is somewhat apposite to look at the panic occurring right now in the useless and corrupt westminster establishment.

    So a big very big LOL indeed at Cameron, little Ed and Clegg today. Also an equally big LOL at the reams of clueless ignorant speculation that will go on as to the 'why' and the 'causes' when it so unbelievably obvious only a bunch of out of touch idiots could possibly not realise it.

    You simply don't get a comical public schoolboy twit like Farage and the kippers coming so close to little Ed in Heywood and hammering Cammie in Clacton if the three westminster parties and their leaders were any fucking good.

    As the football song goes..

    "They're shit and they know they are!"


  25. Aye but Mick, we got beat by that shower of utterly incompetent arseholes.

  26. Not been keeping on on current events have you chalks?

    The SNP now have twice as many members as UKIP since the first referendum. And I don't just mean the kippers in scotland, I mean twice as many members as UKIP's ENTIRE UK membership.

    Have another look at James thread lest you inexplicably think that their win didn't come at a truly massive price for them. They now have to deliver BIG meaningful powers to scotland real fucking fast. If they don't then it will inevitably lead to another independence referendum soon enough with absolutely ZERO chance of them using "more powers" as an excuse to win over soft floating No voters next time. Devolution took two tries and so did a majority at Holyrood for the SNP. Demographics are also not on their side as time goes on.

    I've also been hearing some caution about just how many seats te SNP can take off of labour in 2015. Some of that is merited since those are pretty fucking big majorities many of 'scottish' labour are holding on to. However, it is abundantly clear that little Ed, Clegg and Cameron are all massive liabilities and will have a burning spotlight on them in 2015. That means anyone relying on past performance best have a look at how fragile those kind of numbers are even against the likes of Farage who couldn't run a bath never mind a country.

    The out of touch westminster parties also have nowhere to turn when it comes to the future. This isn't just the laughably inept clcamity Clegg, little Ed or the weak Cameron's problem. Who do they have afterwards to stop the rot? Theresa May? Boris?? Tim Farron? Ed Balls?? Andy Burnham? Don't make me laugh. Their problem is systemic which will ensure that the westminster parties 'fortunes' will only worsen as time goes on.

  27. The Bank of England should have a 'branch' in each country of the UK and be renamed the Central Bank of the United Kingdom. . The Scottish banks should join the Central Bank of the United Kingdom's 'Note Exchange Programme'. By having their own 'branch' or 'central bank', England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be no different to the countries in the Eurozone. You don't need to be 'independent' to have this arrangement, but the arrangement does make it easier for the countries to become independent if there is a demand for it.

  28. Just saying Mick, it's not as easy as having 80,000 members, still lots and lots of work to do in order to convince these no voters that the best bet is the SNP for more powers.

    I'd be delighted with 20 seats, I think that is doable, but only if they continue with Ed Miliband, which I am not sure if they will.

    We shouldn't underestimate Labour in Scotland, they'll probably start saying if you vote SNP we'll team up with the tories!

    We haven't won anything yet and like it or not, they won the referendum and are now playing for time over the new powers.

    Remember quite a lot of no voters don't really care if we get no powers as they don't even understand the purpose of the Scottish Government and what powers it currently has.

    If the SNP get a good amount of seats and UKIP steal seats from Labour, then things will be interesting, but that is a long way away and I'd rather not count our chickens before they have hatched.

  29. Populus:

    44% SNP
    26% Lab
    15% Con
    9% Lib
    4% UKIP

    4% SNP UK-wide.

  30. "it's not as easy as having 80,000 members, still lots and lots of work to do in order to convince these no voters that the best bet is the SNP for more powers."

    Nothing easy about getting those 80,000. It took the most incredible and dedicated grassroots campaign ever seen in scotland to fire up all the new members. It also took many, many decades to build up to where we could even run that kind of campaign in the first place. I'm more than happy to put in the hard work to try and ensure the best possible result in 2015 and 2016. Nor will I be alone quite obviously.

    "I'd be delighted with 20 seats, I think that is doable, but only if they continue with Ed Miliband, which I am not sure if they will."

    They don't have a choice. Brother David pissed off to more 'lucrative' jobs in the U.S. The Blairites can and probably will start attacking little Ed again but if labour wouldn't boot out Brown with ministers fighting it out in public they sure as hell won't ditch little Ed with mere months to go. There is no natural successor and if anything most of the possible replacements look about as out of touch as little Ed is. That's the price labour have to pay for overpromoting so many policy wonks and oxbridge twits during the Blair and Brown years. (which little Ed has of course continued as he is as clueless as he looks)

    "We haven't won anything yet"

    Last I checked the SNP are still the majority government in Holyrood after a landslide (a feat which was deemed impossible by 'scottish' labour) we'd also won the Euro elections and the local elections in scotland. Sure, we lost the first referendum, but the price the unionist parties are going to have to pay will be as great as the media who will now have 45% of scots ready to distrust almost anything they say from now on.

    "and are now playing for time over the new powers."

    Time they don't have. If they continually obfuscate and delay over powers then there is only one possible winner in that scenario and it sure ain't the No parties.

    "Remember quite a lot of no voters don't really care if we get no powers as they don't even understand the purpose of the Scottish Government and what powers it currently has."

    They'll understand when the continuing shambles at westmisnter keeps making an unholy mess of everything and we can point to each and every one of the powers that we require to stop the out of touch twits from doing so. Certainly, we can't count on the westminster bubble media like the BBC to do so but that would be why we and the other Yes parties keep the grassroots going and strong.

    " I'd rather not count our chickens before they have hatched."

    Fair enough. I'd rather not be negative when it is crystal clear that the ones who are being punished for decades of complacency are the westminster bubble parties. Nor have they much chance of turning it around since I do actually remember all the other handwringing, "root and branch" reforms and kneejerk responses from the last times they were in deep trouble.

    It's not just that they don't want to change (they are making out like bandits with their westminster expenses and 11% pay rise after all) they simply don't have a clue how to change.

  31. Mick, it's not being negative and I feel if Yes Scotland had adopted a realistic approach we wouldn't be in this fkn mess.

    Don't fall for the same trap, we have to take the gloves off and hammer into them. Enough positivity bullshit, they want a turf war, fine, we have more activists. It's easier to be negative and now is the time if a UKIP surge and lurch to the right from all mainstream parties is what is happening.

    We haven't won anything yet, the prize is independence not a majority in the Scottish Parliament.

  32. Since the NO vote

    George Galloway has said zilch on super devo max

    1. That's because he is enjoying spending his reward.

  33. "Don't fall for the same trap, we have to take the gloves off and hammer into them."

    I think I'll let my own record speak for itself when it comes to taking the gloves off and hammering into them. Though I'm fairly sure James is chuckling when he recalls how I dealt with the racists and bigots on Stormfront Lite/PB.

    "Enough positivity bullshit, they want a turf war, fine, we have more activists. It's easier to be negative and now is the time"

    So it will indeed be. There is no question whatsoever of going easy on these westminster twits simply because we have to try and fight for more powers as well.

    Be clear about the positivity though. I too think there were big mistakes from Yes in that department but there must always be a positive message alongside the negative. We didn't get that kind of astonishing grass roots movement just by being negative. However, we also underestimated how blatant the bias of the media would be in ignoring that positive message which rendered so much of it pointless. That mistake won't be made the next time.

    We also get no prizes at all should we be in opposition or a minority and in no position to do anything. We learned that lesson the hard way over decades.

  34. Chalks, I also understand completely why there are some from Yes who are at the very least nervous or anxious over Independence getting put on a back burner. They may even think that the SNP are somehow quite happy to coast along as a party of power while Independence takes a back seat.

    Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Nicola certainly isn't in this for a few more powers any more than Alex was. The SNP wants Independence and always will. It's what I am fighting for and the same goes for all those I know from Yes and the SNP. When it is feasible there will be that push for Independence but you do what you can with what you have and that means right now we push for more powers and hammer into the westminster twits.

    Politics is the art of the possible. It's still scotland's voters who will get to choose what happens next and choose they will.

  35. The SNP's submission to the Smith Commission;

  36. I agree Mick, just some on the Yes side of things seem to think it's a foregone conclusion.

    It took us how long to get a referendum in the first place?

    I don't want these wishy washy yes people to lead us down their road of positivity when there is nothing to be positive about with the 2015 election.

  37. A very timely post Marcia. :-)

    Very interesting indeed and seems to get it just about bang on to me. Well worth a read.

  38. I'll have no trouble at all in being absolutely excoriating about the out of touch westminster twits in 2015 nor will the SNP.

    BUT, I saw first hand how these rat bastards operate with an actual scottish Labour MP spreading lies about taking bus passes off the elderly if it was a Yes. He was also caught lying to the mother of a sick child who told us tearfully at the Yes stall he had repeated the same bullshit lies about transplants that the arsehole Brown did.

    So I know what I won't do. Happily I won't need to lie like they did because the truth will be ferocious enough to damn them utterly. (needless to say that 'scottish' Labour MP is going to 'enjoy' a great deal of activist attention come 2015.) :-D

  39. Sorry Mick, missed your other post, I'm quite happy pushing for Devo Max, was always a gradualist.

  40. very late to this one, but just putting together a Smith submission and think you meant 69% not 59% when you said "this means that a grand total of 59% of people were consciously voting in favour of either full sovereign independence or Devo Max (or indeed "Devo SUPER Max")."

  41. Hi, Justin, no, the 25% figure is 25% of No voters (ie. 25% of the 55%) rather than 25% of the entire electorate.