OurKingdom has my thoughts on Wendy Alexander's decison to come out in favour of a Scottish Independence referendum:
Her actions were widely seen as sidelining the Calman Commission, which
was largely her creation. However, It now looks as if any referendum is
likely to come after the Commission has reported. It’s proposals will
be crucial to the unionist case. That is a powerful incentive to offer
Scotland as much autonomy as possible, rather than risk losing the
The FT has an article today that will make unwelcome reading for Scottish nationalists. Nevertheless, even though it comes from the usual suspects at the Constitution Unit, it warrants serious consideration:
The diplomatic fallout
over recognition of the newcomer has ominous implications for the
separatists in minority government in Edinburgh. Half a dozen European
Union states fear the example that is being set for ethnic minorities
within their borders. If Scotland ever votes for independence these
states could easily make an example of it by blocking Scottish
membership of the EU. (Simon James, Financial Times)
Of course, an independent Scotland would be in a fundamentally different position from Kosovo since it would almost certainly be applying in the wake of an agreed secession in line with international legal precedent.
James' point is that Scottish membership of the EU might nevertheless be blocked by governments obstinately determined to make a point. In reality, taking such a stance against an agreed secession, might only strengthen the hand of unilateral seccessionists.
It would in effect impose Spain's reactionary constitution on the European Union, since their would be no democratic way for national communities to pursue their aspirations, even where they are in the majority, and remain in the EU. Such an approach might repress secessionist movements in the short run, but ultimately it would make the union a dangerously rigid structure.
Today brought yet another twist in the saga of the 'Wendy Commission', the devolution plan put forward by Labour's Holyrood leader in opposition to the Scottish Government's National Conversation.
Backing her plans for a fresh study of devolution, Mr Brown said: "There is an issue about the financial responsibility of an executive or an administration that has £30bn to spend but doesn't have any responsibility for raising [that].
"In any other devolved administration in the world, there is usually a financial responsibility that requires not only the spending of money by the administration but also its responsibility to take seriously how it raises money." (BBC News)
Its been an intriguing few days in Scottish politics.Not for the first time, it seems the Holyrood-Westminster divide in the Labour Party has cracked wide open.
A meeting on January 28 - attended by Brown, chancellor Alistair
Darling, justice secretary Jack Straw, Scottish secretary Des Browne,
and civil servant Jim Gallagher - was held to discuss the union and
The summit, of which the Sunday Herald has been given a full account
by a UK government source, focused on [Labour Scottish Parliament leader Wendy] Alexander's commission plan.
The prime minister said he found the body's remit to be acceptable,
but that he wanted the UK government, not Holyrood, to take the lead in
setting it up. He also said he did not believe the word commission was
appropriate; instead he favoured "working party" or "review". The
Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath MP then said the government, rather than the
Scottish parliament, should consult on membership of the review. (Sunday Herald, 10 February)
What was more surprising
was that that was all he did. His original remit was to consider ‘how
current and future tax policy, including the tax changes announced in
the Budget 2007, can support the sustainable growth of businesses and
long-term investment in Northern Ireland.’
When Labour's Holyrood leader Wendy Alexander announced her devolution proposals last month, she cast some doubt over whether the Scottish Parliament could legally be given control of corporation tax:
We should approach this with an open mind but there are constraints
here. Some suggest VAT for example but EU rules appear to preclude
VAT variation within a state. So it could not be a candidate for
devolution, although could be considered for partial assignation.
Likewise the issue of Corporation tax variation within a state also
raises issues of compliance with EU rules (the Azores judgement) as
well as potentially distorted transfer pricing. (Scottish Labour)
In his review of taxation in Northern Ireland, Sir David Varney seems to have clarified the Azores issue:
A move to a differential corporation tax rate for Northern Ireland would be possible in principle. However, it would involve legislative changes and legal issues would affect the design of such a scheme. Also, the fiscal consequences of such a move would have to be borne immediately by the Northern Ireland Assembly. (Varney Review)
Balrog points us to in interesting exchange in the Northern Ireland Assembly yesterday:
David Burnside (UUP)
asked the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister to outline what discussions it has had on constitutional issues with the First Minister of Scotland.
Ian Paisley (DUP)
The Member will be aware that the deputy First Minister and I met the First Minister of Scotland earlier this year. At that meeting, we acknowledged our shared culture, history and interests, and discussed greater co-operation between our two Administrations for mutual benefit.
By “constitutional issues”, I assume that the Member means the position of Scotland and Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom. Such issues were not discussed. The Union is secure. The First Minister of Scotland has well-known views on the future constitutional position of his country. However, that is for him — and his party — to take forward with the people of Scotland, and has no bearing on the future government of our country.
Wendy Alexander may be under intense pressure to step down over the Labour donations row, but that didn't stop the Tories and the Lib Dems falling in behind the Scottish Labour leader at Holyrood yesterday.
The three parties united to push through a proposal for a constitutional commission that would consider new powers for the Scottish Parliament, in a rival process to the Scottish Government's National Conversation.
Two important flaws in the tripartite plan were pointed out by Green MSP Patrick Harvie: