Sounding off: UK’s Pyrrhic victory (Brian Nugent)
Retired lecturer BRIAN NUGENT, chairman of the Scottish independence campaign group Yes Shetland, alleges that people were “conned, bullied and panicked” into voting no in September’s referendum.
There was a no vote on 18th September, so how can we explain what has happened since in Scotland? Where has the rocketing membership of independence supporting parties come from? How can the opinion polls be so consistent over the four months since the referendum in showing, first a huge jump, and then consistent high support for the SNP?
Locally in Shetland, SNP membership is up by nearly 600 per cent, and the Scottish Greens membership is up too.
I did hear David Mundell, the lone Tory MP in Scotland, claim, rather lamely, that the Scottish Tories had had an increase in membership as well of 200.
The SNP has become the third biggest political party by membership in UK, never mind Scotland, at over 93,000.
Given the result, should membership and opinion polls not be going in the other direction? Independence is not going away; if anything it is more centre stage than during the referendum.
I believe that the UK scored a Pyrrhic victory in the last week of the referendum campaign. With 10 days to go and after two years of scare stories, one opinion poll showing a lead for yes of 51 per cent produced an initial panic and then the UK went into overdrive. Supermarkets, banks, insurance companies were all “persuaded” to speak out against independence.
The big thing was the “vow” in the Daily Record. The wording is mainly meaningless waffle. Somehow, the implication was that “devo max” was on offer although not in the wording.
The timing of the vow, on 16th September, showed sheer panic, sheer cynicism. One quarter of voters were postal votes, and had probably voted at that stage, so this was no planned entry into the campaign.
But, the vow, and the rest, had the desired effect. At least some of the no voters were conned, bullied, panicked into voting no. And that is why, I believe, the political situation today in Scotland is the one that we have. A lot of no voters woke up on the 19th and regretted their no vote.
How many opinion polls have shown since the referendum, since the dust has settled on the vow, that a majority would now vote yes?
Independence is not going away.
We have had the Smith Commission, and now we have had a “command paper” and now we have had the UK Parliament on Monday 26th January fall at the first fence when it had a chance to implement a Smith Commission power, listed as clauses 69 and 70.
During the fracking debate in the House of Commons an amendment, to amend the Scotland Act, was voted down by 324 to 231. The amendment would have given the Scottish government responsibility for licensing and mineral access rights for onshore shale gas extraction. Scotland would have had control over fracking.
And our MP, home rule’s great advocate, if you listen to his bombast, voted against as well.
He welcomed the home rule that he saw being implemented in the “momentous” draft legislation command paper report published the previous week. As Mandy Rice Davies said, well he would say that, wouldn’t he.
Devo max, home rule, Smith Commission; what is on offer? Is anything worthwhile on offer or is it really just the devo minimum that that UK parties and politicians think that they can get away with?
In the vow, three UK party leaders agreed that “the Scottish Parliament is permanent and extensive new powers for the Parliament will be delivered”.
Extensive? What was missed in the proposals of the Smith Commission is extensive, and have since been watered down further in the command paper.
Among the missing are powers over the minimum wage, pensions, employment law, equality law, National Insurance, housing benefit, universal credit, broadcasting, corporation tax, inheritance tax, capital gains, renewable energy and oil.
What the UK parties should do is list the powers in the command paper, explain how they match “extensive”, and how the powers can be made to work in the Scottish Parliament.
There are further problems with what is on offer. One is that we get bits of powers, the appearance of power. Scotland can collect income tax but cannot alter rates or bands. Scotland will get half of the VAT take but cannot alter rates.
Another is that some of what has been reserved to Westminster and some of what might be devolved to Edinburgh will lead to conflict, a real mishmash of powers that do not appear to have been thought through logically, about how different powers work together.
Yet another is that a new benefit could be researched and modelled but not implemented by the Scottish Parliament because the secretary of state at a UK level would have to give permission for this to go ahead. Is this devolution of powers or is it just there to emphasise who is really in charge?
What chance is there of getting a future parliament to vote through extra powers for the Scottish Parliament when the current one declines its first chance?
The intemperate discussion on the BBC’s Question Time on powers for Scotland gives further clues as to how low down the priorities powers for Scotland is.
The UK parties have set a trap for themselves with their miserly approach to giving powers to the Scottish Parliament.
Had they been generous or, at least, logical in their distribution of powers they might have had a case. But they have none and everyone, whether a yes or a no voter, can see right through them and should vote accordingly in May.
• This article first in appeared in The Shetland Times, 30th January edition.