Scotland is itching to take more control of its future. During the referendum, people gave voice to the kind of country they wanted to live in and offered to put their energy behind making that country a reality, whatever its constitutional make-up. It’s important not to lose this momentum.
So, the Campaign for Scottish Home Rule is inviting everyone – not just politicians – to come behind three principles that will provide a sound basis for a stable and substantial home rule settlement. The first principle is subsidiarity. If powers are reserved to Westminster, there should be a clear explanation of why that’s necessary, and if Holyrood is responsible for an area of policy, then it should have the powers necessary to do the job. Secondly, each parliament should have the capacity to raise what it spends, so that it’s clear where financial accountability lies.
And, finally, we should work towards a guarantee that the Scottish Parliament cannot be closed down unilaterally by Westminster, something that would be unthinkable if there was mutual respect between the parliaments. With the Smith Commission now taking evidence, the agenda of the moment is to specify the kind of enhanced devolution that is appropriate for Scotland.
But we’ve lost sight of how that should be done. We can continue to shuffle along, picking up the crumbs that fall off the Westminster table, and competing with each other over whose wish list of powers wins out.
Or we can do the job properly and develop a principled plan of action that will place sufficient power into the hands of people in Scotland so that they can make the best contribution they can to the life and prosperity of the Union.
That’s what the campaign is proposing. The beauty of devolution is that it allows Scotland to shape policies that fit its needs, thereby showing the rest of the UK that there are different ways of doing things and road testing alternatives.
This enriches the mix of possibilities from which everyone can draw. For example, the Christie Commission’s report on public services showed that there are ways of reforming our approach to this issue other than simply cutting services and there’s been considerable interest from south of the Border over these proposals. So it’s in everyone’s interest that Scotland should be able to make a good job of developing its own policies.
From this follow the three principles that we are proposing. Holyrood and Westminster should be regarded as equal, adult partners in the enterprise, with mutual respect between them; the division of responsibilities should be open, with a clear explanation for why retaining some powers is necessary for the wellbeing of the Union; and Scotland should have the space to develop a complete financial package to address its needs, with the powers to propose a fresh system of taxation that will harness the resources and the engagement of the whole country. It’s now time to press for Scottish home rule within the United Kingdom.
• Dr Alison Elliot is a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland