Jim Sillars: Devolution just means power at Westminster

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The leaders of the Scottish branches of UK political parties got together and promised more powers for Holyrood as a prize for voting ‘No’ in the referendum. They are kidding you on. The Scots cannot deliver more devolution.

During the great debates in the 1970s, Enoch Powell spelt out this uncomfortable fact, that Johann Lamont, Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie have been trying to hide from you – devolution is power retained at Westminster.

As long as Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, what we get in terms of more powers – if any – is decided by the party or parties that rules at Westminster. The Scottish Parliament, constitutionally, is no different than Edinburgh City Council: both creatures of statute. Their powers were set by Westminster Acts of Parliament, and they have no life outside the boundaries it lays down. A new Scotland Act 2012 comes into force in 2016, increasing the powers of Holyrood, like being able to licence air guns, set drink driving limits, vary income tax and being able to borrow up to a small limit. Readers have probably forgotten all about it, despite it being punted at the time as a great move forward for devolution. We were not asked as a people whether we wanted this or something better. Westminster decided that it would give, but give only in a limited way.

After 2016 if we vote No, bearing in mind the promises made, we will all expect more than the new 2012 Act. But that won’t be for us to say. We can ask, and no doubt the SNP will be loud in demanding that the promises are kept, but it does not follow that we will get. You see, if Westminster gives extra powers to the Scottish Parliament, such as the right to vary VAT, business taxes, capital gains tax, inheritance tax, National Insurance, airport taxes, a chunk of the oil money, all hell of protest will ring out from the English regions, and Wales, who will claim they are being disadvantaged. That protest will be loudest in the north east and north west of England. If inside the UK we get too much power, they will be hard pressed to keep, never mind attract investment. They will turn the “Best of Both Worlds” slogan against us. They will say: “You voted No to stay with us, and now you want powers that will make life difficult for the rest of us? That’s having your cake and eating ours too. Not on.”

I have experienced this inevitable process, having fought the 1979 devolution cause. It was not for a strong parliament but a weak assembly. The north east group of Labour MPs opposed their own government, and got behind the infamous 40 per cent threshold, where the dead and every person mistakenly on the register, which included foreign university students, counted as No votes. They won and Scotland lost. That, let me repeat, was over a weak Assembly. Just think what they will do if presented with a plan for real powers for a real devolved parliament? And MPs in the English regions, of all parties, have the majority of votes at Westminster, and we don’t.

THE OTHER BALL GAME

Biting is now banned in the World Cup. I wish referees would ban shirt pulling in the penalty box at corners. It’s more like rugby in there now.

Referendum doesn’t endorse Salmond

I DEBATED with Labour MP Douglas Alexander, left, last week. He made one good point: in the event of a Yes, he wants a Constitutional Convention called of all Scottish elected representatives, to set out who will negotiate with the London Government, and the brief they will follow. I agree with him. As September 18 is a referendum, and not an election, no-one, and that includes the SNP, can claim a mandate to lead the negotiations and pick the team to do so.

MPs at Westminster, and MEPs, are as much representatives of the people as MSPs, and we are entitled to expect them to step up to their responsibilities and work together to get the best deal for Scotland. His idea does, of course, emphasise the point I and others have been trying to get across – that all the ballot paper asks is for or against being an independent country. Nowhere does it ask you to endorse Alex Salmond and the SNP White Paper. SNP have some ideas to take to a Convention, but so do others just as important as them.

Putin insult to Yes campaign

AFTER Obama and the Pope, now it’s Putin. But according to Michael Gove, supporter of the No campaign, the Russian is on our side. I suppose the message Gove wants you to believe is that if this bad man supports Yes, then you should vote No. Gove must think we are children.