According to all the opinion polls on the subject, although there is a wide range of preferences for the exact scope of the additional powers sought by the Scottish Parliament everyone seems to believe that Holyrood needs more economic and financial powers.
Perhaps not everyone, as the newly-minted leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Ruth Davidson, has gone out of her way to express her heartfelt belief that Westminster knows best. A few weeks ago, I wrote that Murdo Fraser was a brave man for saying, up front, if the Scottish Tories are in it to win, everything must change, including their name.
But maybe Ruth Davidson is even braver – she wants to keep the Tories just as they are.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, everything’s changing. People in Scotland have, to a great extent, lost faith in Westminster, in much the same way as countries much poorer than ourselves lose faith in and respect for their government, as in the case of Greece, Spain and Italy.
And it’s because Scots have the same expectations of their governments I think it a waste of time to campaign for Devo Max, or Indy lite, or even full fiscal autonomy, even if the polls show most Scots opting for something short of independence.
Creating growth and jobs in any economy cannot be done without the government concerned having the right to choose policy priorities and enough money at its disposal to invest in these.
If a government cannot do that, because forces in other countries control the resources needed, that country is not sovereign in any meaningful sense. This is the area Scotland needs information on now, before proponents on both sides of the devolution v independence argument work themselves into a war of words that nobody other than political anoraks can understand.
Both sides should use the current situation in Europe, both in the EU and the eurozone, as yardsticks with which to measure their preferred bunch of power for parliament. For Devo Max true believers, although Scots would run the country’s finances, Westminster would continue to run “foreign affairs and defence”.
Under Devo Max, Scotland’s government would not have been represented when the decision was reached in Cannes to give more to support the failing economies in southern Europe. Westminster is the internationally recognised seat of government, able to decide that more would be borrowed to give a boost to the Greeks to prevent national bankruptcy, and to avert a string of possible bankruptcies. Without full sovereign powers invested in Holyrood, Scotland would be powerless to decide how much we could give without adversely affecting the Scots government’s ability to create jobs and prosperity here.
It’s an artificial and outdated notion to imagine that a line can be drawn between “foreign affairs and defence” and domestic economics. For example, Germany and France between them are now in command of the Greek economy and to a great extent, the Greeks’ way of life. Why did the EU and the G20 summit ignore such a departure from democracy? The inestimable importance of Germany to the survival of the euro. The European elite is still intent on the creation of a political union for which the monetary and fiscal unions are essential.
Quite possibly it’s all of the above that explains the common belief in Scotland that we can run our own economic show without the fuss and palaver of constructing international strategies and spending time and effort on other countries’ problems. It may be that most of us still defer to the superior experience of the British state apparatus in dealing with international affairs. Although many Scots have played important roles in the foreign and diplomatic service, as a country Scotland has not practised international statecraft designed to protect and promote primarily Scottish interests for a very long time now.
So, it is hardly surprising that in some quarters there is a shyness or lack of confidence in our ability to match, never mind improve on, British performance. But that ignores the changed balance of power in the world. International politicking has changed because of satellite technology, the ending of the Cold War, and the rise of Asia. Smaller countries have carved themselves a role in this new world order that is based on their specialist manufacturing, commercial, technical and trading abilities.
So foreign affairs these days are about the growth of our economy rather than gunboat diplomacy. Arguably, Scotland would find it easier to make friends and influence people because we don’t carry the same baggage as the formerly Great Britain.