Friday, 5 December 2008

Much ado about not much

It hardly came as a big surprise that the Calman Commission's interim report came up very much.

The commission was set up by the three main unionist parties to examine the case for further devolution in response to the SNP's Holyrood victory in May 2007 and the latter's National Conversation on constitutional change.

Of course, the SNP refused to take part in the CC because its remit ruled out independence while claiming that their NC was considering all the options, but if the party was serious about anything short of full independence then why not take part in an exercise set up to consider those alternatives?

However, since the SNP's raison d'etre is an independent Scotland its claim that the NC is any more than a pretence is itself less than honest; the party's stance on devolution and independence varies only to the extent that the political landscape and opinion polls at any particular time demonstrate that a referendum on the issue could be won, and any debate on further devolution short of full independence represents little more than a means to an end.

Meanwhile, the CC is equally diversionary, because it will at its most radical only recommend tinkering with the current devolution settlement, since clearly the repatriation of powers to Westminster isn't a realistic option, and any further devolution of a fundamental nature - fiscal autonomy, most obviously - would push Scotland down the road to full independence.

Both these exercises are essentially shams - the CC is intended to divert attention from independence, and the NC to an extent does likewise, at least until the SNP decides that the opportune time has arrived, and in the meantime it buys the party time, makes it look less dogmatic on independence, and could as an alternative promote an extension of devolution if it's decided that a referendum can't be won.

And for the oft-adduced 'people of Scotland', both the CC and NC surely have the character of a 'how many angels can dance on the head of a pin'-style of debate, and ex-Scottish Office minister David Cairns was right that further devolution is of interest primarily to the 'McChattering classes'.

Of course, many Scots are interested in the independence debate, and self-governance for Scotland is clearly a legitimate political aspiration, but with the usual concerns about crime, education and health currently being overshadowed by economic worries, the constitutional fig leaves of the CC and NC amount to an entirely avoidable waste of time and resources.

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