Do the SNP want home rule now or are they playing politics?
This week the SNP presented an alternative Queen’s speech which was full of laudable social democratic policies. The most interesting part was the section entitled ‘The Constitution’ in which they propose:
A Scottish Home Rule Bill, providing the meaningful devolution of powers that current and former Westminster party leaders promised Scotland during the independence referendum.
A Parliamentary Reform Bill, delivering the long overdue reform to Westminster of abolishing the House of Lords; the SNP would also signal its wider intention to abolish English Votes for English Laws; introduce electronic voting in Parliament; create a House Business Committee to enhance the role of Parliament in scrutinising government, and commission a report on maternity leave and job share arrangements for MPs.
An Electoral Reform Bill, lowering the voting age to 16 and establishing an independent commission on proportional representation to report on possible models for Westminster.
Now, call me cynical, but these proposals which I would love to see become law, are most probably an attention grabbing political move. Private members bills have an 11 percent success rate and that includes the ones introduced by backbenchers from the party in power. Private members bills instigated by the SNP have less chance of succeeding than a UK entry into the Eurovision Song Contest. And the SNP know this. Which means that they can continue to propose policies that are appealing to most Scots and then play the UK oppression card when they are inevitably filibustered before even being voted on.
That said, the wind seems to be starting to blow in the direction of constitutional reform. You can see it in the result of the last two elections in Scotland. Sovereignty is the key issue in the EU election. In Scotland, some influential voices within Scottish Labour are starting to talk of becoming the party of Home Rule. After all, Devo Max would have won hands down had it been on the referendum ballot paper. And in England, the leader of the Labour party is in favour of replacing the House of Lords and making the national voting system proportional. There is also a cross party group led by Lord Hain which is going to propose legislation that may lead to a federal UK with a fairer voting system.
So, even though the SNP constitutional bills are likely to be rejected on petty party political grounds. It is not inconceivable that home rule will happen as part of wider UK reform in the next decade or so. Which begs the question, would such changes be good for the Scottish Government and would they make independence more likely?
Well, for the Scottish Government it would certainly mean that the politics of grievance would be harder to play. And I don’t just mean the SNP. All of the parties that have been dominant in Scotland have blamed Westminster for the bad things while taking credit for the good things. This is in many ways fair as the Scottish Government is hamstrung by the current devolution settlement. Radical UK reform would force them to grow up and take responsibility. In that respect it could be good or bad depending on how well they perform. It would certainly make it easier for us to judge them.
With regards to the SNP, moving to a proportional Westminster voting system would not be in their short-term interest as at the last general election they benefited from first past the post. However, they may realise that they are currently at their peak and may benefit from such a change over the long term.
With regards to independence, no one knows the answer to that question. It could go either way. It could placate everyone except for the most die hard Nationalists. Or, it could be the confidence boosting stepping stone we need to take the final leap. To most people it probably doesn’t matter. There will stop being a strong political drive towards independence when a sizeable majority of the people of Scotland are happy with the constitution situation. This may be when we are independent or not. That’s democracy. At the moment a sizeable majority, including some No voters, are disgruntled.
My main reason for voting Yes was to move to a more representative country. A country where the views and interests of the currently disenfranchised had a chance of being heard. For that reason Scottish home rule within a fairer federal UK system is an appealing prospect. This is an opinion I often get into trouble for from people who cast aspersions on my Nationalist credentials.
However, I try to be pragmatic and see the world the way it is and not the way I want it to be. And as I see it we are currently not in a position to win a second referendum and there is no indication that we will be any time soon. We are a country staunchly divided on the issue and it’s debatable that any future event, like the EU referendum results, will make a significant difference. So those who want a better Scotland should not put all of their eggs in one basket. I am happy to fight for and win a second referendum while at the same time happy to support radical changes at the UK level. I see no contradiction as my main goal is to live in the most democratic, unified, progressive and affluent Scotland possible. And by “possible” we have to take into account what we think the majority of Scots would vote for, not just our own feelings on the issue or what we think others would feel if they were as smart or as informed as us.
Though reform at UK level could end the independence dream, support for reform is not a betrayal of the movement. The movement, just like the group who voted No, contains much diversity. I really hope that the SNP are sincere with the constitutional reforms proposed in their alternative Queen’s speech even though some of those reforms could damage their core goals. I hope that they see them as a stepping stone to independence rather than a sacrificial lamb used to make a recurring point about Scotland having no power. As unlike independence, I believe UK reform and Scottish Home Rule are concepts that a significant majority of Scots will get behind now.
And after that who knows?
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