Put down the pitchforks, democracy has delivered
Duncan Hothersall, Labour Hame’s editor, says it’s time for the angry boil to be lanced. The democratic will of the people has been delivered and the debate must move on to how we use these powers to improve Scotland.
Last night, as the Scotland Bill passed its final stages in the House of Commons, was another joyous evening on social media. Given the levels of angry outrage in the whipped up mob you’d be forgiven for thinking that some great betrayal had taken place. In fact the UK Parliament has fulfilled its pledge to substantially strengthen the powers of the Scottish Parliament while maintaining the union, as voted for by a majority of Scots last year.
For people whose single political aim is independence for Scotland, everything that doesn’t deliver independence is an outrage. That was the source of perhaps half of last night’s anger, and there was never anything that could be done about that.
The other half of the rage was cleverly fomented by the suggestion that by voting against the complete devolution of tax credits, Westminster was imposing Tory policy on Scotland. This claim requires some dissection.
The SNP know that with the advent of Universal Credit it would be pretty much impossible to devolve tax credits without devolving the entirety of out-of-work and income-based benefits too. And that would mean the assignation of a level of tax revenues and spending to Scotland that takes us into Full Fiscal Autonomy territory.
The problem with that was set out comprehensively last year by the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, who explained that successful single currency areas and multinational states require substantial fiscal transfer – in essence the pooling and sharing of resources – as a stabiliser against asymmetric economic shocks, like a collapse in the oil industry. A benefits system shared across the UK provides a substantial part of that stabiliser.
Scotland voted to stay part of the UK. Keeping the core of the social security system pooled across the UK helps to secure that, while the new powers of the Scotland Bill allow our parliament to amend any benefit it wants to, and to adjust taxes to pay for such amendments. Those who want to break up Britain have demonstrated time and again that they don’t care about the economic risks of fiscal autonomy or separation. By ensuring these economic foundations of the union remain in place Labour has stood up for Scotland, and for the Scottish people’s democratically expressed wish to retain the strength of being part of the UK.
We now have a Scottish Parliament fully able to deliver Scottish solutions to Scottish problems. That should be a cause for celebration. Sadly it is far easier, and much more emotionally effective, for folk to wish death on Labour politicians for a supposed betrayal than to honestly examine what is in the best interests of most Scots.
Supporters of last year’s Yes campaign have been sold the lie that if they only keep the flame alive until a second referendum can be forced on the Scottish people, they will be able to set aside the democratic choice of Scots made last September. As a result, too many of our fellow Scots are unable to move on. It is time for the leaders of the former Yes campaigning parties to lead, and tell their followers that a new phase has begun.
The passing of the final Commons stage of the Scotland Bill and the fulfilment of the Vow is to be widely welcomed. A powerful Scottish Parliament within a strong United Kingdom is what Scots voted for. It has been delivered. The perma-grievance politics of the SNP and much of the erstwhile Yes campaign saps the will of decent people and undermines democracy. This politics of division needs to end.
Scotland needs, finally, to call a halt to the post-referendum grievance hunt. The Scottish Parliament now has the power to decide what money is raised as well as what is spent. It has the power to amend any benefits but must choose how to pay for more spending. As Labour has demonstrated, the debate must now be over how these powers can be used to truly stand up for Scotland and those who live here. The endless debate about where powers lie must finally cease. It does Scots a disservice.
And this debate and last night’s anger also starkly demonstrates the limits of trusting a party whose sole aim is independence with running a powerfully devolved government. The SNP have demonstrated time and time again that their every political decision is a calculation about how to make independence more likely, not a calculation of how to make Scotland a better place. Scotland deserves better.
Labour’s opportunity today is to stand up for the Scotland that voted for improved devolution within a secure union. We have helped deliver this new phase in Scottish politics. Now let’s use those powers to improves the lives of those who need our help.