Hilariously, the Scottish Labour Party has just announced the personnel for its latest commission on devolution. We’re not quite sure which dramatic events have occurred since its last one, the Calman Commission, concluded that all Scotland needed was a few extra powers over speed limits and airguns. Oh, wait – yes we are.
It seems that a mere 18 months after it happened, Scottish Labour has finally come to terms with the electorate’s contemptuous rejection of its pathetically feeble vision of enhanced devolution. In just a year and a half, it appears to have finally dawned on the slow-witted dinosaurs at John Smith House that the Scottish people are no longer prepared to accept the status quo with a couple of trivial tweaks at the outer edges.
And in a panic, Labour are flailing desperately in all directions at once.
On the one hand, they’re committing electoral suicide by flying in the face of the views of Scots voters, telling them that if they reject independence they’ll also be throwing away some of Scotland’s most cherished jewels of social democracy – free university tuition for the young, free care and bus travel for the elderly, free prescriptions for the sick – in order that we can continue to afford nuclear weapons and military grandstanding on the world stage, and keep faithful Labour quangocrats in fat payoffs.
And now on the other hand, they’re telling us that they’re prepared to do precisely what Johann Lamont said they wouldn’t do just a few months ago – actually listen to public opinion and enter a “bidding war” over more powers for the Scottish Parliament. One of the members of the new commission is Duncan McNeil, who has already made his mind up over what powers he wants Holyrood to have and nailed his colours to the mast of the little-heard “Devo Plus” campaign. Or so it seemed – apparently he too is now ready to change his mind even before the ink is dry on his signature.
So let’s see if we can get this down to the brass tacks.
1. Scottish Labour, who as recently as last year thought the Scotland Bill was the last word in devolution, have had a Damascene conversion to the cause of major increases in Scottish autonomy. Sometime in the next two years, they’re going to come up with some manner of whole new devolution proposal – let’s call it “Devo X” – backtracking on everything they’ve said about it since 2007.
2. They’re going to promise to implement this “Devo X” if Scotland votes No to independence, despite not being in government anywhere in the UK and having no power to implement such promise – depending instead on the voters of England electing Ed Miliband as Prime Minister in 2015.
3. Should that particular miracle be achieved, they’re going to massively alter the constitutional structure of the UK state without, apparently, seeking the opinion of around 92% of its population.
(Because remember, Labour constantly tell us that an SNP election win isn’t a mandate for independence, because elections are about a full programme of policies rather than a single issue. Therefore, Labour presumably couldn’t introduce “Devo X” purely on the grounds of it being in their election manifesto.)
4. They’re also going to ask us to believe that this huge increase in Scottish autonomy will come about without a drastic reduction in the power/number of Scottish MPs at Westminster in response to the now-overwhelming magnitude of the West Lothian Question.
(Or, to believe that the first action of a new Labour government will be to vote many of its own Scottish MPs straight out of existence.)
5. Oh, and they’re also going to tell us that the price of “Devo X” will be the destruction of the foundation stone of social democracy – universal benefits – thereby negating most of the point of Scotland having responsibility for and control of its own finances anyway.
(Or, they’re going to go into the referendum without having published the outcome of their policy review at all, asking people to vote No for a pig in a poke.)
Is that it? Have we misunderstood anything?