The estimable James Kelly of Scot Goes Pop! wrote an excellent blog post the other day deconstructing a laughably skewed and leading poll which was commissioned by “Better Together” this month.
Blair McDougall’s Beleaguered Billy Boys, as hardly anyone calls them, had loudly and bizarrely trumpeted figures which actually showed a 6% swing to Yes, but that wasn’t the thing we found most interesting in their press release.
The poll question had in fact offered respondents a forced choice between two options: independence or “Scotland remaining part of the UK with increased powers for the Scottish Parliament”. (Which meant, among many other quirks which made the findings nonsensical, that the roughly 10% of people who want Holyrood abolished altogether got lumped in with the “increased powers” side as the least-worst option.)
We’ve already learned what BT mean by “increased powers” – the piddly and trivial ones enshrined by the Scotland Act 2012, rather than any dramatic new settlement from any of the Unionist parties, but the jarring part of the release is the twisting of that already-twisted wording to mean “stronger”.
Because a stronger Scottish Parliament is the LAST thing the No parties want, and you only have to spend a minute thinking about it to figure out why.
In the UK, power lives at Westminster. It’s where the Unionist parties send all their best talent, because it’s where the most important decisions get made, including the size of the Scottish Parliament’s budget. Westminster MPs despise any sort of challenge to their authority – you only have to look at the reaction of Scottish Labour MPs to the Scottish party’s draft devolution proposals from last year to see that.
So in what possible scenario would any of the UK leaders want to do anything that would strengthen the Scottish Parliament? Let’s take a quick tour through the possibilities, because there aren’t many permutations.
– Tory control of Westminster, Tory control of Holyrood
Stop sniggering at the back, there.
– Tory control of Westminster, Labour control of Holyrood
The stronger the Scottish Parliament, the more trouble it can cause London.
– Tory control of Westminster, SNP control of Holyrood
As above, only more so.
– Labour control of Westminster, Labour control of Holyrood
Labour gains nothing here. Any major policy it might want to implement in Scotland, it would be able to implement directly from Westminster.
But because it’s highly unlikely that Labour would command an absolute majority at Holyrood (they’re currently 25 seats short of one even in coalition with the Lib Dems), then the stronger the Scottish Parliament is the more resistance it can put up to Ed Miliband’s “One Nation” policies like reintroducing tuition fees and bringing in means-testing for various benefits.
– Labour control of Westminster, SNP control of Holyrood
An obvious nightmare for Labour. Handing more power to the SNP would be just fashioning a massive rod for its own back. With nails in it.
– Labour control of Westminster, Tory control of Holyrood
Not going to happen. But the same would apply.
LIBERAL DEMOCRATS/UKIP/MONSTER RAVING LOONY PARTY
Remember, the 2015 UK general election will be conducted against a backdrop of the referendum result already being known. If Scotland has voted No, it has no threats left, no leverage whatsoever that it can bring to bear on Westminster.
All it can do is elect the SNP again in 2016, as all the polls currently suggest will happen. (And a No vote would likely only increase the probability, as Scots sought to protect themselves from Westminster’s wrath.)
So why on Earth would Labour or the Tories make Holyrood any more powerful, knowing that it was likely to be a thorn in their side?
The only rational thing for either of them to do would be the exact opposite, which is why Labour have already laid a trap in the form of devolution plans which would impose more responsibilities, more bureaucracy and more costs on the Scottish Government, for no practical gain.
The UK doesn’t want to go through a trauma like the independence referendum again for generations. Only a madman would believe that having won the bitterly-fought duel, via every dirty trick in the book, it would hand its opponent a bigger gun.