Alert readers may have noticed with barely-concealed disinterest that Scottish Labour have announced their intention to have another really hard think about devolution.
With Labour not looking like being in power at either Holyrood or Westminster for at least a decade, and their opinions therefore being about as relevant as our ideas as to who should play in the back four for Real Madrid next weekend, most papers treated the news with the gravitas it deserved, such as this report in the Sunday Post:
But we thought it might be a snappy idea to keep track of all the times the Unionist parties have promised that they’ve come up with the ultimate form of devo-X.
The Scotland Act 1998. Almost 20 years after the first devolution referendum, which delivered a Yes but was scuppered by a Labour MP’s “40% rule”, Labour produced its definitive vision for a “Scottish Executive” – the fruits of 19 years of deliberation.
The first attempted revision of Holyrood’s powers was the Steel Commission produced by the Liberal Democrats, a hefty 136-page document which made 20 recommendations, including that a second Constitutional Convention should be held in order to “a move towards a new modern settlement based on more federal principles and backed by a new fiscal system to address the issue of a deficit in accountability”.
The next year the Unionist parties duly embarked on the Calman Commission.
18 months later the Calman Commission produced its report, concluding that airguns and speed limits should be devolved. Spontaneous street parties erupted.
Ruth Davidson pledges a “line in the sand” on devolution after Calman, saying that no more powers should be transferred. She tells the Scottish Conservatives at the launch of her leadership campaign that:
Before any of Calman’s recommendations had been implemented the Lib Dems had another go, delivering the Home Rule and Community Rule Commission Report under Menzies Campbell.
This was a much slimmer 14-page affair, which despite describing itself as a “radical programme for change” actually consisted of empty waffle and padding amounting to “we should talk about stuff again”.
Its second recommendation, for example, was:
“Led by the Scotland Office, the UK Government should begin an analysis of the options available to enhance the powers of the Scottish Parliament to implement the consensus set out in this report.”
The Scotland Act 2012, intended to deliver some but not all of the Calman proposals (the recommended devolution of Air Passenger Duty was excluded, for example), was brought before the UK parliament. It wouldn’t actually be fully enacted for several more years.
With SA2012 still lumbering slowly into law, seven years after Lord Calman and his pals had first sat round a table, the Unionist parties again embarked on their own devolutionary talking shops.
Labour’s Devolution Commission produced a final report which U-turned on key aspects of its own interim report after furious internal wrangling, and the Tories’ Strathclyde Commission abandoned Ruth Davidson’s line in the sand and stole a march on the self-proclaimed “party of devolution” by being slightly more daring.
The final recommendations, including those of the Lib Dems two years earlier, were summarised in a handy chart:
The whole mess was bundled up into “The Vow”, a woolly and non-committal promise to do something but not anything specific, fronted and “guaranteed” by Gordon Brown and presented on the front page of the Daily Record appended by the signatures of three party leaders who have all now, like Brown, departed the political stage.
Brown, however, did elaborate on what The Vow amounts to:
Following the No vote, the Smith Commission was formed to put together a third Scotland Act in 15 years, essentially transferring most of income tax, control of road signs and (finally) APD to Holyrood. Labour bitterly fought against almost every new power, including abortion, employment law and the minimum wage, and managed to stop most of them.
But it loses the election, and instead commits itself to blocking all improvements to the Scotland Act 2015 that are proposed by the 56 new SNP MPs elected by the people of Scotland on a manifesto to strengthen the act following David Cameron’s pre-referendum promise that “all the options of devolution are there and are possible”.
The Daily Record ties itself in knots variously proclaiming that the Vow has been delivered, not delivered and flat-out betrayed.
Kezia Dugdale gives a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Review calling for a “new Act Of Union” which will create a new, more federal UK. She repeatedly and inexplicably insists that her position of a Scotland inside both the UK and EU represents the view of “the majority” of Scots, despite polling showing that just 28% actually back that option.
(The most popular choice being an independent Scotland in the EU on 32%.)
She doesn’t explain where the public or political support for it will come (given that it’s not an option supported by either the Scottish or UK governments), or whether it would be more federal than the “as close to a federal state as you can be” already described by Gordon Brown and supposedly implemented by the Scotland Act 2015, or whether it’s more Home Rule-y than the Home Rule that Scottish Labour said had already been delivered in January 2015.
(Having been promised since Keir Hardie first stood for election in 1888.)
This may be because with support for Scottish Labour at 15% and falling, it doesn’t matter in the tiniest possible way what she thinks or says.
But, y’know, it’s December. People have to fill newspapers with something. And they can always be sure that a new “final” Unionist devolution proposal is never more than a few months away.