The media is in full-on spin mode today, reporting Ruth Davidson’s miraculous Damascene conversion to the principle of “more powers” for the Scottish Parliament, just 18 short months after her Churchill-esque declaration of devolutionary defiance to the effect that the petty tinkering of the Scotland Act was a “line in the sand”.
Most of the papers, of course, feign critical analysis by highlighting Davidson’s U-turn. But what we haven’t seen in a single one is any sort of actual examination of the content of Ms Davidson’s speech to a micro-audience of literally several people in what appeared to be the corridor of an Edinburgh hotel yesterday.
We suspect that’s because anyone who did would be very hard-pressed indeed to credibly describe the measures she proposes as representing “more powers” for anything. In fact, they’re the opposite.
What Ruth Davidson actually promised Scots yesterday was responsibility without power. She promised to force the Scottish Parliament to construct a massive new bureaucracy to generate the money it already receives, but offered it no reward for that effort. What she offered, in short, was a political form of workfare.
The actual speech was anything but short. A mammoth affair almost 3700 words long, much as we’d like to we won’t be going through it line by line. Fortunately, since most of it was empty waffling drivel that won’t be much of a loss. The first 500 or so words of meaningless boilerplate about “patriotism”, for example, would have benefited greatly from a single giant stroke of an editor’s red pen. But then we get to something curious:
“The 1997 referendum was won because it spoke to the hopes of the people of Scotland; their aspirations for a better future. It reflected the desire of Scotland to have a bigger say in the running of our own affairs while still enjoying the shared benefits of the United Kingdom.”
It did? We don’t recall there being an option in the 1997 referendum to NOT “enjoy the shared benefits of the United Kingdom”, so one might as well say that the result reflected the fervent desire of Scots to endorse the selection of Katrina And The Waves as that year’s UK entry in the Eurovision Song Contest.
After some more waffle, we get another lie:
“We often hear the advocates of independence call for the positive case to be made for Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom. It’s a reasonable call to make, and in reply, I say:
Look around you. Listen to the people of Scotland. Listen to the voices of the millions of ordinary Scots who in poll after poll, and at election after election, affirm their preference for Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom.”
We hesitate to point out the bleeding obvious, but “ordinary Scots” have never, not once in over 300 years, been offered a democratic choice about Scotland remaining within the UK. Elections are not single-issue referendums. Ms Davidson and her party, and all the other Unionist parties in Scotland and the UK, have in fact fought tooth and nail for decades to ensure that question was never asked.
(And of course, even the 1997 vote on devolution so enthusiastically cited by Ms Davidson a few lines above was bitterly opposed every step of the way by the Tories.)
But we digress. Some more padding later, we get to this:
“Over the last year, the Scottish Conservatives have listened to the people of Scotland. We have heard their ambition for a devolved parliament – within the United Kingdom – with greater powers than it currently holds. We have listened, we have heard and we will act. We will respond positively to that ambition.”
“…by strenuously rejecting any attempt to democratically offer that ambition to them as a clearly-defined, cast-iron-promised option on the referendum ballot paper”, she for some reason didn’t go on to add.
But then, almost 2000 words in, we finally approach the meat:
“Of course we will continue to explore how best the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament, and further powers already on the way, can be used. With an estimated 70 per cent of identifiable public spending controlled by Holyrood those powers are considerable.
But the challenge is to make sure that level of spending is balanced by a proper level of responsibility and transparency.”
That’s not ambiguous. Davidson is not offering more power. She says, and we paraphrase, “We already have lots of power – now I want to add responsibility to it, not increase it”. She goes on:
“Today I am not going to offer a detailed blueprint for the future of devolution.”
“My experience of the Scottish Parliament is there are too many members whose sole concern is how money should be spent. Politicians who have little or no concern for those who generate the money in the first place; the overburdened and underappreciated Scottish taxpayer.
Politicians who regard taxpayers’ money as theirs by right, not hard-earned cash they take on trust to spend on the people of Scotland’s behalf. Politicians who take no real responsibility for difficult decisions and palm blame off on those who do.
Politicians who exploit the deficiencies of Holyrood – deficiencies laid bare by a majority nationalist government in whose interest it is to pervert the functions of parliament, hobble devolution and point the finger at the UK government.
A parliament with little responsibility for raising the money it spends will never be properly accountable to the people of Scotland. It can never have the proper incentive to cut the size and cost of government, or to reduce tax bills.
So that means in future a far greater share of the money spent by the Scottish Parliament should be raised by it.
We will examine the mix of taxes best suited to achieving that goal, but the principle is clear. If you spend the public’s money, then you must be accountable to the public both for how it is spent and how it is raised.”
Not one single solitary word of the central passage in Davidson’s speech describes “more powers”. It describes more responsibility being attached to the existing powers. The only reference to new powers in fact deals with powers which are coming to Holyrood anyway:
“The devolution of new powers over taxation to the Scottish Parliament means it would be the responsibility of the parliament to use those powers in the best interests of the Scottish people. And the position of the Scottish Conservatives on this is equally clear.
New powers over tax should mean one thing; tax rates being reduced and the burden of tax being lifted for every Scottish family. We’ve already set out our proposal for a one pence cut in income tax for Scottish families, and new powers over tax in Scotland could let us go further.”
The Scotland Act, if and when it takes effect in 2015, will already enable the Scottish Parliament to vary the rate of income tax by up to 10p. Ruth Davidson’s only concrete suggestion for “more powers” is in fact a power already on the statute books and about to be implemented. It is NOT a new or additional power in any sense.
What Ruth Davidson is offering under the guise of “more powers” if Scotland votes No is more red tape and more responsibility, in return for absolutely nothing. She promises only to FORCE the Scottish Parliament to use a poisoned-chalice “power” it has already been given, and which offers it no benefit of any kind.
(If altering the Scottish rate of income tax results in increased receipts after 2015, they will go straight into the coffers of the UK Treasury, not to Holyrood. Not a single word in Davidson’s epic filibuster of a speech suggests any change to that situation.)
This simple, hardly-concealed fact has entirely and bewilderingly escaped the Scottish media, for reasons we can only speculate upon. Their headlines present the diametric opposite of the reality. For all the press hype, Davidson has taken close to 4000 words to say what this site told you months ago in just four: Vote No, Get Nothing.