“No” campaign should agree to devolve all to Scotland that is devolved to NI

Welfare, air duty, employment law, aspects of equality policy, the Civil Service… I wouldn’t imagine many people know what connects those areas of policy. They are in fact the most prominent things, along with some other minor areas, which are devolved to Northern Ireland but not to Scotland.

In areas such as employment and equality, there are obvious historical reasons for this; with air duty, there is an obvious geographical one; with welfare and the Civil Service, it is more a historical quirk.

Nevertheless, I see no reason whatsoever they should not be devolved to Scotland immediately after September’s referendum (and Scotland’s income tax variation rights also transferred to Northern Ireland).

I have long argued that the obvious distinction between federations/unions with no real separatist movements (United States, Germany) and those on the verge of break-up (UK, Spain) is that the former have symmetrical devolution of power whereas the latter are a-symmetrical. This may seem counter-intuitive, but for a union to work all parts of it have to feel they are being treated fairly – not just the (culturally/historically) distinct part!

Bavaria is a markedly distinct part of Germany, historically and culturally. Likewise Texas or Hawaii in the United States. Yet they have the same powers as everywhere else – and are content with that.

The UK (and actually also Spain) must swiftly learn the same lesson. The “No” campaign should make that straightforward offer, while adding the potential for the devolution of financial powers also exists; this would have the added benefit of removing part of Alex Salmond’s whole argument, as Scotland would then have the power not to implement the “Bedroom Tax” and such like even in the event of a “no” vote. Indeed, he would even be presented with the problem of running his own Civil Service pensions schemes…

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2 thoughts on ““No” campaign should agree to devolve all to Scotland that is devolved to NI

  1. Power devolved is power retained. Can’t remember who penned that political maxim.

    You’re essentially describing federalism versus confederalism. There are arguments that all confederations ultimately must become federations. Witness America’s civil war and current debates about the EU’s future.

    I agree with your proposal for Scotland. But this American federalist would say that.

  2. Scots Anorak says:

    I’m not sure how closely you have been following the rather confused offerings from the Better Together parties, but it seems quite likely that housing benefit is to be cherry-picked and offered to the Scots, ostensibly on the grounds that rents vary by geography, whereas most other welfare payments will not be (doing so would cause problems for Labour MPs both politically and personally, since the more that is devolved, the more uncertain their positions at Westminster become). Corporation tax is not yet devolved to Northern Ireland and so isn’t currently relevant to your argument, although it might well become so. Labour has also decided not to devolve air passenger duty, probably to punish Michael O’Leary, who had the temerity to say that he looked forward to its removal under independence!

    As I understand it, as a Freistaat, Bavaria has the right to secede from Germany, which the other German Laender don’t. Although it’s not a constitutional matter, it also has the CSU, which allows it to exert more influence than it otherwise might. It’s probably also relevant that, although Germany’s history was as a collection of independent states, federalism was to some extent imposed by the allies in order to keep the country weak.

    The great asymmetry in the UK lies not in the powers devolved to the “Celtic fringe” but in the relative size of England. The US has the Senate to even things up, and, although not as dramatically, Germany’s Bundesrat also gives disproportionate weighting to small states. I can’t envisage that set-up in the UK. I think that the Scots also like being “first among equals” when it comes to devolution too, since their national identity is based on institutions, and evening up devolved powers, which would benefit Wales most of all, might actually lead to increased demands in Scotland.

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