Westminster SNP Leader Angus Robertson has accused the UK Government of “losing control” of “The Vow” (the offer of greatly enhanced powers to the Scottish Parliament made by previous Prime Minister Gordon Brown ahead of last year’s referendum).
He is wrong. The UK Government has not lost control of “The Vow”, because it never had control of it in the first place. By this time last year Gordon Brown was a largely absentee back bench Opposition MP who had no right to make such a vow in the first place, and no means of subsequent delivery.
Nevertheless, the Conservatives should now get on with implementation of the Smith Commission recommendations, for three prime reasons.
Firstly, though I think its effect on the referendum outcome is vastly overstated, there is an understandable perception in Scotland that “The Vow” constituted a binding offer from the three Unionist parties. It should be carried through in good faith.
Secondly, it is in the Union’s interests that the Scottish Parliament have greater welfare and budgetary powers. As frequently noted on this blog, devolution has favoured the financial left because it gets to spend but it is for the UK Government to tax; in fact, finance should generally be raised in a democracy at the level it is spent to give the voters a clear choice and enable Executives and Legislatures at various levels to be held to account.
Thirdly, it is in the Conservatives’ interests to be seen as the drivers of constitutional change for Scotland within in the Union. Their trials in Scotland dated back to many things, but primarily to their failure to grasp the Zeitgeist in Scotland at the time of the devolution referendums in the late ’90s. A Conservative revival in Scotland depends on their ability to be seen as a distinctly Scottish party – something their current leadership has carried out with distinction and which would be further enhanced by the delivery of further powers over Scottish issues into Scottish hands.
Add this in to the practicalities of the roll-out of welfare reforms and tax changes, and it is important that the Scotland Bill has priority to enable practical use of the new powers immediately after the next Scottish Parliamentary Election.
It is time the Conservatives made their Vow to Scotland.