Comment: Terry Murden
Wanted from party leaders: an Anglo-Scottish ‘peace’ deal
As the newly-empowered ‘fifty-six’ descended on London with a message from home to do their duty, they may find they are pushing at a door that has been left slightly ajar. Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to deliver on The Vow, and is likely to give a little more.
Mr Cameron has ruled out a second referendum on independence, enough for some on the extremes of the nationalist campaign to brand him with what remaining insults they haven’t already hurled in his direction. However, it is not a deal-breaker for moderates in the SNP who understand that achieving their ultimate goal is a long and patient game.
Where they may score more easily is in persuading Mr Cameron into concessions on further devolution, and this will be in his, as well as the nationalists’ interests.
As we will be regularly reminded, the SNP bloc now represents the third biggest party in the Commons, and as we will also come to acknowledge it will speak with one voice with one mission: achieving more powers.
The PM has other matters – Europe, the deficit, immigration – filling his in-tray. Not so the SNP which will use every tactic to remind the him that he cannot ignore his new and noisy housemate who wants more access to the bathroom and a regular opportunity to throw a party. Prepare for a lot of foot-stamping indignation.
Mr Cameron simply needs to deal with these demands head on. And the best way of doing so may be to give the SNP most of what they want. Even full fiscal autonomy.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has shown a little backtracking on the issue, arguably because having looked again at the sums, she doesn’t fancy the reality of dealing with that £7.6 billion black hole forecast by the Institute of Fiscal Studies.
But having the levers of power does not come with a guarantee that everything is in good working order. It would be for her government to work out how to deal with downturns and shortfalls. For that reason alone it would be a good thing to grant FFA to Holyrood and let Ms Sturgeon and her ministers prove they can grow the economy and meet their commitments on welfare spending. If they fail, they will be answerable to those who bought into the dream.
As I outlined in April, the obliteration of Labour in Scotland has worked in Mr Cameron’s favour, because gains in England and Wales have enabled him to form a government with a working majority. It is also why I could not understand Ms Sturgeon’s hostility to the Tories who were always going to be the bigger party at Westminster if she succeeded in gaining so many seats in Scotland. She now has to cosy up to her so-called nemesis.
Handing more powers to Scotland is not without political risk for Mr Cameron. It is important not to overlook the fact that 434,000 Scots voted for the party last week and he cannot be seen to abandon them. But the electoral system has rendered them an invisible force.
Although he has a highly-regarded Scottish leader in Ruth Davidson, she is on a hiding to nothing at Holyrood and her future may lie in Westminster. His Scottish Secretary, David Mundell, must operate like a colonial ruler, lacking credibility in a country in which he is also its only MP.
Giving more powers to Scotland does not necessarily mean the end of the union, but if Ms Sturgeon and her 56-strong army of MPs can be persuaded to accept an Anglo-Scottish agreement, it may bring an end to the wearying cross border battle.
As Lord Forsyth, who held the post from 1995 to 1997, said yesterday: “We just can’t go on with these piecemeal additional powers and tinkering of the constitution which, as we have seen, simply feeds the nationalist tiger and has created the disastrous situation where the unionist parties have only one MP in Scotland representing each of them.”