Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Best of Both Worlds?

Labour's campaign spokespeople are fond of claiming that devolution gives Scotland 'the best of both worlds'. By that, they mean it gives Scots a say in our own 'domestic' affairs, while retaining influence in the UK and being able to use the muscle of a big country to secure benefits in Europe.

Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? But what about this much-trumpeted influence? Let's consider two very recent stories which might help evaluate this claim, the first of which begins with the adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights into Scots law.

The UK's prohibition of prison inmates from voting in elections was declared unlawful in a 2005 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. The Westminster government vowed to change electoral law to take account of the ruling. And that, you would be entitled to expect, should have been that.

Alas, despite the existence of a government 'action plan', it seems that the timetable was allowed to slip. The effect of this is that the required changes to electoral law will not now be made in time for the Scottish Parliamentary elections in May.

According to Lord Abernethy, sitting with Lords Nimmo Smith and Emslie, "...the action plan makes no mention of the Scottish parliamentary election in May 2007. We cannot refrain from commenting that it is unfortunate that the urgency of the situation was apparently only appreciated so late in the day". So where, while all this was going on, was our strong voice at Westminster?

The Scottish Executive said nowt. The Department of Constitutional Affairs, the Westminster department in charge of electoral law, as might be expected, overlooked the Scottish dimension entirely. But even the Scotland Office, with a Secretary of State sitting in the Cabinet and now part of the DCA, said nothing either. Result? No Scottish influence in Whitehall at all, and the unsavoury prospect of either no election in May, or whopping big payouts from you and I to every convict unable to cast their vote.

Ah, but we're stronger in the world as part of the UK, bleat the unionists. Really? Then how to explain the leaked report from Michael Aron, Head of the Scottish Executive office in Brussels, which sets out how Whitehall civil servants keep their Executive couterparts "out of the loop"? And worse, how to explain the way that Scottish ministers are left out of EU council meetings, being left to sit instead in another room where they can listen, but not take part, in the horsetrading between member states?

So, there you have it - our political 'union dividend' is as much of a sham as its financial equivalent. I'm fed-up being a second class Brit. Wouldn't it be far better to be a first class Scot instead?

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