Thursday, July 02, 2009

So, Was That It?

So, was that it, then? The Calman Commission – the grand Unionist masterplan – the one which was going to stymie independence and the SNP? The Commission which began with no preconceptions, except that Independence was a bad idea? The Commission that no unionist party saw fit to argue for before the SNP took power? The Commission, in short, designed to improve upon what was already perfection?

You must surely have seen the ecstatic crowds, the cheering throngs ever grateful for being spared the burden of being asked their opinion in advance, hoisting Peerie Kenny aloft? The sundry 3 cheers for Iain, Tavish and Annabel? The melodious sound of a band striking up the Unionist jig to which Alex Salmond would now surely be made to dance?

Nope? Me neither.

Forget all the hokum, flim-flam and flapdoodle about this being an 'intellectually rigorous report'. It's nothing of the kind. Quite simply, it is the result of empty minds being brought to a problem which essentially has no right answer. It is the lowest common denominator solution to how far Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives are prepared to allow Holyrood to progress, carrying with it the pseudo-scientific conceit of being somehow 'evidence based'.

Ah, I hear you cry! But surely there were all sorts of brainy Professors involved! Iain McMillan was there to speak for the CBI! There was even a big Brother contestant to make sure that the kids were who they were down with! How can you be so cynical about such a stellar panel of critical, enquiring minds?

Easy. Just look at the proposals for financial powers – in fact, you needn't bother looking all that closely at all - and it will explode any vestige of belief that we might be dealing with any kind of worthwhile analysis here. Half of income tax revenues raised in Scotland are to stay in Scotland, we hear, in order to improve accountability. Well, cock-a-doodle-doo. What happens in a recession when income tax receipts fall? Why not broaden the base by supplementing this with VAT or Corporation Tax revenues? Why is it a good idea to tether the basic and top rates so that they cannot be altered independently of one another? More to the point, why no control over the North Sea tax regime? Really, if it happens it will be a Potemkin power – there for show and nothing else.

The problem with this power, as many eminent economists have pointed out, including some of those on Calman’s expert committee, is that it removes the certainty of the block grant without substituting it for the benefits of full fiscal autonomy. Without an enhanced funding base, Calman’s funding proposals have the potential to do more harm than good.

While proposals to devolve control over air guns and drink drive limits are welcome, let's not forget that these are areas where the SNP was accused in the past of 'picking fights'. Together with proposals to transfer animal welfare (remember the shenanigans over foot and mouth?), it seems that these are matters which perhaps should, in the opinion of the supreme arbiter, be devolved after all. Is this vindication for the SNP here, or is it simply an approach which owes more to reading back through the papers than any attempt to work out what the best division of responsibilities might be within a union state?

It's exactly the sort of timid and irrelevant stodge you'd expect to get when you seek the resultant of the politically inept but nonetheless enormously self-important great and good. And for that, the SNP should probably be grateful – after all, it now means that people can see exactly how little difference 'more powers' would actually make. This is as little as the British State is prepared to concede – if you want more, you're going to have to vote SNP and keep the prospect of independence at the top of the agenda – it really is the only language they speak.

Even then, as one Commission member put it, 'The potential for long grass is considerable'. How true – the Conservative Scottish Parliamentary Group is split on the matter, while you assume that the Lib Dems would have preferred it to go much further. Meanwhile, Labour are back to their old tricks again, with Jim Murphy claiming that the Scottish Parliament funded report is the 'property' [I kid you not] of the British Government and the parties party to the Commission. Despite there being unanimous agreement across Holyrood about the implementation of certain powers, according to Labour the report can only be implemented as a whole, and to suggest otherwise is SNP politicking.

Which must be news to Calman himself, who has said publicly that elements could be progressed fairly quickly. Meanwhile, there may not be sufficient parliamentary time left to allow Labour to implement any or even some of what has been recommended. Irony of ironies, it may be left to a future Prime Minister Cameron to implement the scheme on behalf of a party that has never entirely come to terms with the devolution we already have.

It promises to be an interesting aperitif to the independence referendum or the 2011 election – whichever comes first.


Stuart Winton said...

For once I can generally agree, albeit that my criticism comes from a fundamentally different perspective!

I've been meaning to write something about Calman's proposals regarding speed limits, and thus was interested that while you welcomed "proposals to devolve control over air guns and drink drive limits", you missed out the speed limits aspect - was that deliberate?

Richard Thomson said...

"I've been meaning to write something about Calman's proposals regarding speed limits, and thus was interested that while you welcomed "proposals to devolve control over air guns and drink drive limits", you missed out the speed limits aspect - was that deliberate?"

No, it wasn't deliberate. Doesn't add or detract much to the argument either way though, to my mind.

DougtheDug said...

A summary of the Calman report in two short paragraphs.

Funding will continue at the Barnett level but it's now a dog's breakfast of assigned taxes and a top up block grant. The unused 3p in the pound variable rate has now gone to a 10p in the pound variable rate. The Parliament can now borrow money like a proper Local Authority.

Scotland gets airguns, speed limits and drink driving but Scotland has to return the control of charity legislation, the regulation of Health professionals and the rules to be applied by insolvency practitioners back to Westminster.

All that noise and hot air and at the end of it what was there? In the words of the famous Peggy Lee, "Is that all there is to Calman?"

It is becoming clear that the current parliament and powers are all we're going to get without independence. I'm sure that Calman will tinker with it a bit and there is always the chance of some more tinkering to come but the fear of independence which drove New Labour to create the Scottish Parliament is now paralyzing any attempts by the unionists to do more than tweak the current devolution settlement.

Liberal for Life said...

Separation is not progress in a world that seeks to break down barriers not erect new ones especially where non currently exist.

You truly are a sad lot who play on peoples emotions rather than on their wits which fortunately a majority still retain despite you promises of the neverendum land.

Richard Thomson said...

Oh well, can't win them all, LfL. Just you keep your wits about you - both of them - and I'm sure all will work out for the best.

Liberal for Life said...

So Richard, it appears outside of politics you really have never earned a living in the real world.

I trust learning to play the fiddle goes hand in hand with your ambitions. Perhaps you've been taught the fiddle by Three Jobs Salmond?

Richard Thomson said...

So Richard, it appears outside of politics you really have never earned a living in the real world.

Wrong. However, I'd be interested to know how you managed to arrive at such an erroneous conclusion. Care to share?

Is someone putting you up to making a complete idiot of yourself here, or are you doing it all by yourself?

Liberal for Life said...

Are you suggesting the financial services sector is the real world?

Its now pretty apparent to the majority of the hard working tax payers of this world that that particular career path no longer qualifies you either I suspect.

But you just keep playing that card my boy and we'll see where it takes you in due course along with your so-called independence mantra.

Richard Thomson said...

Wow, Mr Milne. Please tell me that's not an attitude shared by the saner members of your party?

Anyway, you can wait until tomorrow to do it. This thread is closed for the evening while I go out.

If you do decide to come back, try to bring a better attitude with you. I've only banned one person from this site before, but with your inanities this afternoon, you are fast on your way to becoming the second.

Liberal for Life said...

Richard if you really can't stand the heat then laddie its time for you to get out of the kitchen.

A ban from your site would be a big feather in my cap without a doubt so just do what you feel best and let the good folk of Gordon decide because I will be the first to tell them of your rather childish reponse to some serious scrutiny.

Maybe you simply can't defend the indefensible as I intend to Stop Nationalist Propaganda from ruining this precious country of ours - so mark my words.

Enjoy your night out.

Yours sincerely
Galen Milne

Richard Thomson said...

Dear Galen,

You might have gathered from the time it took me to moderate your comment that I don't really have a lot of time to devote to this blog any more – the perils of being a hard-working candidate etc. Generally, that's not a problem because despite the occasional strong exchange of views, the people who come here keep it civil and on-topic. Accordingly, the blog tends to run itself quite nicely.

I'm confident that regular readers will confirm I'm usually quite an indulgent host. Some of your fellow Lib Dem bloggers like Stephen Glen and Caron occasionally come on to my blog and I to theirs to have a bit of banter and indulge in some gentle leg pulling - occasionally, we even manage to shed a bit of light on some subjects too. If I can give you some advice, you should maybe learn to take a leaf out of their book if you wish to portray your chosen party in a good light.

If I thought you were remotely interested in getting sensible answers to your comments on this post, I might go along with it. It's also the sort of thing I might put up with for a while if it came from some wee try-hard in your youth wing – we all need to cut our teeth somewhere, after all. But you are a former council candidate for your party, a major financial donor to the Scottish Lib Dems as well as a company director. Maybe it's unrealistic on my part, but I'd have expected something a bit better from you than what you've offered so far.

Just so you're clear, anyone who wants to debate intelligently and rationally here is most welcome. On the other hand, people who just want to go trolling in the hope of getting a reaction can go and play elsewhere because frankly, I no longer have the time, or in your case the inclination, to indulge them. For the moment at least, it's your call.

Best wishes,


Liberal for Life said...

My dear Richard, I do hope I have not offended you by over-indulging in your valuable time.

Seriously I would like a serious answer to a very serious question.

I always have great difficulty trying to fathom out what exactly the SNP stand for after setting aside your mantra of so-called Scottish independence. Any SNP supporters I talk to never give me the same answer, apart from wanting separation from the rest of UK.

What are the present SNP's core political beliefs if you can categorise them or are you simply such a broad church that as long as the aim of the game is seperating Scotland from the rest of the UK thats really all the qualification required (so long as your are not a complete nutter of course).

So to put you, as a political animal, back on the spot how would you best describe your core beliefs, to lets say the nearest 80%, as being closest to - communist/socialist/liberal/conservative/fascist?

If thats too difficult a question for you to give a straight answer how about thinking you live in England for the next general election and the choice is between- Tory/Labour/LibDem (I won't insult you by including some of the fringe parties like the BNP who are gaining some ground due to the playing on peoples prejudices in times of economic hardship) - so where would you put your X?

Take your time as maybe nobody has asked you to consider this before.


Richard Thomson said...

Galen, I'm busy tonight so will get back to you later.

Incidentally, I learn from the Buchanie that you've come up in the world a bit since you last stood for election. Given your new found responsibilities, are you sure hanging around here is really the best use of your time? :-)

Liberal for Life said...

Dear Richard,
Yes I thought you might need some time to answer that particular question.

Please don't you worry your little head about how I should best spend my time as I do need to continue to earn a proper living so my taxes help keep guys like you in post - which little pot of money does Alex pay you out of by the way (oops sorry, a bit too cheeky that one was it so don't answer it as I can find out elsewhere)?

I promise once you have frankly answered the questions relating to your core values then I'll leave you at peace - for a wee while at least.


Richard Thomson said...

Yes I thought you might need some time to answer that particular question.

Not really - I just had more pressing matters to attend to. There's more important things in life than blogging.

I'm not sure why you seem to wish to make such an issue over what my current job is. After all, I'm sure it wouldn't take long to unearth some Lib Dem candidates, past or present, who either are or have been in a similar employment position to myself.

To return to what has hopefully become the main issue here, the SNP, as I'm sure you are aware, describes itself as a social democratic party. Its political aims, or 'core values' if you prefer, are an integral part of the party constitution, to which every member signs up when they join. Here are some of the relevant parts, which regrettably, will have to be posted in sections:


2. The aims of the Party shall be:

(a) Independence for Scotland; that is the restoration of Scottish national sovereignty by restoration of full powers to the Scottish Parliament, so that its authority is limited only by the sovereign power of the Scottish People to bind it with a written constitution and by such agreements as it may freely enter into with other nations or states or international organisations for the purpose of furthering international cooperation, world peace and the protection of the environment.

(b) the furtherance of all Scottish interests.


Richard Thomson said...


Our stated values are:

No one country and no one human being is worth more or less than any other.

We believe in the right of sovereign peoples to self-determination. We believe that Scotland should be an independent country, equal with other countries in Europe and the world. We are committed to co-operation and peaceful co-existence with other nations. We believe nations must be free to decide how they co-operate to create economic prosperity, deliver social justice and protect the environment.

We affirm our commitment to the Charter of the United Nations, and its demand that all nations protect and assert the human rights of the individual.

The SNP is committed to the principle of equality of opportunity. That means the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, age, sexuality, faith, belief, ability, status or social background. This commitment demands an end to poverty and in particular to child poverty, which blights the life-chances of so many young people in Scotland.

The people of Scotland should be empowered to take control of their lives and communities.

The SNP believes that decisions affecting the lives of individuals are best taken closest to those who will be affected by them. We will opt for de-centralist policy solutions that put power in the hands of communities and individuals.

We believe that public services should be run for the benefit of the communities and individuals they serve. There should at all times be transparency and accountability to local communities in the delivery of these services.

No-one can be truly empowered while feeling unsafe in their home and in their community. The SNP respects and will uphold the right of every citizen to live in peace and without fear from those who abuse the privileges of a democratic society.

Wealth should be created sustainably and shared in order to give every individual the opportunity to release their full potential.

The SNP recognises the necessity for Scotland to compete in the global economy and for the creation of wealth to be sustainable. We must steward the natural environment and resources of our country to ensure our economic success is not at the expense of future generations.

We are committed to significantly improving Scotland’s economic growth by placing Scotland at a competitive advantage, allowing the talent of the people of Scotland to flourish and for the potential of our country to be released. We will equip the people of Scotland with the skills and education required to ensure long-term individual and national economic success. It is through economic success that we will earn our aspiration to social democracy. No-one in the world owes Scotland a living and we must reap our own harvest and ring our own till.

We believe those who have retired from work should share fairly in the national wealth they have helped to create. We believe in simplicity, transparency, fairness and honesty in the taxation and benefits system. Tax will be levied and benefits distributed fairly and progressively.


Richard Thomson said...


If you really wish to learn more about the political development of the party and the strands of thought within, you should consider reading the excellent "SNP - The History of the Scottish National Party" (Welsh Academic Press, 2002) written by Dr Peter Lynch of Stirling University (just down the road for you). Alternatively, if you want a more condensed view of the development of the SNP's thinking on civic nationalism and social democracy, perhaps I could modestly recommend a recent book called “Breaking up Britain: Four nations after a Union” to which I contributed a chapter. Only £16.99 and doubtless available in all good bookshops as we speak.

Now, I've given you thorough and courteous responses here - given that you are your party's candidate for Banff and Buchan rather than just a semi-anonymous sign-in, I'm sure we can both agree it would be regrettable if either of us were to now veer this discussion back towards the snide and petty personal point-scoring which marked some earlier postings.

I'm sure we're both bigger than that. Will you prove me right?

Liberal for Life said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Richard Thomson said...

Its the answer I was anticipating from you Richard and is, if I recollect,just the latest handy label Mr Salmond chose to describe your separatist party in the run up to the 2007 election, or was it post then that he made such a statement - can you clarify the exact reference time wise?


You recollect incorrectly, as it's been a term the SNP has used since the 1980s. I refer you to Peter Lynch's book if you wish to learn more about the history of the party.

I'm sorry that despite my best efforts, you've chosen to respond in a similar ad hominem manner as before. I hope you'll understand why our dialogue is now at an end.