It might be tempting to think that the latest promise of additional powers for the Scottish Parliament would deliver the reality that the unionist parties consider to be best for Scotland – a stronger Scottish Parliament within a secure and stable United Kingdom.
Note that until this last minute promise was made, we had been led to believe that the best of both worlds for Scotland was a strong (not a stronger!) Scottish Parliament within a secure and stable United Kingdom. We already had it, we just didn’t appreciate it.
So which is it? Probably neither. It is difficult to understand how the Scottish Parliament could be strong at all when the United Kingdom Parliament retains the right to legislate on any devolved matter it wishes, let alone dissolve the Scottish Parliament within a matter of days if it felt the need to do so.
The offer of additional powers is just a cynical move designed to discourage the people of Scotland from reclaiming sovereignty, without which the notion of a strong Scottish Parliament is an illusion. A strong Scottish Parliament would be a permanent institution serving a sovereign people; that cannot happen inside the constitutional set up of the United Kingdom and there is no point pretending otherwise.
(For example, this is why the unionist rebuttal of the Scottish Government’s warning that the NHS can only be protected within the written constitution of an independent Scotland is misleading – it doesn’t matter if the NHS is fully devolved or not when the United Kingdom Government can still legislate on any devolved matter it wishes to.)
Alex Salmond is a very clever politician and like most clever politicians he often indulges in the type of spin and rhetoric that leaves even the most able opponent unsure if they are coming or going. Despite that, I think he is absolutely spot on this time. The last minute promise of additional powers for the Scottish Parliament is a sign of panic in Westminster.
I remember someone warning me once that you should never turn your back on a fire. You would never know for definite that it had gone out. A fire of discontent has been smouldering across working class communities in Scotland ever since Thatcher dismantled Scottish industry in the 1980’s and used North Sea oil revenues to subsidise this devastating programme of decline.
Successive United Kingdom Governments have had an opportunity to extinguish it once and for all, but instead they all chose to ignore it. A last minute promise of additional powers will only appeal to those too wealthy to have been affected by Westminster’s negligence in the first place, or to those too spooked by the perceived risk of constitutional change. For the rest of us, hopefully the majority of us, that particular fire didn’t go out.