Kenny Farquharson: Revisit Calman and reinvigorate Scotland

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LET'S press the pause button. Take a moment. Gather our thoughts. And maybe reconsider. All of our political assumptions need to be reappraised in the light of the new coalition arrangement at Westminster. And that includes the plans to give a limited number of new powers to the Holyrood parliament. So, is there scope for a rethink about the historic next step for Scottish home rule?

In the Queen's Speech on Tuesday we're expecting a commitment to give Holyrood new tax and borrowing powers, as set out in the report by the Calman Commission. This is an easy hit for David Cameron – a palpable demonstration that he represents a break from the bad old Tory days, and a sign of his willingness to treat Scotland with new respect.

And yet the truth is that Calman already seems like the product of a different era, now consigned to history. Underpinning its deliberations was an unspoken assumption that went something like this: "Yes we want to make Holyrood more accountable and effective, but let's not get carried away."

Everyone on the commission knew that one of its functions was to produce reforms that had a chance of getting agreed by a Labour government that would get cold feet at the merest whiff of Nationalism. The presence of people like Labour's Lord Elder was emblematic. Murray Elder is the most cautious man in politics. Nominated by his old school friend Gordon Brown, his job was to say: "Yes, but…"

If Calman had started its work today, it would be a very different beast. Different people on board. Different mood music. Its report would be aimed at a UK coalition government consisting of one party desperate to accommodate Scottish ambitions and another with an ages-old commitment to federalism.

It would, I'm sure, have reached more radical conclusions. More leeway on varying tax bands. Control over more fiscal levers. More assignment of revenues. Scope to tweak the benefits system. Ending the anomalies that keep the law on drugs and firearms reserved to Westminster. And, yes, recognition that Scots can be trusted to make up their own minds on moral issues such as abortion and fertility.

The Calman recommendations we have before us today are hedged and constrained by a government that no longer exists. So why don't we revisit them? There is, theoretically, a majority at Holyrood backing their implementation. The question I'd like to float today is this: can an even bigger majority be found for another, more radical, more coherent version?

That depends on whether some people are prepared to break cover. I know for a fact there are senior figures in all three UK parties who believe Calman doesn't go far enough. But it also depends on whether the SNP wants to stop being a wallflower in the debate about Scotland's future.

I can't help feeling the SNP will look back at this phase of the devolution story and kick themselves for a lost opportunity. Not getting involved in the Calman deliberations over the past two years will, I suspect, come to be seen in the same light as standing apart from the Scottish Constitutional Convention two decades ago. Both decisions absented the Nationalists from processes delivering new powers of self-determination to the Scottish people. Both left the SNP looking insular, dogmatic and marginal. Invited to roll up their sleeves and deliver something of value, they declined, preferring to stay at home and feed oats to the sacred Highland Cow of independence.

Better late than never. And in any case there may be political imperatives for getting involved. The SNP's scope for making an impression on the constitutional debate – which is, after all, it's raison d'tre – is narrowing.

Calman could be on the statute book by the time of the next Holyrood election. There will be no referendum on independence, multi-option or otherwise (another broken promise). When Scots go to the polls next May the SNP will be in the same invidious place they were in 1999 – pushing for independence when most voters are minded to give this new-fangled devo arrangement a chance to work. Alex Salmond needs a way to show the SNP are truly "the power for change". Pushing for Calman Plus is the obvious solution.

It is an opportunity, too, for the three UK parties. Labour's Iain Gray can burnish his small-'n' nationalist credentials as he seeks to rebrand himself as the Scottish resistance. The Lib Dems' Tavish Scott – who must be dreading a backlash at next year's election – can demonstrate an ability to use his party's presence in a Westminster coalition to produce a Scottish dividend. And Annabel Goldie can grab an opportunity to prove the Tories can deliver more for Scotland than Labour intended to do. These are significant prizes.

I accept that revisiting Calman carries political risks for all those involved. But these are party political risks. There is an opportunity here to obtain for Scotland a form of government that would be stable, accountable and effective, equipping us with the tools we need to build our own prosperity in the most difficult of circumstances.

It's a chance that will not come again for perhaps a decade. There has been a lot of talk of late about putting the national interest before party interest. Usually that's just political baloney. Here's a chance for Scotland's political leaders to prove otherwise.