Leaders: Public can be heard at last
IT HAS been a long time coming – so long, in fact, that some people wondered if it was going to happen at all.
But this weekend Johann Lamont, the Scottish Labour leader, finally announced the membership and remit of the commission she is setting up to formulate her party’s new vision for Scotland’s constitutional future. To the surprise of many, it includes advocates of a much stronger Scottish Parliament than the one we currently have, with far greater powers. These include MSP Duncan McNeil, who sits on the board of Devo Plus, an organisation campaigning for the devolution to Scotland of oil revenues, corporation tax and much of the benefits system. Trade union supporters of more devolution are also included. Briefings this weekend from senior figures close to the Scottish Labour leadership give the clearest of signals: this is a serious attempt to look at serious new powers for Holyrood.
This is a significant moment in the long conversation Scotland has been having with itself about how it wants to be governed. And it changes substantially the terms of the debate as we head towards the referendum on independence scheduled for the autumn of 2014. Up until now, proponents of independence have been able to contrast their (albeit rather fluid) plans for a go-it-alone Scotland with the constitutional status quo. They have been able to highlight Holyrood’s inability to make much of an impression on the economy due to its lack of fiscal levers, and its inability to counter Westminster decisions that have a profound effect on Scottish life, such as the size of the block grant and the widely criticised changes to the benefits system.
Now the terms of that debate are beginning to change. A Liberal Democrat commission under Sir Menzies Campbell will soon publish a report that is expected to outline a plan for federal Britain, with Westminster’s influence in Scotland much reduced. When Labour’s commission finally reports, there may well – we put it no higher – be a degree of overlap between its recommendations and those of the Lib Dems. For the Conservatives, David Cameron said earlier this year that he, too, was willing to consider new powers for Holyrood (although details of exactly what he meant by this have not yet been forthcoming). What all this suggests is that by the time we get to the referendum this will no longer be a choice between independence and the status quo. It will be a choice between independence and a new, stronger Scottish Parliament that has far more comprehensive control over domestic politics, while still remaining within the United Kingdom. This also happens to be the option that opinion polls repeatedly show is the Scottish people’s preference.
This newspaper has long argued that Scottish party politics was regrettably out of kilter with the views of the Scottish people, with no party advocating the public’s favoured constitutional future. This was not a healthy situation. But now there are signs that the anti-independence parties may converge on a position that is more in tune with where the public have been, waiting patiently, for some years now. Whether this convergence produces a coherent and credible alternative to independence remains to be seen. It may yet be derailed by Unionists within Labour who regard any more devolution with deep suspicion. This newspaper reserves its judgment until much nearer polling day. But for now, for anyone who wants a genuine collision of ideas in this debate, that long conversation about Scotland’s future just became a lot more interesting.
Refuge behind bars
When Charles Atangana arrived in Scotland as a legitimate political asylum seeker he was fleeing a regime that used torture to literally whip the investigative journalist into line. What he didn’t expect was that the country in which he was trying to find a new life away from the brutal instruments of repression would add to his ordeal by not implementing the safeguards built into the system to prevent victims of torture having to suffer further anguish.
Atangana was detained at the Home Office immigrant detention centre in Dungavel in Lanarkshire even though government rules dictate that suspected torture victims should be housed in the community pending their case being heard. Although he has now been given leave to stay in his adopted home, human rights charity Medical Justice say at least seven other torture victims have been similarly detained there since 2010. There was widespread support when the Home Office finally agreed – after a long campaign which eventually won the support of the Scottish Parliament – to end the detention of children at Dungavel. It will be a further mark of the civilised society that we want to live in if our politicians can ensure that vulnerable asylum seekers no longer face being locked up in the place where they are seeking refuge.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 21 May 2013
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