Andrew Wilson: Let’s move on together

Smith commission decision must be based on core principles that make sense and endure. Picture: PA
Smith commission decision must be based on core principles that make sense and endure. Picture: PA
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THE public life of our small corner of the world continues to bubble and froth nicely. Truly fascinating 
and exciting times for those of us who have ached for new ways for so long. I sense that all things are possible.

Older orders are giving way to 
newer ones. Batons are being passed. A new generation is ready to take the wheel. Those that do with a hug and smile from their predecessor have the wind at their backs. Elsewhere there is still purpose and the route to True North to be found. They may find 
it and restore. They may wither. Whatever, life will go on regardless.

It is very difficult in all areas of our lives to see things across the span of time rather than the moment in which we experience them. The trials of the next big wave or bump in the road concentrate us and divert us from the journey itself.

When leaders realise this, it can 
release them to step back from the noise of interference and see through it all. When they do that, big people can emerge who can make the interventions that determine the course of history for generations to come.

We are at this juncture now. History tells us that Scotland is perfectly capable of killing time, navel-gazing and feuding, when otherwise powerful improvements could be made. We have been pointing our finger in blame at others for our condition for 47 generations since Scotland was born. Enough of all that.

I remember the possibly apocryphal tale of when Celtic played in the Uefa Cup Final in Seville in 2003. Some 80,000 souls made the 2,000-mile trip to southern Spain for the game. Two bedraggled and behooped men stood at the start of the road north in the aftermath, thumbing a lift. A Scottish car stopped. They asked the driver where he was going. “Edinburgh,” he said. They waved him on: “No, you’re fine pal. We’re headed to Glasgow.”

Ponder that when thinking about the deliberations of the Smith Commission. First a declaration of interest: I know, respect and like Robert Smith. Very much. He has a difficult task, but few others in our number have his balance of experience, intelligence and tenacity to pull this off.

Compromise must be matched by ambition. Minds must open. The foundations must be sound. Or the exercise will be wasted along with 
the passion of millions who want it to work. Urgently.

To the foundations: the single most important thing is that, whatever settlement Smith determines, it must be based on core principles that make sense and endure. Just taking things as they are and extending unusable tax powers or creating the impression of responsibility where in fact there is none will be worse than pointless.

Dressing up minor additions and daring Holyrood to raise tax to 
plaster the wounds cut by Westminster could ruin us all.

We need a settlement that maximises responsibility over the policies we control here and incentivises the twin goals of prosperity and fairness at once.

Assigning revenues? Changes nothing and means nothing unless you can measure exactly what is raised and influence it meaningfully.

Sharing taxes like income tax? Meaningless. With one change of the bands George Osborne could flout what little responsibility Holyrood has.

Either devolve a tax or don’t. You might like or dislike what John Swinney did on stamp duty but it demonstrates that we can do things completely differently. That has to be the only way to go.

The completely risible 2012 Scotland Act process and outcome demonstrate how not to do it. This time it must be different or we will be back to the table in no time, just as we were with it.

Bottom of my list? Income tax. Either devolve it all or take it all back. Give us the range of other ones that allow us real responsibility to tailor to suit our competitiveness and to fund ourselves sustainably without beggaring the generations to come as we are doing in the UK at present.

Those of us who want it all must 
be prepared to compromise also if 
we are to find the highest common denominator. We got an answer from the people and we must listen or 
our goal will founder. That would be unforgiveable.

The dead hand of Whitehall centralism is aching to grip again. It must be cast off.

Time for opponents to look each other in the eye with a generous heart and recognise that they could make history right here, right now. But only if they look beyond the wave and the bump to the long journey ahead.

This next stage may not take us 
all to where you regard as home. But let us travel nonetheless. Together. And with generous hearts. And 
then we must rest awhile and focus on making our lives all they can be. Resting as close to home as we can together makes more sense than standing alone by the side of the road waiting for a car that may never come. «

Twitter: @AndrewWilsonAJW