BALLOT papers for the independence referendum should include an option for those who want to abolish the Scottish Parliament to “express their opinion”, according to veteran politician Tam Dalyell.
The retired MP – famous for first posing the “West Lothian Question” on whether, post-devolution, Scottish MPs should be able to vote on issues that only pertain to England – said the “devo-max” option on the ballot would destabilise the British tax system and pointed the way to the break-up of the UK.
Mr Dalyell, known in his 43-year parliamentary career as a leader of the “awkward squad”, continued his long guerilla war against devolution as he spoke at the Boswell Book Festival in Ayrshire at the weekend.
“It’s unlikely to happen, but I think there should be a way in which those who want the parliament brought to an end can express their opinion,” he said.
“I think that there are very few politicians who would want it, there are very few journalists who would want it, but I think there are a great many people up and down Scotland [who would]. I’m not saying it’s a majority.”
Mr Dalyell, who retired from parliament in 2005, declined to give his predictions on the future of the independence debate, saying he was not a “soothsayer”.
However, he predicted that opposition to independence, and the Scottish Parliament itself, could harden.
In 1977, in a House of Commons debate on devolution, Mr Dalyell – MP for West Lothian – first asked how long English MPs and their constituencies would tolerate MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland voting on purely English matters at Westminster. Fellow MP Enoch Powell later called it the “West Lothian Question” after Mr Dalyell refused to let the issue drop.
The Boswell Book Festival is devoted to autobiography, memoir, and other forms of “life-writing”. It is named after James Boswell, considered the father of modern biography, and held at his family’s ancestral home, Auchinleck House.
Speakers ranged from the actor Timothy West to Holocaust survivor Zdenka Fantlova, and included leading Scottish writers such as novelist Janice Galloway and the playwright and painter John Byrne. Mr Dalyell’s own autobiography, The Importance of Being Awkward, was published last year.
He has long supported strong local government, but not devolution, arguing that politicians would fight for more powers for a Scottish Parliament, as they do with any institution they belong to. He cites the example of Barbara Castle, who campaigned against Britain joining the EU but became an ardent supporter of more powers for the European Parliament after heading the Labour delegation there.
He said: “I do know I have a minority opinion, and that is that if there is a Scottish Parliament to continue then it will be very difficult to avoid something that is indistinguishable from an independent state.
“The present situation is not stable, and what I am entitled to say is, ‘Yes, I don’t know what will happen, but what I would like to happen is the abolition of the Edinburgh parliament’.”
He added: “There is no way in which devo-max, if it’s the break-up of fiscal and monetary powers, can form a stable situation. People will have to make up their minds – do they want to be separate from England or not? In my belief there is a majority of Scottish people who do not want to see separation.”