Tom Peterkin: Pro-Union parties busy fighting fires

The failure of the No parties to come together will come as a disappointment to some. Picture: Alan Murray

The failure of the No parties to come together will come as a disappointment to some. Picture: Alan Murray


Those who once imagined that the pro-Union parties would come up with a fully thought-through, detailed proposal for more devolution before the independence referendum must be feeling a little disappointed.

The prospect that a concrete offer, signed by all the Unionist parties, would be on the table before 18 September is now dim and distant.

“We don’t see a need for talks before the referendum and Scots will be able to make their choice at the general election,” was a Labour spokesman’s response to the Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael’s plan to hold a summit on new Holyrood powers within weeks of a No vote.

While pro-Union parties responded positively to his suggestion, the Labour spokesman’s comments make it clear that producing something concrete before the vote ain’t gonna happen.

Indeed, when Labour leader Ed Miliband was in Scotland a week or so ago he was cool on the suggestion that cross-party work would be done in advance of the referendum – preferring to concentrate on his own party’s devolution commission blueprint.

The failure of the No parties to come together will come as a disappointment to groups like the think-tank Reform Scotland who set up their Devo Plus group in order that parties might coalesce around their vision of an enhanced devolved settlement.

The Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems appear content to promise more powers after the referendum, without nailing them down beforehand. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that they are reluctant to come to a cross-party consensus when it has proved challenging enough to come to an agreement within their own parties.

Labour has already had to deal with the internal conflict between those with a “go-for-it approach” to more devolution and those who were reluctant to embrace radical change.

In Labour’s case it was their MPs, who were characterised as the stick-in-the-muds who were unwilling to give Holyrood more teeth on grounds of either self-interest (such a move would make Labour MPs less powerful) or principle (moving power away from Westminster makes it more difficult to redistribute wealth across the UK).

The Conservatives are having to deal with their own battle between the devolutionists and those who don’t want to drift too far from the status quo.

As Labour’s Devolution Commission offered a constitutional arrangement designed to tax the wealthy, chances are the Tories will come up with a settlement that encourages tax cuts.

Hardly surprising then that the main two Unionist parties are not tripping over each other to reach common ground.




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