Tam Dalyell: Stop pretending Home Rule was anything but a stepping stone

IT IS approaching 'make up your mind time'. Either, do you want to drift towards something which is indistinguishable from a separate Scottish state? Or, do you wish to remain part of the United Kingdom? It's soon going to be what in reality it always was – one or the other.

Predictably and predicted, foreseeably and foreseen, by me, George Cunningham, and indeed Enoch Powell, during the Commons debates of 1977–79, a Scottish Parliament, once established, is going to ask for more and more, and will remain discontented until such time it has got it. It is in the very nature of parliamentarians to demand more powers and financial resources for the institutions in which they find themselves. It is absolutely par for the course that the parties – Labour, Liberal and Conservative – should have endorsed the Calman report before they can possibly have had time to read, let alone digest, Calman's tome and recommendations.

Have the parties, I wonder, really reflected on Calman's central proposal in relation to, understandably, wanting to make the Scottish Parliament responsible for raising a substantial proportion of its own revenue?

Hide Ad

At best, disentangling the UK tax regime would be an expensive nightmare. At worst, would be an impossible task. M' learned friends would have a whale of a time, arguing about whether their client, proverbially hopping between Scotland and England, would be better off under one jurisdiction rather than another. When I was president of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, I was advised that business thought that a half-and-half tax regime would be the worst of all possible worlds.

This goes to the heart of what I think about parliament. Its members are overwhelmingly, in my view, decent, hard-working men and women. They were ridiculously and cruelly lampooned by sections of the Scottish press – though not by Scotland on Sunday. But, like politicians the world over, they want more and more. So I think that in any referendum – and referendum there will surely have to be – the question ought to be posed: "Do you wish the Scottish Parliament to remain in existence, in the knowledge that sooner rather than later such a situation will inevitably lead to the break up of the United Kingdom?" Whistling in the wind? Probably. The Scottish political class, who have a huge vested interest in Holyrood, would certainly not welcome such a question being posed. But they ought to.

Hide Ad

My problem with the parliament is to identify what it has actually achieved other than something that would have been achieved anyway (such as a ban on smoking in public places) and what has been possible such as policy on long-term care or student fees, which depends on Scotland having a higher proportion of per capita spending from the UK Treasury. This advantage is soon going to come to an end whoever wins the next Westminster election. One situation bothers me hugely – the financial cutbacks on all UK universities, the Scottish universities being further disadvantaged in relation to English universities.

And here we come to the costs of a parliament themselves. The running costs for MSPs and ministers are not cheap. I harbour a few grievances – the chief among them was Donald Dewar going to the Today programme and saying: "Tam Dalyell is wicked and alarmist in saying that the Scottish Parliament will cost a penny more than 40 million." It ended up at 440 million-plus.

Hide Ad

After ten years, I would revert to the regions. My former constituents were never better served than by Lothian regional council. Strathclyde was becoming a great success – ask the people in the Islands. Most people in Grampian want their lives run from Aberdeen, not Edinburgh. But above all the existence of a Parliament will take us down a road that many, maybe not a majority, do not wish to travel.

• Tam Dalyell was Labour MP for Linlithgow (formerly the constituency of West Lothian) from 1962-2005.