The Smith Commission: what we said and what has happened

By Simon Barrow
December 2, 2014

To coincide with publication of the cross-party agreement negotiated by the Smith Commission, Ekklesia has now published its own submission to the Commission, made at the end of October 2014 alongside contributions by around 300 civic organisations and 1,700 individuals.

We highlighted to Lord Smith the need for widespread public engagement on the Heads of Agreement, and certain core principles related to subsidiarity, the localisation of power and a democratic and socially just future which needed to be at the core of an agreement on new powers which represents a truly substantial shift in the current settlement.

There has been, and will be, much debate about Smith following its publication late last month, including further analysis on Ekklesia. It is probably the case that as much as the Westminster parties were ever going to be prepared to concede is in its proposals. But the idea that this amounts to 'Home Rule' or 'devo max' (everything other than foreign affairs and defence) is far from true; as is the assertion that this is the maximum that can be achieved. It is but one package, developed out of conversation – constructive but inevitably compromised – by five of the six parties that played a large part in the September independence referendum campaign.

Richard Murphy of Tax Research (http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2014/11/27/scotlands-tax-solution-is-...) is among those who have made a powerful case that the tax solution proposed by Smith is the worst possible for everyone involved, and essentially part of a two-pronged trap set by the UK government. The other involves EVEL (English votes for English laws). The whole settlement can also be questioned in terms of the lack of balance between new powers and resources to deliver with or from them – something we specifically warned about. Of course there are positives, too. Those have to be built on. But people in Scotland and elsewhere on these islands will be necessarily sanguine about the adequacy of what is on the table.

The Smith Commission process, set in motion by the deliberately vague and highly politicised 'Vow' by the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders, was from the outset constrained by a timetable which ensures minimum public involvement and consultation. One of the major planks in Ekklesia's submission was about this failing. It can be somewhat mitigated as Heads of Agreement are considered, but at present we can have no confidence that it will be.

Nevertheless, as the energy for change continues in Scotland, there remains, throughout all these flawed processes, the hope that the case for more substantial constitutional and political change can be pushed for across these islands – for the benefit of people in Wales and the English regions, too.

That will of necessity involve tackling 'the London question' – the impact of the quarter mile City State which now shapes Westminster politics and much else on the British and Irish isles. It will also involve much more thought and response on the implications of Smith.

* Ekklesia's submission to the Smith Commission: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21086

* More from Ekklesia on post-referendum Scotland: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/scottishindependence

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© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia and is based in Edinburgh.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.