We are NOT ‘stuck with’ devolution

Are we stuck with Devolution's chains?

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the first session of The Scottish Parliament. As expected, a host of insiders, including Scottish Labour politicians, are saying they are proud of what has been achieved, while Scots wonder if those politicians – who are almost all receiving a salary from the Scottish Parliament – have somehow missed the past 25 years.

So let’s cast our minds back to 1997 and ask the question that is not being asked: What if legislative devolution was not part of New Labour’s manifesto, and it never happened?

No Holyrood in Scotland. No £440 million spent on the ugliest building in Scotland. (That alone should have been enough to tell Scots where all this was going). No £100 million a year just running the assembly. No £770 million spent running the Scottish Parliament last year. No billions of pounds spent over the past 25 years, just to hear a bunch of non-entities, from all parties, flap their gums and make bad laws. 

No renaming an assembly to a ‘Government’. No jumped up job descriptions and huge salaries for people who could not find employment elsewhere. No slow pans of ‘ministers’ walking into Bute House to take up do-nothing positions. 

No SNP rising to power at Holyrood in Scotland and abusing their devolved remit to falsely claim a mandate and push for separation from the rest of the UK. No constitutional power grabs. No danger to the UK’s constitutional, economic, social and military integrity. No lie that breaking up the UK is a noble endeavour. No blaming EVERY. SINGLE. THING. on ‘Westminster’.

No divisive referendum: Salmond unable to get a referendum on just 25% of the vote. None of the endless de facto referendum schemes and shenanigans that nationalists have tried to use to game the system in their favour. And still lose. 

No seventeen years of SNP misrule in which almost all areas of domestic policy have been ravaged by incompetence. Our children better educated; our businesses thriving because of no constitutional uncertainty; a police force that serves the population, rather than its political masters.

No Nicola Sturgeon and her husband. No criminal investigations nor embezzlement charges. No selfie tours. 

No Humza Yousaf. No platform to promote the aims of Palestinian terrorists. No repressive Hate Crimes Bill. 

No John Swinney. 

Ferries delivered on time. 

No misdirections about what is devolved and not. No grandstanding on international issues.

The same taxes as people in other parts of the UK.

No broken electoral system that put a tiny minority of extremist Greens in power. No Patrick Harvie or Maggie Chapman. No push to sexualise or mutilate school children. No Lorna Slater. No Bottle Deposit Return Scheme. Scots would be spared the disgusting sight of foreigners who come to the UK to take advantage of all its benefits and then try to break up our country.

No pandering to the EU and endless cherry-picked comparisons to <insert small country here>.

No centralisation of power in Edinburgh, away from local authorities.

No constant whining about ‘democracy denial’ from people who lost the referendum fair and square.

No venue for toxic nationalism to promote itself, using the power, funding and prestige of government.  No normalisation of toxic nationalism itself, an ideology based on greed and amplified grievance that attracts the worst lazy, incompetent, fact-challenged, economically-illiterate, divisive fanatics in Scottish society.

No abuse from these same toxic nationalists claiming anyone against their failed plan is a ‘traitor’, ‘quisling’, ‘house jock’ or ‘should go back to England’. (Isn’t that enough of a reason to say no in its own right?)

Not to mention the appeasement of nationalism from the media and opposition politicians.

All this has combined to create a Parliament that is, to many Scots, more remote than Westminster ever was. A bloated, expensive and remote talking shop that spends inordinate amounts of time and money debating and enacting bad laws, while imposing higher taxes and continuously grandstanding on foreign affairs, when all Scots want is for local services to be carried out more effectively.

Scotland would be in a far, far better place if, back in 1997, The Labour Party had just said no and not indulged the soft nationalism of its Scottish MPs. They were warned.

Are we ‘stuck with it’?

To mark today’s dreadful anniversary, some pro-UK commentators have written about devolution’s failures. And while it is welcome to see the media finally coming around, it’s noticeable that while they all diagnose the symptoms, they are unwilling to treat the victim. Andrew Neil said in a tweet: 

Tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of Scottish devolution. That silence you hear is the sound of nobody celebrating. Holyrood has been a dripping roast for the Scottish political elite and burgeoning nomenklatura, who’ve enjoyed salaries, expenses, perks, status and state funding beyond their wildest dreams. But for most Scots it’s been very thin gruel indeed. However, they only have themselves to blame: by their electoral choices over the past quarter century it is they who’ve turned it into the Numpty Nursery. And now there’s no way back.

All fine, except for that last sentence: Why is there no way back? We’re not told. Is it because of the fear that nationalism would rise again? But we remember how Brexit, Boris, and Nicola Sturgeon’s daily Covid press conferences were supposed to get it over the top. And how none of it happened.

Continuing the theme, yesterday in the Daily Mail, Stephen Daisley said, ‘Holyrood was a historic error and one we are now stuck with.’

Why are we stuck with it? We were stuck with the EU, until we weren’t. We were stuck with slavery until it was repealed. We were stuck with any number of bad laws and policies, until they were repealed. He elaborated in an article:

There are some who would urge for its abolition. Westminster certainly has the authority to do so, but scrapping Holyrood without a referendum would be as democratically dubious as ignoring the EU referendum to prevent Brexit.

Surely one of the best pro-UK commentators can come up with something better than this convoluted  straw man? As nationalists keep telling us, a referendum is achievable if there is the political will for it. But you will never even get a referendum on devolution if you think you can’t get one. 

So how can we get one?

What is devolution?

First we need to make a distinction between legislative and administrative devolution. Administrative devolution existed before the Scottish Parliament, with power being devolved to local authorities working with The Scottish Office.

Legislative devolution is when a devolved administration is allowed to set its own laws. In Scotland, we have seen how this has played out, with disastrous results, as the SNP and the SNP/Green alliance has proposed bad law after bad law, including the Named Person Scheme, Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, The Gender Recognition Reform Bill, Bottle Deposit Return Scheme and the Hate Speech Act.

Both the GRR and BDRS were so poorly thought out that the UK Government had to step in, while all others have been abandoned, except for the recently enacted Hate Crime Act, which, due to overwhelming public outcry, may well be repealed in the near future.

A reasonable person might ask: If the Scottish Parliament can only make bad laws, what’s the point of it at all?

The basic idea of devolution is to bring power closer to the people, but this is often misinterpreted as bringing all power to local people. Power can be devolved to Scotland, or any region of the UK, without the need for a separate legislative parliament. Greater Manchester, for example, has a similar population to Scotland, yet is administered by its council and an independently-elected mayor. 

The idea that a separate parliament should be set up for every five million UK residents is obviously nonsense. Should half of London have its own parliament with law-making powers? So what’s so special about Scotland that it needs an extra layer of government? That answer lies in history, when Labour thought that indulging soft nationalism would appease hard nationalism, while cementing their own power in Scotland. It did neither. 

How can we abolish legislative devolution?

There are two main ways to force the issue: 

1. Persuade a UK political party to include the abolition of Holyrood with an administrative devolution replacement in their manifesto for the next general election. If this party won an election on a manifesto pledge to abolish legislative devolution, then that would give them a cast-iron democratic mandate to do so. 

2. Ask the UK Government for a referendum to abolish or keep the Scottish Parliament.

In either case, a referendum would have to take place. Despite the fact that the devolved legislatures’ ability to break up the UK should actually be seen as a UK-wide matter, to have political legitimacy, the decision to dissolve Holyrood must be one taken by Scots. This could be presented as a mirror to the 2014 ‘independence’ referendum (Actually a break-up-the-UK referendum).

Some nationalists have countered that if there were to be a referendum on abolishing Holyrood, the question should be posed as a choice between abolishing Holyrood and Scotland leaving the UK. But they had their chance: now it’s our turn.

If successful, a positive referendum result would lead to the UK Parliament enacting a Scottish Parliament Dissolution Bill. And Holyrood would be gone, by the consent of Scots.

It is important to note that there is absolutely no requirement under the constitution to seek and receive the consent of the devolved legislatures beforehand. The democratic consent of the electorate of the devolved parts of the UK is all that’s required. 

However, for either of these options to happen, public support has to be demonstrated, primarily through polling, but also through other activities, such as support from the media and from political figures. 

Recent polling has put support for abolishing Holyrood at 20% with 20% against, leaving a huge middle ground that can be persuaded. And that’s before any campaign has started. Remember that Alex Salmond was able to convince the UK Government to offer him a referendum to break up the UK based on only 25% support in the polls. 

What’s next?

Opponents of abolishing Holyrood are quick to disparage any plan for change with: ‘What’s next? A return to Westminster rule?’, which is a bit rich, coming from nationalists who have spent decades assuring us, without evidence, planning or details, that everything will be fine after the break up of the UK. Nonetheless, we can outline some possible scenarios that show that local power will remain in Scotland, and be enhanced.

We propose that a constitutional convention is set up to discuss the various options, of which we will briefly outline three:

  1. A return to the pre-1997 system of the Scottish Office and direct funding of Local Authorities.
  2. A committee made up of some of the 52 Scottish MPs currently sent to Westminster, combined with direct funding of local authorities.
  3. The above options, but with fewer, larger regions, perhaps with regional mayors.

In all cases, there should be no avenue to expand any local authority or region to become a legislative body.

It is important to note that administrative devolution is still devolution: people will still be able to exercise power at local areas, by voting for their local councillors, or regional mayors, while anything that affects the entire UK would remain within the remit of the House of Commons.

Administrative devolution eliminates the fatal intrinsic flaw in legislative devolution that creates a  devolved legislature (Holyrood) that can be used as a platform to allow and encourage anti-UK separatism to rise to power and push for separation referendums, using the power of the legislative body itself.

What are truly Scottish issues?

The question that remains is: what issues belong to Scotland only? The Scottish Parliament, as a nationalist endeavour, has sought to centralise all Scottish services to Edinburgh. For example, Scottish regional police forces have been centralised into a single force, Police Scotland. There has also been the creation of a huge amount of government-funded third-party organisations, primarily in Edinburgh.

We have seen how the Scottish Parliament has taken funds that were meant for local authorities and used them to fund their ‘national’ priorities. A prime example of this is spending hundreds of millions of pounds on bike lanes, while local authorities are having to cut facilities like libraries, swimming pools and teachers. 

Abolishing Holyrood would cut out the middlemen and restore funding and power to local authorities. The creation of larger regions would stop excessive centralisation in Edinburgh, recognise that Scotland is not just The Central Belt, and it would stop the constant and unnecessary constitutional agitation that has stymied debate in Scotland for far too long by removing the primary platform for toxic nationalism to grow. 

If only more Scots had realised 25 years ago that this is where we would end up, then all this pain would have been avoided. But we can make change. We are most certainly not ‘stuck with’ devolution. Talk to your friends, build support and we can work together to move on from Scotland’s disastrous legislative devolution experiment, and make a better Scotland that works for ordinary Scots and not for a class of do-nothing politicians and their hangers-on. #AbolishHolyrood

Written by Stephen Bailey and Mark Devlin. Stephen is a commentator on UK constitutional issues. Mark is the founder of The Majority.

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Written by Stephen Bailey

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